By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
MIFFLINBURG — The last time Mifflinburg played a home game, there were still presents underneath Christmas trees around the Valley. So the Wildcats were no doubt happy to be back home Friday.
After a bit of a shaky start to begin the game, during which Midd-West led by as many as eight, the Wildcats battled back in the third quarter.
It wasn’t until 3:15 to play in the fourth when Jeremy Uscowskas hit a putback that Mifflinburg reclaimed the lead for good and cruised to a Heartland Athletic Conference-Division I win, 47-33, in “The Cats’ Den” at the Mifflinburg Intermediate School.
Home, sweet home.
“It’s nice to be back here and get a win and get a little fresh blood going. Maybe it showed there early (but) we missed a lot of shots,” Mifflinburg coach Andre’ Roupp said. “Midd-West were knocking their shots down, including (Ascher) Marks. He’s always deadly from outside.
“We struggled early making shots. We were making some good passes, making some good cuts, just not finishing.”
Marks gave Mifflinburg (6-5, 2-5 HAC-I) problems throughout the game, knocking down four 3-pointers, two of which came very late in the fourth quarter when he created his own shots against defenders.
Marks ended the game with a team-high 19 points for the Mustangs (3-7, 0-5 HAC-I). No other Midd-West player reached double-digits.
“He’s quick with the ball as well. When they’re setting ball screens for him, we got to jump and show,” Roupp said. “Leaving him open on the weak side is where we found ourselves in trouble in the first half.”
Mifflinburg struggled offensively to begin the game. The Wildcats went into the half shooting 4-for-24 (16.7 percent) from the floor. It was during that offensive drought that the Mustangs capitalized as well.
Midd-West led by as many as eight points in the second and began the quarter with three straight field goals from the floor, two of which were nice steal-layup finishes. Midd-West went into the half up by six, 19-13.
Mifflinburg began the third quarter with an 8-0 run, however, taking its first lead since early in the first when Clark Sheakley sank a trey with 6:05 to play.
“(At the half) we said, ‘Guys, if you want to meet any of the goals that we posted on this board, you got to come out and dig everything as deep as you can in your heart and come out and play,’ and they did that. I thought they, as a team, collectively, passed the ball much better in the second half,” Roupp said. “They had that desire to go in, got some offensive rebounds and putbacks. I thought the desire was 10 times better in the second half.”
Mifflinburg held a 31-20 rebound advantage, including grabbing 12 offensive boards.
The Wildcats got an 11-point effort from Uscowskas, who also led his team with eight rebounds and two steals.
“Jeremy is the core of our team, I think. He is not a real verbal leader, but he’s going to show you through every desire that he wants to win,” Roupp said. “Throughout his years here, he’s had some injuries, but now it’s his time and his senior year, and his fellow seniors, they want to win (too).”
James Zack added 10 points for the Wildcats, while Jordan Wagner scored nine, dished four assists and grabbed five boards. Sheakley scored eight points to go with five rebounds and three steals.
Midd-West’s Marks had a steal-and-score to tie the game at 21-all at 4:16 of the third before Dyllan Folk went 1-for-2 from the line to give the Mustangs a 22-21 lead.
That was the last time Midd-West held a lead, as Mifflinburg responded with Uscowskas’ putback 20 seconds later to make it 23-22.
Midd-West got to within four to begin the third quarter (29-25) but that was the closest the Mustangs would come as Mifflinburg slowly increased its lead to as many as 14 late in the fourth.
The Wildcats are back on the road for their next three games (Shikellamy, Danville and Selinsgrove) next week.