Surprise, surprise

By on February 1, 2012

Bruce Morgan

Record Express

Sports Editor On the same day that Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid was set to address the media about the Birds’ biggest off-season question (Would Juan Castillo return as his defensive coordinator?), the residents of Lincoln Financial Field were sharing the headlines with a surprise first-place team in the NBA.

The Philadelphia 76ers.

Who would have thought that the Sixers, one-third of the way through this lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, would be five games in front of the Boston Celtics atop the Atlantic Division standings with a 15-6 record? The headline on the front page of Tuesday’s Philadelphia Inquirer sports section read, "Steady Sixers stifle Orlando," just above the Eagles’ headline "Juan More Time."

It’s hard not to feel good for the Sixers and their coach Doug Collins, who has made the team relevant again without any real superstars.

For that matter, it’s hard not to feel good about what the Warwick boys basketball team is doing this winter also. If you remember back to last season, the Warriors had a big group of seniors returning from their squad that qualified for the PIAA Quad-A playoffs in their great run in 2009-10. Unfortunately, things didn’t go the way they had hoped. Although they deserved a ton of credit for fighting out of an early-season 3-7 hole, they never really recovered and missed the playoffs.

Of course, with those nine seniors having now moved on, it didn’t leave a lot of guys coming back who played real significant minutes last year. Maybe Tyler Morris, who averaged 3.2 ppg last year, would fit that role. Guys like Matt Engle and Derrick Shields got in a few games, but not much. It was Vince Soto’s team and Deron Thompson’s team and so on down the line among the team’s seniors last year.

But the Morrises and Engles and Shieldses and Mickenses are jumping at their opportunity this year. Shields is proving that there is much more to him than just playing Gold Glove defense at second base and hitting in the middle of the batting order for the Warriors’ baseball team. He’s averaging a team-best 15.1 ppg, with a career-high 29 against Hempfield and 23 against Ephrata. Morris and Engle are showing the kind of athleticism that make them key components with the baseball and soccer teams, respectively. K’shawn Mickens takes a back seat to no one with his athleticism, and he averaged 13.6 ppg during a recent five-game stretch. Tyler Stief, Colby Weit and others have also contributed.

Add up the parts and the Warriors ended last week with an 8-4 league record, 9-8 overall record and a ranking of 15th in the latest District Three Quad-A power ratings.

All in all, not bad for a team that wasn’t expected to contend this year. In my humble opinion, they’ve got to be one of the biggest surprises in the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Hempfield is always Hempfield, and yet the Warriors beat them not once this season (for the first time since 2006), but twice. They beat Solanco, who had earlier defeated McCaskey, on a memorable buzzer-beater from just inside half-court by Mickens. And entering Tuesday’s action, with four games left in the regular season, they were just two games out of the Section’s final spot for the L-L playoffs.

At times this winter, Warwick coach Jeff Landis has channeled his inner Andy Reid and given quotes that he takes blame for last year and that he had to put his guys in better position to be successful. (Perhaps Andy Reid should channel his inner Jeff Landis and make himself more likable. But I digress). But since Jeff won’t say it about himself, I’ll say it for him — he’s pushing the right buttons and playing a big role in making the 2011-12 Warriors a fun team to watch.

Who knows how this season will end for the Warriors? One thing we do know is that they have been a tough team to beat. More MORGAN, page B-3