FOREST CITY — Even before the 2012-'13 season tipped-off, Mike Nepa knew that one of the keys to his team's success would be a steady improvement on defense.
"We definitely have to get better at the defensive end," Western Wayne's veteran skipper said after his squad was blown out by Wallenpaupack Area in the semifinals of the Hawley Rotary Tournament.
"I want us to play man-to-man as much as possible. We have some very good athletes and decent size. We just have to work harder and communicate better."
Western Wayne entered the season riding a years-long losing streak. In fact, the last time the 'Cats won a regular season game was back in 2010 after going 0-22 last winter.
Unfortunately, things weren't looking much better in the early portion of this current campaign. As Coach Nepa predicted, the 'Cats were struggling defensively, giving up more than 60 points per game en route to an 0-5 start.
Then, in one night, it all turned around.
Western Wayne allowed 17 points to Forest City in the first period of Monday's Rotary Tournament semi.
After that, however, the 'Cats clamped down. Coach Nepa's lads surrendered just 11 points in the second, 10 in the third and six in the final stanza.
The result was a thrilling 51-45 win, a berth in the tourney title tilt and the end of nearly three years' worth of frustration.
Thanks to the winter's first real storm, Western Wayne will have to wait to try and make it two straight. The Wildcats are slated to meet Tunkhannock in the championship game …
On the Court
Western Wayne used a solid combination of stingy defense and balanced offense in rallying for its first win of the season.
The Wildcats fell begind in the early going, thanks in large part to a monster night by Jon DeEsch.
Page 2 of 3 - A talented sophomore guard, DeEsch caught fire from the perimeter, burying five treys on his way to a game-high 25 points.
Behind DeEsch's red-hot shooting, the Foresters took a 17-15 lead after the first quarter. However, Coach Nepa's lads tightened the clamps from that point on and surged back to seize control of the contest.
The 'Cats opened up a 32-28 lead at halftime and then held off a furious Foresters' assault down the stretch.
Billy Schumacher. Pat Miller and Jake Chebala all contributed key buckets for Western Wayne.
Schumacher dialed up two long-distance treys of his own and finished his night with 10 points.
Miller and Chebala each powered his way to 10 with strong post play and clutch free throw shooting. Pat hit two and Jake four at the charity stripe.
Two gridiron stars made their presence felt in the paint as well. Senior Johnny Rhodes powered his way to seven points, while junior Jayson Figueroa chipped in with six.
Rounding out the Wildcat scoring were Mike Valvano (four pts), James Berger (two) and Armani Blount (two).
Over & Out
Forest City refused to go quietly in this one.
The hosts were intent on making the finals at this, the 40th Annual Forest City Rotary Tournament.
Alas for the hometown faithful, it simply wasn't to be. The Foresters rallied to tie this game at 38 headed into the final stanza.
Sophomore Patrick Coles rattled the rims for nine points, while junior Alex Kresock added eight.
However, the Wildcats' relentless defensive pressure limited Forest City to just six points down the stretch, sealing the deal on a 51-45 Western Wayne win.
Page 3 of 3 - Score by Quarters...
WW (1-5) 15 17 6 13 – 51
FC (0-6) 17 11 10 6 - 45