Williamsport, Loyalsock and St. John Neumann play their state tournament openers this weekend. So really, this weekend is a Lycoming County basketball celebration.
This is the first time this century that three Lycoming County boys basketball teams are district champions. It is a time for Williamsport area fans to savor because who knows when this could happen again. Making things better for area fans is they can watch all three games. Neumann plays tonight at Montoursville, Loyalsock plays tomorrow at 3 and Williamsport plays tomorrow at 7.
The question now is whether all three teams will be celebrating come late Saturday night. The following is a breakdown of each game.
Williamsport (23-2) vs. Bethlehem Liberty (19-8)
At Montoursville, Saturday, 7 p.m.
The Millionaires have been waiting for this opportunity since losing to Harrisburg on an overtime buzzer-beater in last year's second round. This team was pegged to do great things when the players were younger and they have rejuvenated the program. Williamsport (23-2) has won the past two District 2-4 championships and is eyeing the biggest prize of all.
"When we were playing in sixth, seventh and eighth grade tournaments, states always was the goal," guard Isaiah Washington said. "We set our goal on winning the state championship ever since then. Now is our time to chase after that dream we've had since we were young. It's time to lay it all out there."
Williamsport has done that all season, winning 14 straight while frequently coming back to do so. The Millionaires rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Scranton in the district championship and have a strong core of players, including four starters back from last year's team.
The bench has come on strong, too, giving Williamsport a nice late-season boost. Thomas Ross has played his best basketball down the stretch while Greg Ousley keeps getting healthier and has the potential to be an all-around force. With a strong opponent coming to Montoursville Saturday, Williamsport needs to continue receiving those all-around performances to keep the dream alive.
"There's probably not a practice where it doesn't cross our mind about that (Harrisburg) game," center Chris Kinley said. "We were right there. We're just trying to go out and play our roles. We have to play within our boundaries because that's what hurt us last year."
Liberty has become a state tournament fixture and is in it for the seventh time in eight years. The Hurricanes dropped a heartbreaker in overtime to District 11 champion Parkland in the district semifinals before thumping Stroudsburg, 66-53 in the third-place game. Liberty routed Parkland 66-48 in the Lehigh Valley Conference championship a few weeks ago.
The Hurricanes have a well-rounded lineup similar to Williamsport's. Center Greg Novak, 6-foot-7, is a Monmouth recruit who averaged 13 points and six rebounds last year and has posted similar numbers this season. Swingman K.J. Williams is fast and good at going to the basket. He averages 11 points per game and had 15 against Stroudsburg, while Pat Donnelly added 12.
Deshawn Oyeniyi, a 6-3 forward, has been instrumental to Liberty's success. He missed seven games due to injury earlier this season but has been impressive throughout the playoffs. He had 21 points and seven rebounds in the Lehigh Valley championship win (Williams had 17 and 11) and added 23 against Stroudsburg.
"They know what's at stake. They understand what it's going to take. It's going to take nothing less than our best effort to get it done," Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. "We talk about a disciplined focus and for the most part that's where it's been. They understand you're not always going to have your best offensive game, but if you bring effort and defense you have a chance to win and that's what they do. They don't care who has more points as long as we have the most points on the scoreboard at the end of the game."
Loyalsock (24-3) vs.
Mid Valley (23-5)
At Williamsport, Saturday, 3 p.m.
Like Williamsport, Loyal-sock's season ended in heartbreak last year when it lost to Riverside in the first round on a buzzer-beater. All but two of those Lancers are back this season and they have added motivation with coach Ron Insinger a win away from reaching 800 career victories.
Loyalsock has won two straight district championships and eight since 2001 but has won only two state tournament games during that span. These Lancers have a chance to rise above those other outstanding championship teams if they can be successful this season.
"We have to step up and make a run at states," Loyalsock guard Kyle Datres said after last Saturday's 57-37 district championship win over Wellsboro. "Loyalsock's always known for being a district powerhouse and then falling apart in states, and we don't want that to happen this year."
Loyalsock played a demanding schedule this season with its only losses coming to Williamsport, District 6 Class AAAA champion State College and District 12 Class AA champion Communications Tech. The Lancers scheduled strong so they would be ready to play tough teams like Mid Valley, which is ranked right below No. 7 Loyalsock at No. 8 in the state.
The Spartans are making their first state appearance since 1981 and are having the best season in program history. They have lost their five games by just 19 combined points and have a win over District 2 champion Holy Cross, although they also dropped three close games to them. Mid Valley lost on a last-second 3-pointer to Wilkes-Barre Meyers in the district semifinals, but routed Elk Lake, 75-48 in the third-place game.
Center Ronny Tomasetti, a 6-4 senior, is the program's first 1,000-point scorer and had 24 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks against Elk Lake. Guard Matt Tanner (11.1 ppg) added 17 and guard Alex Prislupsky (10.8), 13. Mid Valley features a solid rotation and has received some nice production from its reserves.
When Insinger won his 600th and 700th games they were thrillers against outstanding teams. Loyalsock beat Lewisburg in overtime on Kory Datres's near half-court buzzer-beater in 2003 and edged eventual state semifinalist Hughesville, 59-57 in 2008. The Lancers would like nothing more than to get that 800th on such a big stage.
"It's one of our goals as a team," guard Omar Little said. "We've got to work hard."
"Anytime you reach that monument it's rewarding, but to win it in the first round would be more rewarding," Insinger said. "I remember each game and that's one I'd never forget."
St. John Neumann (23-2) vs. Harrisburg Christian (12-14)
At Montoursville, 7 p.m. tonight
The Knights return to a court on which they have produced two of their biggest wins over the past 13 years. Neumann edged Mahanoy Area on a Tyree Vidal buzzer-beater in last year's first round and last Saturday rallied to defeat Sullivan County, 37-32, and capture the program's first district championship since 2000.
Neumann is hoping the good times continue at Montoursville as it hopes to add a state run to an impressive resume that includes HAC-III and District 4 championships.
"All I know is that when we have battles like this we're in states and we're just going to be ready for it," point guard Richard Allen said. "It will be fun."
Neumann is having one of the best seasons in program history and its 18-0 start was the school's best ever. The Knights have not lost to a Class A team and are the only team to beat Sullivan (22-3), sweeping three hard-fought games. Neumann rallied from a 10-point deficit midway through the third quarter in last week's championship and held the Griffins to three field goals over the final 12 minutes.
"It's been amazing," forward Ryan Reid said. "We have to try to keep the hunger and try to keep this going."
Standing in Neumann's way is Harrisburg Christian, a team that finished fourth in District 3 and that features a standout in forward Connor Shroyer. The senior does it all, averaging 24.7 points, 13.5 rebounds and 6.7 blocks per game. Shroyer also has hit 54 3-pointers, scored 40 points against Harrisburg Academy and reached 1,000 points earlier this season.
Junior guard Scott Gaffey also can do damage, averaging 12.5 points. David Yeckley was one of four players in double figures in a district quarterfinal win over Covenant Christian. Yeckley scored 15 in that 69-62 win and Harrisburg Christian shot 27 3-pointers that night.
Neumann celebrated a huge win last Saturday and would like an encore tonight. It has been a dream season for the Knights and they do not want it to end.
"We want to go deep into the state playoffs," guard Jordan Cole said. "That's our goal."