FOREST CITY — Western Wayne didn't win a single game last season, going 0-22 overall en route to another last place finish in Division Two.
On Thursday night, however, the Wildcats took a huge step toward gaining a measure of respectability on the NEPA scholastic hoops scene.
Coach Mike Nepa's squad built a solid lead after three periods against Tunkhannock in the finals of the Forest City Rotary Tournament. The 'Cats then survived a wild fourth quarter in which the two teams combined for 54 points, hanging on for a 75-68 win.
"Getting that first win in the opener against Forest City was huge," assistant coach Darren Thorpe said.
"It had been a long time since the last win, so we really needed a little bit of a boost. The kids played with a lot of confidence and it showed. Winning a tournament championship like this is a big deal and we're just ecstatic."
With this electrifying victory, Western Wayne improved its record to 2-5.
On Their Way
Western Wayne got off to a slow start this season, suffering five consecutive losses before finally breaking through Monday night.
The Wildcats hung a 51-46 loss on Forest City in the semifinals of this 40th annual holiday tournament, breaking a losing streak that stretched all the way back to the 2010-11 season.
Billy Schumacher, Jake Chebala and Patrick Miller tallied 10 points each in catapulting the 'Cats into the title tilt. This game was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but had to be moved back a day due to the winter's first snowstorm.
Tunkhannock punched its ticket to the championship game by thumping Mountain View in the other semi, 56-36. It was the first win of the year for the Tigers who, like Western Wayne, opened the campaign with five straight setbacks.
Schumacher and Chebala both turned in outstanding performances at Forest City and were each honored with a berth on the All-Tournament Team.
Page 2 of 3 - For his part, Schumacher wreaked havoc on Tunkhannock's defense throughout the title tilt. The sharpshooting sophomore guard dominated from the perimeter, dialing up four long-distance treys on his way to a team-high 21 points.
For his efforts, Billy was named tournament MVP.
"Billy didn't have a single point in the first half, so when he came out and hit that first jumper to start the third quarter, it really got him going," Coach Thorpe said.
"Billy was perfect from there on out. He went 8-for-8 from the floor and 1-for-1 at the foul line."
While Schumacher terrorized the Tigers from outside, Chebala made his presence felt in the paint.
A senior who can run the floor in transition, play with his back to the basket or step out and nail the occasional jumper, Jake powered his way to seven key points Thursday night.
"Jake is a very heady kid and he played a really smart game," said Coach Thorpe.
"Jake handled himself really well in the post. He took the points when they were there, but he also kicked the ball back outside to our shooters when they were open."
Chebala added eight rebounds in the title tilt to his seven in the semis.
Back & Forth
Tunkhannock forged an early advantage in this one.
Paced by the three-headed monster of Brian Soltysiak, Adam Billings and Brian Stephenson, the Tigers led 13-9 after one quarter. Solystiak, who earned a berth on the All-Tourney Team, poured in 18 points. Billings added 17 and Stephenson chipped in with 13.
Defensively, though, Sal Culotta was the story of this game.
A scrappy, hard-working junior guard, Culotta was tasked with anchoring the Wildcats' Diamond & One set. Sal played Tigers point guard Austin Yanora man-to-man all night and held him to just eight points.
Page 3 of 3 - "I can't even begin to tell you how important that was for us," Coach Thorpe said.
"Sal did an unbelievable job on that kid and it made a huge difference. It took Tunkhannock totally out of its game"
Offensively, the Wildcats countered with their own all stars, but also received inspired efforts from the likes of Culotta and Johnny Rhodes.
Culotta attacked the basket relentlessly and repeatedly found his way to the free throw line. There, he converted 9-of-12 attempts en route to a 12-point night.
Rhodes, a senior forward who also stars on the Wildcat football team, rattled the rims for 13 points including a pair of 3-balls.
Rounding out Western Wayne's scoring were James Berger (seven pts), Patrick Miller (seven), Jayson Figueroa (four) and James Berger (four).
Score by Quarters...
WW (2-5) 9 21 19 26 - 75
TNK (1-6) 13 15 13 28 - 68