MIDDLETOWN — As he and his Middletown teammates walked off the court at Catoctin High back in early January, Jalen Huskey thought the Cougars celebrated a 20-point victory a little too much.
“I know that the whole team had that on their mind,” Huskey said. “I know I was really focused on getting this win because I felt extremely disrespected by the way that they acted during the last win that they had over us.”
That motivation along with some momentum stemming from a convincing victory over chief rival Walkersville had Catoctin on its heels from the opening tip of Tuesday’s basketball game.
Behind a healthy mixture of strong half-court defense, tenacious offensive rebounding and a share-the-ball mentality, Middletown led by as many as 33 in the first quarter and cruised to a 76-31 victory.
“We came in with fire, knowing we were going to come win this game, and nobody was going to get in our way from winning the game,” Huskey said.
Reese Poffenbarger and Huskey relished every opportunity to take the ball away, either cleanly stripping the ball away from Cougar ball-handlers or jumping into the passing lanes to make steals. Poffenbarger had three of his seven steals in the first quarter, and Huskey had two steals in the opening period for a Knights team that seems to play its best when it pushes the pace.
“When we get rebounds, we’re looking to outlet, get the ball up the court quick,” Poffenbarger said. “We’re just looking to get the ball up the court, so any way we can do that, whether that’s stepping in the passing lane and getting a steal or getting the ball out ... as fast as we can to get it up the court, we want to do that.”
Middletown (14-5), which scored 30 straight points after Catoctin’s David Parker split a pair of free throws 2 minutes, 49 seconds into the game, shot 78.9 percent (15-of-19) in the first quarter.
On one particular play, the Knights showed their nice combination of energy and focus when Huskey raced upcourt and jumped to make a one-handed save of an errant outlet pass that appeared to be going out of bounds. The ball went to teammate Brian Walker, who then passed it back to Huskey for a 3-pointer from the left corner.
Middletown’s shooting cooled off the rest of the game, but the Knights’ energy, particularly on the offensive boards, remained a constant. In the first half, they scored 11 second-chance points and outrebounded the Cougars 36-16.
“That’s become a really big focus of ours because in a couple of games, we’ve been bullied on getting rebounds, and we wanted to put and end to that,” said Huskey, who registered 15 points and six rebounds.
Poffenbarger brought up the fact that the Knights have not only been undefeated at home but have been winning convincingly lately, noting they defeated two of their biggest rivals in the Class 2A West region, Oakdale and Williamsport, by double digits. Going into Tuesday’s game against Catoctin (12-7), Middletown was coming off a 64-36 victory over Walkersville.
“We haven’t really had a tight one here this year,” said Poffenbarger, who also collected nine points, eight rebounds and four assists. “We play really well on our home court, and hopefully we keep doing that.”
Walker finished with 14 points and seven rebounds, Luca Carioti added 12 points, and Mason Doody (eight rebounds) and Veron Talla scored 10 points apiece.
Looking back on his team’s significant home victory over the Knights, Catoctin coach Brian Burdette figured Middletown would carry plenty of motivation into Tuesday’s game.
“They circled this date [on their calendars],” Burdette said of the Knights.
After Ethan Pawlus made a baseline jumper in the first minute of the game, the Cougars missed their next 14 shots from the field.
“I think they played their best game, and I’m not taking anything away from them, but I think we played our worst game of the year,” Burdette said.