MILTON–Jake Hernandez will try to sleep the next few nights. It could be difficult.
A year after Hernandez missed the playoffs, he and his Lewisburg teammates are heading to the District 4 AAAA Championship. The Green Dragons earned their spot by playing one of their best games at the perfect time and beating their rival Mifflinburg, 70-46 in Wednesday’s semifinal.
Four players scored in double figures, the defense shone and the attack clicked as Lewisburg (21-5) led from start to finish as they earned a place in Saturday’s Championship against Athens.
“It’s amazing. It’s awesome,” Hernandez said after scoring a game-high 19 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. “I’m really excited. I won’t be able to sleep for the next few days.”
Hernandez was unable to play in the playoffs last year after being traded from Shikellamy. Lewisburg hadn’t won a playoff game since 2017 entering the playoffs. Everyone apparently has a chip on their shoulder and Lewisburg prevailed over Mifflinburg (15-9), setting up a dominant second half to turn a tight game into a fourth quarter rout.
Cam Michaels (16 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) brilliantly led the offense, Joey Martin and Forrest Zelechoski each scored 10 points and Khashaun Akins fired up the defense. Add in Henry Harrison, Jack Blough and Noah Pawing who shine on the bench and Lewisburg had it all worked out while earning a berth in the state tournament.
“Mifflinburg is one of our big rivals and it’s the playoffs too. We were really excited,” Hernandez said. “We lost the last three years in the first round, and we want this championship so badly. We fight for it.
“We arrived focused and what happened tonight was that we didn’t have any failures. We were getting a nice lead and then relaxing in other games, but tonight they never let up, never put their heads down and kept focusing on the next game. Lewisburg coach John Vaji said. “We kept going and kept being aggressive and we were able to increase the lead. It was great to be able to take the lead and maintain it and increase it as the second half went on.
Lewisburg started and finished strong. The Dragons scored the game’s first seven points and the last nine. Mifflinburg has an outstanding team that made it to the finals last year, but this was a case of Lewisburg doing so well, rather than the Wildcats doing it wrong.
The regular season games between these two were thrillers. Lewisburg won the first in overtime and the second when Michaels hit a runner with 2.3 seconds left. Mifflinburg trailed 32-24 at halftime and shot under six early in the third as it looked like that scenario could be repeated.
Instead, Lewisburg wrote a new story and it featured everyone making a big impact at key moments. The Dragons opened up a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter and responded almost every time Mifflinburg scored. Harrison’s 3-pointer provided the dagger, putting Lewisburg up, 64-46 with 2 minutes and 30 seconds left.
“I tip my hat to Cam. Last game they played him and challenged him to shoot, and he knocked down a couple 3s and came out in transition and was able to do some things. Vaji said. “Joey hit some big shots in the second half and Jake, Forrest and Jack were tough on the inside. Everyone we put on the pitch tonight contributed in one way or another and it’s good that it’s a team game because everyone has to win.
Lewisburg moved quickly at times but remained patient in the half court. If the post was not open at the start, the Dragons reworked the ball, rested and often scored inside. They were also effective on the outside with Martin, Michaels, Hernandez and Harrison making six 3-pointers.
It was a matter of choosing its poison, but for Mifflinburg, all of Lewisburg’s offensive options proved fatal. The Dragons produced four double-digit scorers for a second straight playoff game.
“That’s what we try to do” Hernandez said. “We have the 3-point shots and me and Forrest on the inside, so we feel like we can be tough to match.”
It showed that different players warmed up at different times. Hernandez scored eight points in the first quarter but didn’t attempt a shot in the second quarter. It didn’t matter either because Michaels scored nine points this quarter and Blough four off the bench as Lewisburg doubled their lead.
Martin hit 3 consecutive runs in the third quarter, which began to change the complexion of the game, giving Lewisburg a 49-35 advantage. Inside and outside Lewisburg it was strong, and Hernandez added five in third with Harrison scoring seven in fourth.
The defense was as stifling as the attack was exciting. Lewisburg effectively slowed down Cannon Griffith’s dribble penetration, something he struggled with in previous games. The Dragons also played hard hits and held Mifflinburg to nine points in the fourth quarter.
It was an exceptional collective performance, but Lewisburg is not ready to rest. The work continues and the Dragons face another challenge against an Athens side who are coming off a resounding win over Milton and a thrilling win over Shamokin.
“We want to play our best ball in the season. It may have been our best game, but hopefully Saturday will be an even better game and we can continue.” Vaji said. “As long as we play together, don’t try too hard and let the game come to us, we’re a pretty good team.”
Now Lewisburg will try to become the top class AAAA team in the district.
Ethan Bomgardner 6 1-2 13, Tyler Reigel 6 0-0 14, Cannon Griffith 2 0-0 5, Jaret Foster 2 0-0 5, Carter Breed 1 3-6 5, Lane Yoder 0 0-0 0, Eli Troutman 1 1-2 3. Totals 18 6-10 46.
Jake Hernandez 8 2-2 19, Joey Martin 4 0-0 10, Cam Michaels 6 2-3 16, Forrest Zelechoski 4 2-2 10, Khashaun Akins 0 0-0 0, Henry Harrison 3 0-1 7, Jack Blough 3 0-0 6, Noah Pawling 0 0-0 0, Will Barrick 1 0-0 2. Totals 29 6-8 70.
Mifflinburg 13 11 13 9–46
Lewisburg 17 15 17 21–70
3 points: Mifflinburg 4 (Reigel 2, Griffith, Foster); Lewisburg 6 (Martin 2, Michaels 2, Hernandez, Harrison).
Records: Lewisburg 21-5. Mifflinburg 15-9.