Roger Wilson heard the doubts creeping in. All it did was motivate him.
The only senior Loyalsock starter was standing on the sideline between the first and second quarters after District 12 champion Communications Tech had stormed out to a 16-3 lead. Everything that could go wrong seemingly did during a 13-0 Phoenix run, but afterward Wilson and his teammates were still standing.
Loyalsock dominated the final three quarters and overcame an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit as it downed Comm Tech, 51-48, Wednesday and clinched a spot in Saturday's Class AA state quarterfinals at Martz Hall against Trinity. It is the first time in 18 years Loyalsock has reached the quarterfinals and its resiliency is a big reason why.
"Right after the first quarter it's kind of hard to not have that thought that this might be it, but I think that's what inspired us was this is it if we don't pick up our game," said Wilson, who made four huge fourth-quarter blocks. "The second quarter we were progressing and got it down to 10 and then the third quarter was, 'this is when we need to step up,' and the fourth quarter we shut them down and kept going."
Now Loyalsock (26-3) is going farther than any of its previous seven district champions have. The Lancers won their 11th straight and exacted revenge against the last team to beat them. That night, the Phoenix won 48-44, but Loyalsock left the court believing it was the better team.
Wednesday it proved it.
Loyalsock opened the fourth quarter on a 14-0 run, staggering the Phoenix while sending their biggest fan section this season into a frenzy. Omar Little (20 points) played spectacular once again in the final quarter, and five starters who never sat in the second half made a big statement about their toughness equaling their talent.
"We knew coming in we could win this game if we all stuck together," point guard Kyle Datres said. "After getting off to a bad start we all came together in the huddle, not the coaches, just the players. We said if we're going to do this we have to stick together no matter what and we did and it definitely paid off."
"We knew that we played a very bad first quarter and we knew if we played better that we could come back," guard Mike Pastore said. "We just had to keep our composure and play with our energy and we did it."
Loyalsock would have preferred to play four strong quarters and not bury itself early, but that it did not flinch from Comm Tech's early upper cut speaks to the team's maturity. Wilson was the only non-sophomore who took the court Wednesday, but the sophomores have grown up fast. Datres started last year while Little and Ben Sosa played extended minutes so they have become callous to big-game situations.
And, as coach Ron Insinger who tied Larry Graham's Pennsylvania boys basketball record with 801 career wins, said at this point of the season they are really not sophomores anymore. The grade is just a number now.
"You can tell that we're a mature team because nearly any other team that would have been in that position would have given up," Wilson said. "It takes a true team that has that family bond that we have with each other to get back on the right track."
Loyalsock has revealed plenty about its character and maturity during the postseason. It overcame an 11-point deficit to beat Wellsboro in the District 4 championship and did not flinch when Mid Valley hit five of its first six shots in the state tournament opener while taking an early lead.
The Lancers did not have to come back a lot during the regular season, although they did outscore Mount Carmel by 12 on the road to win that game, 60-49. Still, they have proven that no matter the situation, no matter the venue, they can find a way. That has spurred Loyalsock to win more games than any Lancer team since the 1993 state finalist.
It also has started captivating what for most of the season was a fickle fan base. It look a long time for some reason, but Loyalsock fans are starting to make their impact felt and made Cumberland Valley High School feel more like a Lancer home game Wednesday.
"At one point the whole stadium was cheering 'Let's go Sock.' It's like the sixth man," Pastore said. "They are helping us and the students are starting to have a section. It always helps when they have your backs."
That has been the team's collective mantra all season. Wilson and fellow senior Ryan Bogaczyk have pointed the way. They made it a point from the first practice to make sure everyone on the team realized he had not only an obligation to himself, but every Lancer. Look up and down the roster and one finds a different player having big games to spark the team. It's not always the same one, but the Lancers know there always is someone there to pick them up.
"Roger has been great and Ryan's senior leadership has permeated the team from Day 1," Insinger said. "He's been very optimistic and upbeat. His heart is in the right place and the guys see that and they want to follow him."
The Lancers hope that path keeps going. They celebrated Wednesday but Thursday it was back to business. The focus now is Trinity.
They are enjoying the journey but they are not satisfied. They want more.
"That second half was unforgettable. The way we were down and came back together as a team with the crowd yelling, there's nothing like that," Datres said. "We've always been known to win district championships and stuff here but that's not good enough anymore. We want to make a run in states."