By CHRIS MASSE
POTTSVILLE?- Loyalsock teammates Ryan Bogaczyk and Mike Pastore walked off arm and arm while consoling each other. Nearly every other Lancer that left Martz Hall's court also displayed teary eyes.
Loyalsock guard Omar Little sits on the floor after losing in overtime to Trinity Saturday in the PIAA?Class AA?boys basketball quarterfinals at Martz Hall. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
And that left a man who has more career wins than any other Pennsylvania high school boys basketball coach facing one of the most difficult tasks in a long and storied career. Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger has won 801 career games and 17 district championships but even he know did not know how to address his players following Saturday's Class AA state quarterfinal.
The Lancers overcame a seven-point third-quarter deficit and led until the fourth-quarter's final second. A team that had come farther than any Loyalsock team in 18 years had a Final 4 berth in its grasp, but the celebration never took place. Instead, Dominick Antonelli hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to force overtime and the Trinity Shamrocks took over once there while downing Loyalsock, 73-68 in a thriller.
"There are not any words that can comfort them right now. It's been a terrific journey and a lot of fun, a lot of excitement on that journey," Insinger said. "Something can be learned from today and hopefully the younger guys won't forget that and will build on that between now and November."
Trinity (21-7) advanced to Wednesday's Eastern Final against Holy Cross, which beat Constitution. Loyalsock (26-4) won the third-most games in program history. It repeated as District 4 champions, won five games over state-ranked teams in the past three weeks and outperformed the seven Lancer district champions that came before it.
None of it mattered. The Lancers, starting four sophomores, believed they were the state's best team and would become the program's first state champion. They did all they could to make it happen, but that is little solace right now. Maybe some day, the Lancers will realize how far they came, how close they were, but right now all they feel is hurt and frustration.
"It's just we were so close. We were there," said Loyalsock forward Ben Sosa, following a strong 12-point, five-steal performance. "I'm going to keep my head up because we made it far. We weren't expected to make it this far so I'm grateful for that. I just wish we could have made it farther, that's all."
For most of the fourth quarter it looked like Loyalsock would. Roger Wilson played another outstanding game, scoring 22 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Loyalsock led by as many as six and a Wilson free throw made it 60-55 with 1:55 remaining.
It is those last two minutes that will be hard to forget. The Lancers missed five straight free throws and lost two turnovers during that span as Trinity pulled within one on an Antonelli drive with 13 seconds remaining. Kyle Datres, who broke the program's single-season assist record, hit two foul shots with 9.5 seconds remaining that made it 62-59, but Trinity had one last chance to tie.
Loyalsock had a foul to give and Datres fouled Antonelli in the backcourt with seven seconds left. Another foul would have put Trinity in the 1-and-1 in a three-point game but the Lancers chose not to. Antonelli worked around a screen from Brandon Kuntz, pump-faked near the top of the key and let it go. The shot hit nothing but net as Trinity players and fans literally jumped for joy.
"That was my first buzzer-beater ever. To send it into overtime was a huge moment for me," Antonelli said. "I'm speechless right now. I still can't believe it went in."
Loyalsock was teetering following the shot, but struck first in overtime when Omar Little (18 points) scored on a difficult drive. That lead was erased and Trinity went ahead to stay, though, when Brad Wesner hit a baseline jumper. Trinity extended the lead to 69-65 but a Datres steal with 25 seconds left gave Loyalsock one last chance. That shot was off the mark and Wilson fouled out seconds later before Kuntz (14 points, 10 rebounds) clinched the win with a putback off a missed free throw.
Trinity made all three of its overtime shots and hit 10 of 13 in the fourth quarter and overtime. Antonelli played the game of his life considering the circumstances. The junior guard badly rolled his ankle early in the second quarter and was carried off the court. Heavily taped, he returned in the second half and scored all 18 of his points while making all seven shots. Antonelli scored nine fourth-quarter points and his buzzer-beater could become the stuff of Trinity legend.
"We knew once it left his hands it was going in. He's a great shooter and the atmosphere after that was unbelievable," said Dylan DeFrank, who scored 16 points. "We almost new we were going to win the game after that. We went on a charge after that and it was an unbelievable shot. It was a lot of fun."
Loyalsock had fun early, starting on a 9-0 run. Trinity pulled within one by halftime and started strong in the third quarter, taking a 36-29 with 5:20 remaining. Like it has all season, Loyalsock came storming back and erased that deficit almost as soon as it had fallen behind. All five starters began clicking at the same time and Loyalsock closed on a big run while taking a 46-42 lead.
A Wilson putback gave Loyalsock its biggest second-half lead, putting it up 52-46 less than two minutes into the fourth. Two Little free throws pushed the lead back to six with 3:37 remaining.
"We just wanted to keep our cool," Sosa said. "Our coach has been preaching that to us all week."
"They have been the Cardiac Kids all year," Insinger said. "Today wasn't any different, but we just couldn't hold on."
Little again shined in the fourth quarter, scoring eight of his 18 points to give him 26 state tournament fourth-quarter points. Sosa was tough on both ends and Pastore had five assists and three steals. Bogaczyk made an impact in his final game, spelling Wilson at a key time when the center had four fouls while grabbing three rebounds.
Loyalsock did not receive the ending it wanted. Still, it's the journey it took to reach the state's Elite 8 that defined its season.
"I think they realized they were so close to getting to Hershey, so close to being one of the best teams in the state. Just a break here or there and we might have it," Insinger said. "It eases the pain somewhat when you lose to a quality team that is as well-coached as Trinity. They are a first-class outfit.
"To play a team like that pretty much even up speaks volumes for the quality of the program we have."
Brad Wesner 2 0-0 4, Dominick Antonelli 7 1-2 18, Brandon Kuntz 5 4-5 14, Josh Trumpy 2 10-14 14, Jay Agnew 2 2-2 7, Dylan DeFrank 6 1-1 16, Mike Gagliardi 0 0-0 0. Totals 24 18-24 73.
Roger Wilson 8 6-7 22, Kyle Datres 2 2-4 6, Omar Little 7 3-5 18, Ben Sosa 5 2-5 12, Mike Pastore 3 0-0 8, Tommy Baggett 0 0-0 0, Ryan Bogaczyk 1 0-0 2. Totals 26 13-21 68.
Trinity13 13 16 20 11-73
Loyalsock15 12 19 16 6-68
3-pointers: Trinity 7 (Antonelli 3, DeFrank 3, Agnew); Loyalsock 3 (Pastore 2, Little).
Records: Trinity 21-7. Loyalsock 26-4.