Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger was thrilled when he met former legendary UCLA coach John Wooden 39 years ago. Still, as excited as he was, he intently listened as Wooden talked.
This was no time to be in awe. This was time to learn. And to this day, Insinger adheres to a Wooden principle.
When it comes to games, better to focus on yourself than the other team. Play the game the way it has been taught and the other stuff can take care of itself.
Loyalsock understands it is playing an outstanding Trinity team today at Martz Hall in the Class AA state quarterfinals. It also knows it has to stick with what has taken it this far.
"It's not really about what they're doing at this point," Loyalsock point guard Kyle Datres said. "It's about what we do together as a team."
"We know that from here on out the teams are going to be very good," fellow guard Mike Pastore said. "Trinity is a very disciplined team so we just have to play our game and do what we do best."
Loyalsock (26-3) has approached all its games like that and is having its best season in 18 years. The Lancers are playing in the state quarterfinals for the first time during that span and have won more games in a season than any Lancer team since its 1993 state finalist. The challenges have been many but Loyalsock keeps knocking them down and defeated District 12 champion Communications Tech, 51-48 in Wednesday's second round.
Despite trailing 16-3 after the first quarter and 41-33 after three, Loyalsock never panicked. It stuck to its beliefs, stuck together and opened the quarter on a 14-0 run while rallying for a win against the last team to beat it.
"John Wooden said it doesn't matter what the opposition does, it's what we do that counts. It's what we have to execute. If we do our fundamentals we've been taught then everything else will fall into place and there's so much truth in that," Insinger said. "You box out, you do the great passing, you execute, you set screens properly and you do all the little things of the game correctly and you're going to end up on top."
Loyalsock has done that 11 straight times. During that stretch it has won five games against teams ranked in the state's Top 10. It has held off challenges, come back to win and pulled away. Whatever it takes, Loyalsock has found a way.
The fan support could be even stronger today. Loyalsock is the only District 4 team still playing in any classification. They are now the district's team.
"That's definitely a big part of what our success was (Wednesday)," Wilson said. "On the court it's us but off the court the fans get into it too and we just feed off each other's energy and pick each other up. That's big."
Loyalsock is hoping to play big again against Trinity, which is coming off a 74-47 win over District 12 fourth-place finisher Sayre. Trinity opened states by going on the road and beating Wilkes-Barre Meyers after dropping a one-point, last-second decision to Delone Catholic in the District 3 championship.
The Shamrocks (20-7) put together a phenomenal shooting performance against Sayre, hitting 25 of 43 shots from the field and 14 of 22 3-pointers. Dylan DeFrank continued his strong play off the bench, scoring a season-high 26 points while draining seven of his nine 3-point attempts. Guard Dom Antonelli added 23 points, hitting 5 of 9 of his 3-point shots.
Trinity has hit 170 3-pointers this season but also can do damage inside. Josh Trumpy, a 6-foot-6 center, averages 13.9 points per game while Brandon Kuntz, 6-5, had 11 points and 10 rebounds against Meyers. Both run the floor well and helped Trinity outrebound Meyers, 33-25.
Antonelli has been playing some of his best basketball, scoring 22 points against Meyers. He averages 13 points per game while fellow guard Brad Wesner is another strong all-around player who can shoot it from anywhere. He is averaging 10.2 points per game. Jay Agnew is one of District 3's best defensive players and is especially tough on the ball.
Agnew also is a good passer and had seven assists against Sayre. Trinity moved the ball well against Sayre's zone defense and effectively set each other up for good shots while finishing with 18 assists. DeFrank has come back strong after missing some games due to a foot injury and Mike Gagliardi (4.4 points per game) also has been solid off the bench.
Trinity coach Larry Kostelac won his 600th career game at his alma mater Wednesday. Together, he and Insinger have won 1,401 games in 68 seasons at their schools. Insinger is tied with former North Catholic coach Don Graham for the most boys basketball wins in state history at 801.
Insinger could not care less about those other 801 wins right now. He just wants another one Saturday. The challenge is new, but the goal remains the same.
The season has been a special won but the Lancers have no desire to see it end. That means staying the course and focusing on the little things that make the biggest difference.
"That's every game we go into, we go in focusing on what we have to do," Wilson said.
"Right now it's not about talent anymore," Datres said. "It's about who wants it the most."