As a freshman, Muncy point guard Ammar Sabanovic started some games despite being only 5-foot-2. Not that it bothered him. He still went right at defenders like he was a 6-footer.
Sabanovic has grown literally and as a player since then, but he still loves taking challenges head-on. So when coach Jason Gresh told him after Muncy's second game that he could not keep up his blistering assist pace, Sabanovic had some extra incentive. Nearly three months later he has proven Gresh wrong, and his coach is happy about.
Sabanovic is averaging 11 assists and 11 points per game. He dissected Mansfield in last week's 82-67 District 4 Class A quarterfinal win over Mansfield and is a big reason Muncy is back in the semifinals for a second straight year, playing St. John Neumann.
"He has had a great year," Gresh said. "There were times they (the Tigers) were exactly exhausted and they didn't have anyone to match Ammar. He can score if he has to, but he's smart enough to understand what is going on in the game and understands if it's better for him to distribute or shoot. He picks and chooses well. He's pretty good when it comes to that."
Nick Ring earned first team HAC-III all-star honors deservedly so, but Sabanovic is the engine that powers Muncy. A goal-scoring machine last fall, Sabanovic usually is the fastest player on the court and can dictate a blistering pace. He is adept at breaking down defenses, getting to the basket and finding the open man, a big reason three other players are averaging in double figures.
At times this season, Sabanovic has piled up assists at a video game-like rate. It started that way against Mansfield as he had four in the first few minutes when Muncy (17-6) took a lead it never relinquished. Muncy has a lot of weapons but because it has such a weapon at point guard, it is hard for defenses to focus on any one of them.
"He was tough to guard," Mansfield coach Kipper Burleigh said. "When you rotate to help he consistently hits the open guy."
"I always feel like I can run on every team so I just try and get the ball and go," Sabanovic said. "It works out well for us."
Now Sabanovic and Muncy have exactly the matchup they want. It's another challenge which means Sabanovic is pretty happy.
"That's what we've been working for, another crack at Neumann. "We told ourselves nothing less than a district championship and Neumann is in our way so we're going to try and beat them."
DISTRICT 4 INCOMPETeNCE
In the latest round of District 4 incompetence, the Muncy vs. Neumann game has been scheduled for Danville. Really? Muncy is 25 miles from Danville and Neumann is 42. They are Lyciming County teams but are playing in Montour County?
This is an idiotic move. The logic is that District 4 likes doubleheaders involving the same school. Because Muncy and Mount Carmel girls play the first game, they are forcing Muncy boys and Neumann boys to go way out of their way.
What they should do is split Muncy up the way they split South Williamsport up last year. Montoursville is literally right between Neumann and Muncy, so pair it with Wellsboro and East Juniata boys Tuesday. Then play Muncy vs. Mount Carmel girls Wedesday as a single game or as a tripleheader at Milton. It is not rocket science.
Muncy and Neumann fans, go to District 4's web site and email chairman Jim Zack. Tell him how ridiculous this is and demand change. Fight the power.
THE FILM DOESN'T LIE
Williamsport will play in its second straight District 2-4 Class AAAA championship Wednesday against Scranton. It earned a chance to play for its second straight championship after winning a hard-fought 67-56 semifinal over Wyoming Valley West. Before that game, Williamsport recorded its most impressive win this season, beating national power Princeton Day Academy, 73-59, last Wednesday.
Entering that game, many focused on Seton Hall-bound point guard Aquille Carr, a 2011 ESPN Player of the Year who has scored more than 2,000 career points. Carr was the talk of the town for a few days after many, including this reporter, raved about his amazing YouTube highlights. Williamsport coach Allen Taylor was impressed too, but also was focused on a detail that many missed.
"Everyone is watching these highlights. You can make everyone look like a superstar with a highlight tape," Taylor said. "Don't get me wrong, Aquille is a phenomenal basketball player and played a heck of a game but watch what he's doing during the course of a game and what other guys are watching during the course of a game. You have to watch film of the whole game. We pointed out things you can exploit and things we can take advantage of and the confidence grew and it showed."
Williamsport (21-2) never trailed after the first quarter and frustrated Carr (23 points) so much that he closed out his night by throwing the ball against the wall in disgust while drawing a technical foul.
Five of the first six players in Wellsboro's rotation have averaged in or near double figures all season. The who has not is Matt Reese. And Wellsboro could not care less. Any points Reese scores are a bonus since he does everything else. He might only average around seven points per game, but Reese also is one of the team's most valuable players.
The senior point guard proved that again Friday at Mansfield University, dealing eight assists, grabbing six rebounds and playing sensational defense while helping Wellsboro defeat Canton, 61-44, in the District 4 Class AA quarterfinals. It was a terrific game but it also was a typical Reese performance. It helped Wellsboro (22-1) win its first playoff game since 2006 and earn a semifinal against East Juniata.
"Words can't even describe Matt Reese," Wellsboro guard Mike Pietropola said. "He's a great team player. His leadership abilities are amazing. He's an assist leader and his steals and defense are some of the best in the district."
Reese was everywhere against Canton and his relentless defense helped set the game's tone. He held 1,000-point scorer Eddie Larcom to two points, made three steals and had five assists by halftime. He and Jordan Jackson are the team's lone senior contributors and they are playing like they are on a mission.
"Matt's biggest contribution to this team is the way he plays defense. He just bothers people all the time and he's been that way all year," Wellsboro coach Todd Outman said. "He doesn't score a lot but all the other intangibles that do not show up in the scoreboard are so valuable. I don't know how we replace the kid next year, I really don't. He's that instrumental to how we go, he and Jordan both."
