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Northwest Turns Momentum From 2018 Playoffs Into Winning Season

February 19, 2019 GMT

The Northwest Rangers deserve the respect of their opponents. Better yet, they’ve demanded the attention of other basketball teams for what they have done this season on the court. First-year head coach Sean Miller has led goal-driven Northwest to a No. 2 seed in the District 2 Class 2A playoffs, as well as a 13-9 record, tied for the team’s most wins since the 2010-11 season. “I think it’s been a great season,” Miller said. “When I first got hired in June, I’m sure — just like the boys — you didn’t know what to expect, how the season was going to go. But the boys came in every single day, they bust their humps, and the results have shown.” Miller inherited an experienced team that was 8-14 at this time last season. However, Northwest caught fire in the playoffs and, according to some, overachieved by winning two district playoff games and another one in the state tournament. “Their goal was to kind of repeat last year, but also to build on it,” Miller said. “You lost in the district final against a good Holy Cross team. You went and played two games in the state playoffs. What do you want to do for an encore? To their credit, (the players) told me flatly, ‘Our goal is to get back there and be better.’ Since Day One, that’s been our overall goal and that’s what we’re striving for.” Over the course of this season, Northwest has shown that last year’s sudden playoff success was no fluke. It started Dec. 18 at home, where Northwest, a Class 2A school that has fewer students than every WVC team besides MMI Prep, played Class 6A Scranton, which easily has the highest enrollment of any team in the Lackawanna League. The unlikely contest happened after someone from Scranton approached Miller about scheduling the game. Miller contacted Northwest athletic director Matt Mills and suggested they make it happen, even though Miller acknowledged some outsiders would second-guess that decision. “We keep talking about the goals for the boys this year,” Miller said. “If you want to get where you’re going, you have to play bigger schools, you have to play tougher opponents.” Northwest beat Scranton, 64-57. That sort of “to be the best, you have to beat the best” mentality is evident in Miller’s approach to coaching. Miller is a 2004 graduate of Hanover Area. He’s coached as an assistant at Hanover Area, Dallas, Wyoming Seminary and Luzerne County Community College, as well as with the JB Hoops and Backcourt Hoops AAU programs. Miller applied for the position of Northwest head coach after Dustin Babcock resigned in May. “I’m good friends with people who graduated from Northwest, who played at Northwest, and I know what kind of kid and what kind of player comes out of Northwest,” Miller said. “These kids, if I ask them to, they’d run through a wall and they wouldn’t think twice about it. How could you not want to coach kids like that?” Sam Saxe and Tyler Stevens are the Rangers’ captains. Saxe and Jaxson Yaple provided two of the season’s noteworthy moments when they each surpassed the 1,000-point milestone. “They have motors that don’t stop,” Miller said of the 1,000-point pair. “They’re just constantly going, going, going and pushing the tempo. They’re both lights-out shooters. They shoot it from deep, they shoot it consistently.” Junior Walker Yaple is actually the team’s leading scorer at 12.9 points per game, while center Bryce Koser is coming off a season-high 19 points in a win against Weatherly. Northwest begins the district tournament against No. 7 Old Forge 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lake-Lehman. The goal is to play in the District 2 championship game, likely against perennial contender and one-seed Holy Cross, which Miller called “the cream of the crop.” When Northwest takes the court in the playoffs, fans could expect to see a team that Miller described as being excited, energetic and enthusiastic. “If you’re not excited for playoff basketball or playoff anything, you don’t belong playing sports,” Miller said. Contact the writer: mbufano@citizensvoice.com; 570-821-2060; @CVBufano on Twitter NORTHWEST AT A GLANCE Coach: Sean Miller (first season) Lineup: PG Jaxson Yaple, SG Sam Saxe, G/F Walker Yaple, F Tyler Stevens, C Bryce Koser Record: 13-9 Key wins: Dec. 18, 64-57 vs. Scranton; Jan. 15, 56-47 vs. Meyers; Feb. 1, 53-51 vs. Hanover Area; Feb. 11, 63-39 at Tunkhannock Milestones: Saxe scored his 1,000th career point against Scranton; Jaxson Yaple scored his 1,000th point against MMI Prep