SUNBURY — The situation, as coach Paul Brown relented, wasn’t looking very promising for his GAR Grenadiers.
Sure, they had a lead. But Shamokin’s dangerous outside shooters were keeping the Indians hanging around, and GAR was having difficulty penetrating a defense that kept stacking the paint.
Then Isaiah Francis swiveled past his defender, shot past two more and exploded to the basket with a flying lay-in.
Suddenly, he found something.
Francis scored a game-high 25 points Friday, James Holmes buried a trio of key three-point shots and GAR shot down District 4 champion Shamokin 61-49 in a PIAA Class 3A playoff opener at Shikellamy High School.
“Every time I saw the basket, I just went for it,” Francis said. “They (the Indians) cleared out, it was open lanes. I drove straight through, or if not, my teammates were open.”
It was a pretty good idea to clear out of Francis’ way.
No matter what defense the Indians employed, they found it difficult to stop GAR’s smooth 6-foot-3 senior forward. And when he did find things a little clogged inside, Francis simply pulled out his full arsenal of head-turning moves - including a one-handed jam - to produce points for the Grenadiers.
“Nah, that’s about it,” Francis said when asked if he had any more mesmerizing moves in his pocket.
What he did Friday was more than enough to lead this group of GAR players to their first high school state playoff win and wipe away the sting of being upended in last year’s opening round of PIAA play.
“It was a big win for these kids,” Brown said.
It began with big problems for the Grenadiers (21-6).
Shamokin’s Josh Pappas drilled a three-point goal, Jakob Weaver scored five points and the Indians (22-4) opened a quick 10-5 lead in the first quarter. But Francis got going by scoring five straight points to tie the game - and Jahlil Harvey scored seven points in the first eight minutes as GAR crept into the second quarter with a 14-13 lead.
“We weren’t nervous at all,” Francis said. “We knew what we had to do.”
At least he did.
It was still a tight game in the second quarter, with GAR holding a five-point advantage, when Francis dashed down the lane for his leaping lay-in. Holmes followed by hitting his first three-pointer, and a free throw from 6-7 Nigebo Francis (Isaiah’s cousin) gave the Grenadiers their first 10-point lead.
It got a little shaky for GAR for awhile after that.
Shamokin pulled within four points midway through the third quarter.
But Holmes - who finished with 11 points before fouling out with 2:38 remaining in the game - popped one three-pointer that boosted GAR’s lead to 11 points and buried another that sent GAR into the fourth quarter with a 43-36 advantage.
“That’s James’ game,” Brown smiled. “We try to get James that shot. If he’s not shooting threes, I’m not happy.”
Francis also hit a couple key baskets in the quarter, getting the GAR offense back on track with a fall-away jumper from the foul line and a hard charge to the hoop for a layup.
“Third quarter, a lot of things weren’t going our way,” Brown said. “Isaiah had to pick us up. We’ll get on his shoulders when he’s playing like that.”
Then it was showtime, as Francis put on a dazzling display for the capacity crowd that packed the stands at Shikellamy.
He darted down the lane again for a one-handed slam in the first minute of the final quarter, then followed with a pretty finger roll that put GAR in complete control 49-37 with 6:18 to play. That’s not to mention his wicked, no-look, across-the-body passes to open teammates and stop-and-go dribbles that caught Shamokin defenders off-guard all night.
He misfired on two attempted alley-oop layups - one in the each of the second and third quarters - but hey, he is human. Even if Francis doesn’t seem to be at times.
“I just wanted to get the crowd alive for us,” Francis said. “Had a nice crowd here. We have to come out and play hard. I love big crowds. I love playing under pressure.”
Good thing, because the crowds - and the pressure - will likely increase when GAR advances to face District 12 champ Neumann-Goretti (23-4)in the second round of PIAA Class 3A play Tuesday.
“It’s great,” Francis said. “Glad we did this. I’m excited.”
GAR 61, Shamokin 49
GAR (61) — Isaiah Francis 8 9-17 25, James Holmes 4 0-0 11, Dajon Rush 0 1-4 1, Jahlil Harvey 3 8-12 15, Nigebo Francis 2 1-2 5, Greg Skrepenak 2 0-0 4, Justin Crosby 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 19-35 61.
SHAMOKIN (49) — Ryan Sebasovich 2 1-3 6, Isaiah Reiprich 1 1-2 3, Jakob Weaver 5 8-11 19, Austin Stine 3 3-4 10, Josh Pappas 1 2-2 5, Feliph Taylor 0 2-4 2, Zach Moyer 0 2-2 2, Jacob Derienzo 1 0-0 2, Mike Donahue 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 19-28 49.
Three-point goals —GAR 4 (Holmes 3, Harvey); SHAM 4 (Pappas, Stine, Sebasovich, Weaver).