Sullivan County captured the school's first District 4 Class A championship last year and is hungry to repeat. The Griffins (21-2) made quick work of Galeton in the quarterfinals, winning 58-19 while building a stunning 47-3 halftime lead. Sullivan plays Lourdes in the semifinals and is hoping to build on what is becoming a nice winning tradition.
Turns out rumors of Sullivan's demise after losing all-stater Sharif Welton to graduation were greatly exaggerated.
"It's really great being a part of this team," forward Derek Wilkins said. "We travel everywhere during the summer. We have good relationships together and we play off that."
Wilkins is one of four senior starters who also either started or played significant numbers off the bench last year. That unit has been instrumental to Sullivan winning a program-best 20 regular-season games. That unit also is a level-headed, hard-working group that has been through just about everything together. The Griffins face a tough test against tenacious Lourdes but these games are the fun ones and they want the fun to continue.
"We want to keep the season going, especially for the four senior starters," guard Lucas Hatton said. "We're really bearing down and doing what we can and pulling out all the stops as much as we can to keep the season going."
They are both ranked among the state's Top 10 Class AA teams, but Loyalsock and Lewisburg already will be going head to head in the semifinals. This is the fourth time the league rivals are playing and the third time in three weeks. Loyalsock (22-3) has won the previous three, but all three have been in close, including for the HAC-II and the inaugural Heartland Conference championship.
Loyalsock is the only team that has beaten Lewisburg but those three previous wins no longer matter. The Lancers held off Bloomsburg, 68-47 in the quarterfinals while Lewisburg thumped Mount Carmel, 66-47 as four players scored in double figures. There is not much these teams do not know about each other and Round IV could be the most exciting matchup yet.
"It's been tough all three times so expect the same thing for a fourth time," Loyalsock guard Kyle Datres said. "We just have to come out and play our game and hopefully things go our way."
After reaching the Class A state tournament the last two years, the Muncy girls are a win away from advancing to the Class AA tournament. The Indians won in their return to Class AA last Tuesday, edging Williamson, 48-44 in a quarterfinal thriller. Muncy overcame a significant Williamson size advantage and Paisley's performance helped it rally late.
Muncy, which faces Mount Carmel in the semifinals, trailed for long stretches in the first three quarters, but Paisley buried three 3-pointers at key times to keep it within striking distance. Her last 3-pointer came right after Williamson had went up by five and quickly stifled the Warriors' momentum. Muncy (17-6) then rallied in the final 90 seconds as Charity Good converted a 3-point play and Jordan Jones sank three clutch free throws.
"She did some very good things," Muncy guard Brianna McLaughlin said after scoring 15 points and making five steals. "she's been doing that for about the past seven games now."
McLaughlin and Jones lead Muncy in scoring, but Paisley has flourished down the stretch and added another dimension to Muncy's offense. The junior guard also played good defense against Williamson and dealt four assists. At one point in the second quarter, she assisted on three straight Muncy baskets.
"Gina has been doing that since a little over halfway through year. She had a breakout game against Bucktail and ever since then she's good for two or three 3s and a couple other baskets a game. It's really helped her confidence and (Tuesday) she stepped up and did it again. It makes us all the more dangerous when Gina is shooting like that."
Lewisburg is in the District 4 Class AA semifinals for the first time since 2009 after edging Wyalusing, 41-38 in a quarterfinal thriller Saturday. The Rams held 1,000-point Lewisburg scorer Maria Kelleher to nine points, but the Dragons played well as a unit and led in the third quarter before Kelleher scored her first point. It was an encouraging sign for a team that won two playoff games last week and that is rapidly gaining more confidence.
"It's something we preach to them every day. It's a team game and we need everyone out there to contribute and be an offensive threat," Lewisburg coach Phil Stamm said. "They're capable. I think sometimes they're a little reluctant to take the spotlight but I definitely think we have the girls who can come through when they need to."
Reserves Lenore Doyle and Kirsten Blakeslee scored five straight second-quarter points, igniting a 13-2 run that turned a three-point deficit into an eight-point lead while sisters Emily and Kasey Conrad played smothering defense and combined for 13 points. Senior forward Lois Lesher scored nine points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked five shots and Haley Stanko made some key plays too.
Lewisburg meets Southern Columbia in the semifinals after splitting two regular-season games with its HAC-II rival.
"It was definitely a great night for our defense. We had a couple players really shine through that maybe haven't gotten the chance to showcase their defensive skills," Lesher said. "It's a huge step for us to make the semis because we haven't gotten there the last couple years. We're just ready to work hard as a team."
Dr. Masse's Boys Top Five
1. Williamsport (21-2); 2. Loyalsock (22-3); 3. Lewisburg (22-3); 4. St. John Neumann (21-3); 5. Wellsboro (22-1)
Player of the Week
Jahad Thomas, Williamsport
The 2012 all-state selection was spectacular against Princeton Day, outplaying Carr while scoring 24 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dealing four assists. He recorded another double-double against Valley West, going for 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Dr. Masse's Girls Top Five:
1. Lewisburg (16-7); 2. Muncy (17-6); 3. Montoursville (16-7); 4. Williamson (17-6); 5. Warrior Run (14-9)
Player of the Week
Maria Kelleher, Lewisburg
The senior point guard scored her 1,000th career point in a 58-37 win over Bloomsburg, finishing with a game-high 26. She then grabbed eight rebounds and made four steals against Wyalusing.
Chris Masse can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3113, or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/docmasse.