By Tom Robinson, NEPABasketball.com
SCRANTON – With flu symptoms running through his team, North Pocono coach Pat Shields was forced to alter his lineup and his players’ responsibilities Saturday.
Two starters did not make the trip to Scranton High School to face West Scranton and others were playing while still at less than 100 percent.
Ryan Ruddy, Billy Pabst, Nate Posluszny and Kollin Leschinsky made sure Shields found a winning combination.
All four played larger roles and all scored in double figures as North Pocono opened its Lackawanna League boys basketball schedule with a 72-49 romp in a Division 1-2 crossover game.
“We’ve been whacked over the holidays here with the flu,” Shields said. “I guess a lot of people have.”
West Scranton came in on a eight-game winning streak, Division 1 teams have dominated the crossovers in recent seasons and North Pocono was hitting the road at less than full strength.
None of that mattered.
“The kids who came in, both the kids who started and the kids who came off the bench, played great,” Shields said.
Ruddy is already a significant force. Last season, he was a second-team NEPABasketball.com all-star in the division as a freshman.
The team’s fourth-leading scorer added to his responsibilities of running the offense, scoring a game-high 20 points along 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals.
“He’s a player,” Shields said. “He has a great floor game. Today, he was a little bit more offensive-minded, scoring-wise, which is what we needed him to be, based on the guys that were out.
“He’s a consistent floor leader; runs our show, distributes the ball, leads the way on defense. He’s everything you would hope for.”
Ruddy was 10-for-14 from the floor. He scored 14 points in the first half to help the Trojans build a double-figures lead and started 8-for-10 before missing a long, hurried 3-point attempt at the third-quarter buzzer.
The buzzer attempt was the only shot outside the arc for Ruddy, who mixed pull-up jumpers, drives and spin moves that created space for his mid-range shots.
Pabst, a sophomore, and Posluszny moved into the starting lineup. Pabst had 11 points. Posluszny had 10 points, a game-high 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals.
Leschinsky went 6-for-8 from the floor while coming off the bench to score 13 points, including 11 in the second half, in his first significant varsity action.
“That’s his first real varsity shot,” Shields said. “Based on how many guys have been at practice, he’s had a chance to get some reps. He really produced today.
“He’s a super athletic kid, who just needs to get some experience. He kept it simple and played very well today.”
North Pocono forced West Scranton to have to turn to pressure after falling behind by 14 through three quarters. The Trojans then beat that press to go 9-for-10 from the floor in the fourth quarter, finishing a game in which it shot 56.9 percent (33-for-58), including 64.3 percent (18-for-28) in the second half.
Damarco Maglio and Matt Domanish missed the game.
Robert VanBrunt and Zach Walsh, who normally trade the scoring lead with Maglio in a balanced and potent attack, made other contributions. VanBrunt had nine points along with providing three steals and a blocked shot on the defensive end. Walsh had seven points and seven rebounds, helping North Pocono to a 33-22 advantage on the boards.
Cayden Merrifield scored 24 points, including 17 in the second half, to lead West Scranton. Nick Forsette added 11 points and Brandon Barnes had 7 rebounds.
West Scranton was hurt by committing 15 turnovers while North Pocono had just 8. That difference was at 10-3 in the first half.
Trouble started almost immediately for the Invaders who turned the ball over on the first two possessions and fell behind, 4-0, causing coach Jack Lyons to burn his first timeout 48 seconds in.
West Scranton’s first five possessions consisted of four turnovers and an airball.
The Invaders recovered enough to force the only tie at 5-5, but the Trojans played from in the lead for all but 38 seconds.
North Pocono steadily stretched out its lead.
The only two times the Trojans put more than five points in a row together came in the second half.
VanBrunt had five points in a 7-0 run to a 39-24 lead with 5:22 left in the third. The Trojans scored eight straight late to make it 70-47 with 1:35 left.
North Pocono won for the third time in four games to improve to 6-4 overall. West Scranton dropped to 8-2. Both teams are part of a strong group in District 2 Class 5A where the Invaders are fourth and the Trojans seventh in a nine-team race for eight postseason berths.