PUNXSUTAWNEY— The Johnsonburg boys basketball team entered Thursday night’s PIAA Class A second round playoff game with a goal in mind and something to prove, but after enduring a dominating offensive assault that seemed unstoppable and an opposing full-court press that wouldn’t stop, it was clear fate had other plans for the Rams.
When all was said and done, and the dust settled on the court, Johnsonburg found itself the unfortunate team on the outside of the state playoff hunt, as the Saltsburg Trojans handily defeated the Rams, 85-38.
The District 6 champion Saltsburg team proved to be a more than worthy threat to Johnsonburg’s continued postseason push, particularly on the offensive side of the hardwood floor.
Whenever the Trojans touched the ball, gold was certain to rain down, as Saltsburg netted a school-record 16 three-pointers to cap off an already strong scoring night.
When confronted with a team that offensively sound, there isn’t much one can do, and as Johnsonburg head coach Bill Shuey notes, that was the situation his team found themselves in.
“I don’t think I’ve seen a high school team shoot that well in a long time,” Shuey said about Saltsburg’s offensive prowess. “We got out on those shooters, but they just shoot over top. What are you going to do? We ran into a team that was shooting a lot better than us tonight, and obviously the way we shot all year. That wasn’t hard to get.
“We missed a lot of early (shots) that could have kept (the game) closer, but I think the end result was going to be the same.”
Things began well enough for Johnsonburg when Ryan Kilhoffer’s put-back got the Rams to an early 2-0 lead. Moments later, the Ram senior extended that lead to 4-0 with a successful outing at the free-throw line.
Kilhoffer was at it again for the blue-and-gold with a corner shot to put Johnsonburg ahead 6-0, but a quick three-pointer from Frank Plowman cut the Ram’s lead in half at 6-3.
As it proved later on in the night, that was all the Trojans needed to spark their offensive machine, and after another corner shot from Kilhoffer attempted to nullify the Saltsburg attack at 8-3, the D-6 champs went to work and never looked back.
With the aid of an aggressive full-court press and a swing of momentum in their favor, Saltsburg went on to net six unanswered baskets and ended the period with a firm lead at 15-8.
The Trojans were far from finished, however, and the second quarter proved that fact quite clearly.
Starting off with a fast-break bucket off of Plowman, Saltsburg continued on their tear of destruction, scoring five uncontested baskets in the first four minutes of the period alone.
By the time Kilhoffer broke the Rams’ scoreless drought with a jumper at the 3:50 mark, the Trojans had already built a commanding 27-10 lead, and though Johnsonburg attempted to fight back by scoring 10 more points in the remaining time period, Saltsburg headed to the locker rooms up 36-20 at the half.
The second-half wouldn’t be any better for the Rams, as the Trojans went on to outscore them 28-8 in the third quarter alone, and by the fourth quarter’s beginning, it was apparent this was one team Johnsonburg wasn’t going to comeback against.
With the remaining ticks of the clock gone and spent, Saltsburg knocked the Rams out of the state playoffs by a final of 85-38.
The Trojans scoring proved to be Johnsonburg’s downfall on the night, particularly in the form of Plowman and teammate Nick Porter, who scored a combined 64 points for Saltsburg’s winning effort.
Porter finished the night with a game-high 35 points and seven treys for the Trojans, while Plowman finished second in the offensive standings with 29 points including seven three-pointers of his own.
Despite the struggles and tribulations Saltsburg thrust upon them, Johnsonburg’s roster never gave up. Kilhoffer led the team with a double-double of 20 points and 13 rebounds in their second-round loss.
Isaac Schloder netted in nine points for the Rams as well, while Jake Sheldon chipped in another four.
Though disappointed with their postseason exit, the Johnsonburg roster has much to be proud of, as few believed the seventh-seeded Rams had a legitimate chance of a lengthy playoff run, let alone a state playoff berth.
As Shuey says, the season itself was a testament to Johnsonburg’s will and drive, and is definitely something that all his players-particularly his seniors- should look upon with pride.
“Our seniors can look back at the season and say ‘You know, we didn’t quit. We played hard and we played together,’” Shuey said. “My hat’s off to Ryan Kilhoffer, Colby Hefright, Jake Sheldon, and Andrew Akers... They have been with us for four years and they were an honor to be associated with in this activity. I wish them the best in their future endeavors.”
Johnsonburg finishes the season with a 13-14 overall record and a 4-5 division standing.
NOTES: Johnsonburg starters Andrew Akers (sick) and Tyler Singer (injury) did not dress for Thursday’s game.