Everything seems to be falling into place for the Johnstown-Monroe High School girls basketball team.
On Jan. 12, the Johnnies defeated Utica 63-58 and Fredericktown beat Centerburg 49-26 to force a four-way tie for first in the MBC entering play Jan. 17, with Johnstown, Centerburg, Fredericktown and Utica all 6-2.
On Jan. 17, the Johnnies defeated Danville 67-29, Centerburg defeated Loudonville 58-37 and Utica defeated Fredericktown 57-56. That left Johnstown, Centerburg and Utica tied for first at 7-2 and Fredericktown at 6-3 before Jan. 19, when the Johnnies played East Knox, Centerburg played Northridge, Utica played Danville and Fredericktown played Loudonville.
"We just have to keep focusing on the next game and not look beyond that," said coach Carl Dufford, whose team was 10-3 overall before playing East Knox. "We control our own destiny, but we have to take care of each game for us to have a chance of winning a title."
Those next games include a non-league game at Ready on Tuesday, Jan. 22, and a showdown at home against Centerburg on Saturday, Jan. 26.
The Johnnies lost to Centerburg 52-50 on Dec. 15. Junior guard Natalie Carpenter led with 15 points, sophomore center Paige Cannon had 12 points and nine rebounds and junior guard Laiken Valentine had 10 points and seven rebounds.
Johnstown also lost to Centerburg 78-72 and 66-57 last season, making the team 0-3 against the Trojans in Dufford's two seasons.
"It's kind of strange that we haven't beaten Centerburg yet," he said. "We have been in the games -- even led in games -- but haven't been able to finish them off. We have to find a way to turn that around and make something happen."
The Johnnies avenged a 54-51 loss to Utica on Dec. 1 by defeating the Redskins on Jan. 12.
Johnstown led 19-4 but got into foul trouble as Utica worked its way back into the game to trail 53-51 with less than four minutes left.
"We had a good team effort and because we got into some foul trouble, we had good support off of the bench," Dufford said. "(Sophomore guard) Kerrigan Williams and (freshman guard) Maddi Lusk came in to play big parts in the game.
"Last year, we were a lot deeper, because we lost two key bench players to injuries in the preseason. Juniors Arika Sayer (forward) and Taylor Thomas (guard) are out and we expected them to contribute a lot this season. We were fortunate to have (Lusk and Williams) come through for us."
Carpenter scored 26 points against Utica and was 10-for-16 from the foul line late in the fourth quarter. Valentine had 14 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, and junior forward Makenzie Spang had eight points and 12 rebounds.
"Natalie Carpenter really stepped up for us and Laiken Valentine had five big rebounds in the second quarter when our big players were on the bench with foul trouble," Dufford said. "Senior (guard) Marissa Sheets has done the little things for us like drawing our opponent's toughest (offensive) player. She did a great job on limiting Utica's Taylor Dush to only 10 points.
"Makenzie Spang played well down the stretch (despite having) four fouls. (Playing well when foul problems arise) is something we didn't handle well earlier in the season. That was a big key for us (against Utica)."
Boys basketball team 'playing better'
The boys basketball team was 8-6 overall and 5-2 in the MBC before playing Utica on Jan. 18. The Johnnies have played all of their non-league games, going 3-4.
"I think we're in a good spot," coach Kevin Martin said. "We're playing better. We just have to continue doing the little things we need to do in order to win. We're much better defensively than we were two weeks ago and our offense is coming on."
The Johnnies play Tuesday, Jan. 22, at home against Danville and Friday, Jan. 25, at East Knox. They lost to Danville 42-39 on Dec. 11 as junior guard William Orr scored 15 points.
Johnstown defeated East Knox 57-54 on Dec. 14 as Orr scored 20 points and sophomore guard Cody Farley added 15.
The Johnnies defeated Northridge 58-54 in overtime Jan. 11. Orr scored 21 points, junior guard Justin Bush and senior forward Tim Sayer both had 10 and freshman forward Jason Carter added nine.
"It was an up-tempo game with more possessions, which is the way Northridge plays," Martin said. "It's always going to be a tough, well-played game when play them. We made the plays down the stretch that we needed to in order to get the win."
Sayer scored 12 points, Carter had 10 and Orr added nine as Johnstown beat Heath 43-39 on Jan. 14 in a non-league game.
Wrestling team to begin state duals
The wrestling team is seeded eighth in Division III, Region 22-A for the first state dual tournament and faces ninth-seeded Fredericktown in the opening round Wednesday, Jan. 23, at Galion Northmor.
The winner faces top-seeded Northmor in a dual 30 minutes after completion of the opener.
The Johnnies defeated Fredericktown 40-24 on Jan. 9.
"Hopefully we can get by Fredericktown again and then we can wrestle Northmor," said coach Jared Writesel, whose team also competes Saturday, Jan. 26, in the Jimmy Wood Memorial at New Lexington. "There are a couple of matchups in that dual that I would like to see."
The winner advances to compete against fourth-seeded Danville or fifth-seeded North Union on Jan. 30 at a site to be determined. That winner will meet second-seeded Northridge, third-seeded Newark Catholic, sixth-seeded Mount Gilead, seventh-seeded Cardington or 10th-seeded Heath on Jan. 30 in a regional semifinal.
On Jan. 12, the Johnnies finished eighth (94) behind champion and host Thornville Sheridan (254) in the 10-team and 40th annual Larry Remmert Invitational. Junior Clayton Bullard (195) and junior Alex Workman (152) won titles, while freshman Hayden Bullard (120) was third and junior Aaron Davis (220) was sixth.
On Jan. 16, Johnstown won MBC duals over East Knox 47-18 and Danville 42-34.