Chris Kinley has made a series of big plays the last two seasons while helping Williamsport capture consecutive District 2-4 Class AAAA championships. The Navy recruit can wow the crowd with dunks, his ability to run the court, rebound or block a shot.
His biggest play this season did not involve any of those.
As Williamsport clung to a three-point lead in the final minute Saturday against Bethlehem Liberty, Kinley planted himself in the lane and drew a charge against 6-foot-4 Deshawn Oyeniyi. The charge not only sent the sold-out crowd into near delirium but also led to a Liberty technical foul and was a huge play in Williamsport's 62-60 first-round state tournament win.
"I've been on Chris about taking charges," Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. "I said he should be leading the team because you're five-man is usually the guy in the post who's going to step up and stop the penetration. I always tell him he has to be more decisive in those situations and that opportunity he had, he took advantage of it and did great for us."
It was the perfect time for Kinley to draw his first charge this season. The 6-foot-5 center hit some big free throws in the final minute and fought hard against Monmouth-recruit Greg Noack, helping hold him to 12 points. Still, it was that charge that stood out. Without it, Williamsport (23-2) might not have earned a second-round showdown against two-time defending state champion Chester.
"That was definitely a booster for us," Kinley said. "I planted and as soon as they called it I looked up and Jahad (Thomas) looked at me and was yelling, 'Let's go!' I think that was one of the best plays I've made this year."
Thomas continued his brilliant season and elevated his play again when Williamsport (23-2) needed him most. The all-state forward scored 10 of his game-high 27 points in the fourth quarter. Thomas hit Isaiah Washington (15 points) with an assist that led to a go-ahead three-point play with 1:17 remaining and three times hit go-ahead, fourth-quarter shots.
Thomas also came up huge against Scranton in the district championship and is averaging 18 points and more than 10 rebounds per game. Whatever Williamsport needs, Thomas has delivered.
"I know my team has my back, but I'm going to carry my team and push my team to play harder and be aggressive as well," Thomas said. "That's what we needed."
"That's just what he's been doing all year long for us," Taylor said. "He didn't get in foul trouble and we had him for all four quarters and as always he gave us a big second half. We're definitely going to need that senior leadership and that type of performance come Wednesday."
Loyalsock forward Ben Sosa came up big Saturday against Mid Valley, scoring 14 points and making two big blocks at key times. Sosa's performance helped Loyalsock win, 63-54, in a Class AA first round state tournament game while giving coach Ron Insinger his 800th career boys basketball win. The Lancers (25-3) also won their first state playoff game since 2009 and earned a rematch against Communications Tech - the last team to beat it - in Wednesday's second round.
Sosa played his best game this postseason. The junior forward hit 7 of 10 shots from the field and made big plays at key times.
"I was having off days lately and I was just trying to get out there and do better than I had been," Sosa said. "It's fun to get out and get this win. We've been working so hard for it."
In the opening moments of Saturday's game, Mid Valley students started chanting, "little," at 5-7 Loyalsock guard Mike Pastore. Once they watched Pastore play, the chants went away because he delivered big. Pastore scored nine points, dealt five assists and grabbed four rebounds. He also made two straight fourth-quarter steals that clinched the win.
"I love when they say stuff like that," Pastore said. "It motivates me even more."