Check out the Top 10 plays of the non-league boys basketball game between James Buchanan and Fannett-Metal. Video by Lindsey Smith
When a team has just five wins midway through the season, it's rare that the word "playoffs" is even a part of the conversation.
But that's not the case for the James Buchanan boys basketball team, which sits at 5-11 and is primed for a playoff push to end the year.
As of Sunday afternoon, the Rockets are just three spots out of playoff contention in District 3 Class 4A, and according to coach Larry Strawoet, the team's continued improvement will surprise some teams in the final stretch of the season.
"I think a lot of teams are going to need to prepare for us," Strawoet said. "We've been competitive even in the losses and the guys are working hard and they have a 'don't give up' attitude. Those losses have helped us mature and helped us become better."
James Buchanan is fresh off back-to-back wins, including a big Mid Penn Colonial Division win over Big Spring, in which the Rockets used their resiliency to overcome a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to pull off a 43-40 victory.
Saturday, JB also put forth a solid offensive effort against Fannett-Metal, as four out of five starters finished in double figures. Owen Stoner was the only starter not to finish with more than 10, but he still managed to put up nine points while guarding the area's leading scorer, Mikell McGee.
"(The last two games) have been a huge confidence boost," JB's leading scorer Jared Pine said. "We know it's been there all season, but now we are starting to play the whole game instead of playing just a half or a quarter. Against teams like Shippensburg, Northern and Waynesboro, we won a couple quarters and were right there playing with them, and I think the last two games just shows a lot about us."
With just two players returning with varsity experience, the Rockets needed some time to adjust to both varsity pace, and each other on the court. To start the season James Buchanan lost seven of its first eight games, but now that team has grown into a cohesive unit.
"We didn't know what to expect because three of our starters didn't see the varsity floor," Pine said, "but now all five of us are comfortable and the guys off the bench are comfortable coming in, too. It's a different feeling off the bench. We don't have the height that we did last year, losing Ryan (Hege), but teams don't have our speed. It's like we have four point guards in the game, and even Hunter Sowers is still very quick for his size."
Pine, Stoner, Hunter Reath and Micha Wise make up the speedy varsity core, while Sowers is the muscle under the basket, using his 6-foot-3 frame to emulate Hege's defensive efforts from last season.
James Buchanan has three Mid Penn Colonial division games remaining this season against Boiling Springs (55-54 win), Shippensburg (57-46 loss) and Northern York (52-44 loss).
"Where we were at the beginning of the season at the tip-off tournament to where we are now, we are a totally different team," Strawoet said. "I think most coaches will see that and admit that, too. We are taking the rest of the season as a one-game playoff. Every game moving forward is going to be a tough game, but most importantly, I think teams are going to need to prepare for us because these kids are going to work hard and accept the challenge."