FARRELL — Looking up and down the Wilmington High boys basketball roster, the team is filled with players who have big-game experience.
On the football field, the Greyhounds have won the last three District 10 titles and advanced to the last two Class 2A state title games. Using many of the same players who compete on the gridiron, coach Mike Jeckavitch’s team is on a mission to create a winning culture in the gymnasium as well. The program took a step in the right direction last night at Farrell High, coasting to a wire-to-wire 66-45 win over Cambridge Springs in the District 10, Class 2A quarterfinals.
The victory sends Wilmington, not only into a semifinal clash against Lakeview on Tuesday, but locks up a state playoff trip for the third straight year. The Greyhounds beat Lakeview twice already this season by scores of 55-45 and 65-48.
“This will be the third straight trip and it’s very exciting for us,” Jeckavitch said. “We’re trying to build a winning culture at Wilmington. It’s very difficult, but I think the guys I’ve had over the past several years have really embraced that opportunity and that drive to become a winning basketball program and we’re going to continue to do so in the future.”
The Greyhounds started the season off slowly, splitting their first four games. The opener against Riverside was played a day after Wilmington lost in the football state championship. Danny Hanssen, one of seven seniors, led the charge against Cambridge Springs with 18 points and said the team is finding a groove.
“Definitely we have the rust off by now,” Hanssen said. “It’s always hard to get back into the swing of things. We had a (basketball) game after the (football) state championship game and we looked terrible, but now we’re looking good.”
Last night, though, the Greyhounds had little trouble getting in motion. After winning the tipoff, Hanssen knocked down a 3-pointer five seconds into the game. That kick-started a 7-0 run to begin the game.
“It was one of those things coming out and starting fast,” Jeckavitch said. “Our biggest thing is being able to put the ball into the basket and I thought we did a nice job of doing that tonight.”
Wilmington’s lead stretched to 26-9 midway through the second quarter and the Greyhounds led, 34-16, at halftime by using pressure defense and attacking the hoop on drives. In the second half, Wilmington was at its best, playing more of a full-court game and taking advantage of fast-break opportunities which led to a handful of highlight reel passes from seniors Robert Pontius and Cameron Marett to beneficiaries Hanssen and Shane Cox.
“It’s nice because we have a lot of guys who are so willing to make the extra pass and let someone else put the points on the board,” Jeckavitch said. “It doesn’t matter who scores for us as long as we win as a team, that’s all we care about. I don’t have to micromanage these guys. They understand the importance of sharing the ball and how dangerous we can be when we do the same.”
Wilmington played most of the second half with a 20-point cushion, but Cambridge Springs briefly got back to within 15 with three minutes left in the game. A pair of 3-pointers by Marett and Pontius extended the lead back out as the benches cleared in the final minute.
“We are playing our best basketball at this point in the season which is really nice,” Jeckavitch said. “I don’t think you can peak too late and we got in a position to secure the No. 2 seed, which really helped us, so hopefully we can make that continue through the playoffs.”