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Knoch boys basketball extends best start in 22 years

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Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Freeport's Eric Davis, left, and Knoch's, Connor Shinsky, reach for the rebound during Friday night's action at Knoch High School, December 13, 2013.
Top high school sports
By George Guido
Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, 11:36 p.m.

The Knoch Knights continued their best start in 22 years with a 62-42 victory over Freeport on Friday night in the Section 1-AAA opener for both teams.

Austin Miller had 17 points and Matt Zanella added 13 to lead Knoch.

The Knights soared to a 9-0 lead and the Yellowjackets couldn't get closer than six the rest of the way.

“I was hoping we'd start like that,” Knoch coach Ron McNabb said. “With Austin Miller running the point, David Gallagher, Chris Kier, all these upperclassmen, we should do that.”

The Knights are 4-0, representing the program's best start since 1991-92, when the team went 7-0.

“We'll take (4-0) any day,” McNabb said. “It's even more important to be 1-0 in the section. I've been scared of this game all week. Mike Beale does a great job coaching that team.”

Sophomore Josh Beale's 13 points led Freeport (2-2, 0-1).

“That's an experienced veteran team out there,” Freeport coach Mike Beale said of Knoch. “They have four seniors back for Coach McNabb. I feel in the long run they can compete for the section title the way they play.”

Knoch got strong guard play from Miller and Stephen Oblich, who traded baskets and assists late in the half as the Knights built a 31-18 lead at the half.

Freeport (2-2) cut the lead to 49-37 on a 3-pointer by Kris Kellel with 5:22 left in the game, prompting McNabb to call a timeout.

“I told them we got punched right in the mouth, and how are we going to react?” McNabb said. “We responded, finally hit some free throws, ran our stuff and took some time off the clock.”

Freeport held Knoch to one field goal in the fourth quarter, but the Knights hit 15 free throws after Jim Larrimer's basket with 7:02 remaining.

In contrast to Knoch's senior-laden team, Freeport started three sophomores.

“It's a great atmosphere over here at Knoch, and for some of us, it's the first time under the bright lights and a big floor,” coach Beale said.

The Yellowjackets committed just one turnover in the third quarter.

“Kris Kepple's doing a great job at the point,” coach Beale said. “Ryan Weigold's playing some great defense and Eric Davis is establishing himself. Knoch recognized the mismatches and took advantage of some situations.”

Keppel had four assists and Josh Beale grabbed six rebounds.

“We're going to be getting better, it's a journey and a process,” coach Beale said. “It's nice getting this one out of the way; it's a tough place to play.”

McNabb was pleased with his bench play, particularly big guys Larrimer and Connor Shinsky and forward Troy Hixson.

“We're so unselfish,” McNabb said. “I truly think they don't care about minutes or points, they just want to win basketball games. When we throw them in there, they're ready to go.”

Knoch will take its undefeated record to Kittanning for a section game Tuesday while Freeport will play its first home game of the season against Valley.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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