MILTON - Muncy coach Jason Gresh kept the press clipping all season and his players used it as constant motivation. A year after losing their top two scorers, the Indians were placed outside the area's preseason top 10 teams.
Muncy did not complain but seethed. And Friday, it showed how meaningless that preseason ranking was. Some of the names changed, but the result has not.
Muncy is state tournament-bound for a second straight year. Nick Ring recorded a double-double and the Indians played outstanding as they rallied past Lourdes, 51-46, and won District 4's Class A third-place game for a second straight year.
"They work real hard and I think this was unexpected," Gresh said. "We flew under the radar for most of the season, so it was nice to make states second year in a row."
Ring scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds while Ammar Sabanovic and Dawson Fox combined for 16 assists as Muncy (18-7) overcame a seven-point first-quarter deficit and edged determined Lourdes for a second straight year. The Indians are the program's first team to reach states in consecutive years since 2003 and 2004 and will play District 11's champion, either Pius X or Mahanoy Area next Friday at a District 11 site.
Muncy's 18 wins this season are the most by a boys basketball team since 2004. So much for outsiders' preseason expectations. This team knew what it was capable of and proved it again.
"We definitely have a pretty good chemistry," Ring said. "We've been playing with each other since we were really young so it's been building since then."
Muncy started slow, but has overcome rough starts all season, frequently coming back to win. Nothing changed Friday. The Indians tied it by halftime, opened a five-point lead after three quarters and held off a Lourdes rally down the stretch.
Ring was dominant in the second half, scoring 13 of his 21 points and dominating the offensive glass. Sabanovic (9 assists) and Fox (7 assists, 7 points) efficiently ran the court and Billy Kolletzki grabbed 11 rebounds.
Jeff Scott came up big off the bench and scored five fourth-quarter points. His 3-pointer early in the fourth extended Muncy's lead to nine and a Ring putback made it 41-30 with six minutes remaining.
"It started off rough in the first quarter but we took control from there," Ring said. "It was just basically a bad quarter and we got our heads out of our behinds. We knew we had to get the job done because this is it. If we lose this game all the hard work we've put in is done."
Lourdes (18-7) did not go away, scoring the next five points and getting right back into the game. A Sabanovic to Scott connection stifled the momentum and Muncy played strong defense down the stretch while finally hitting enough foul shots to clinch the win after early struggles from the line.
It was a second straight close playoff loss for Lourdes, a senior-laden team which won more than 30 games the past two seasons.
"This is the toughest part of coaching, giving that last speech to these seniors because they mean a lot to me," Lourdes coach Pete Long said. "I want them around my kids and I appreciate everything they've given the program."
Muncy starts three seniors and that trio has given a lot, too, as have new faces like Ring and Teddy Clark who have helped the program thrive again. Clark was aggressive all night and scored seven points while grabbing five rebounds. Sabanovic and Kolletzki also played tough and smart despite foul trouble and both made key plays at key times.
"That's the one thing, we have weapons and it's not just weapons from a scoring standpoint," Gresh said. "It's rebounds, it's assists, it's defense. It's nice to be have all those options."
And it's nice to silence the doubters.
Zack Oquendo 5 5-6 15, Anthony Pennypacker 6 2-3 16, Michael Menapace 1 2-3 4, Matt Savitski 3 0-0 9, Michael Gilger 0 0-0 0 Justin Howal 1 0-0 2, Tyler Holloran 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 9-12 46.
Ammar Sabanovic 0 2-3 2, Nick Ring 9 3-8 21, Dawson Fox 3 0-0 7, Billy Kolletzki 3 0-4 7, Teddy Clark 3 1-4 7, Jeff Scott 2 0-0 5, Leone Ghezzi 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 6-20 51.
Lourdes14 8 7 17--46
Muncy7 15 12 17--51
3-pointers: Lourdes 5 (Savitski 3, Pennypacker 2); Muncy 3 (Fox, Kolletzki, Scott).
Records: Muncy 18-7. Lourdes 17-8.