Loyalsock practices the play every day. Coach Ron Insinger tries to simulate big-play pressure as best he can.
But there really is no way to prepare a team for the dramatic situation that presented itself with 2.3 seconds remaining in Tuesday's District 4 heavyweight showdown against visiting Lewisburg. Still, all the practice and all the repetition paid off in the most thrilling fashion.
Omar Little took a pass from Kyle Datres and hit a running leaner at the buzzer, lifting Loyalsock to a dramatic 53-52 win in front of an overflowing crowd. The buzzer-beater capped a wild game that featured three lead changes in the final 15 seconds of a contest featuring the state's Nos. 4 and 5 ranked teams.
Ben Sosa of Loyalsock dunks Tuesday night vs. Lewisburg. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com
"We work on it in practice and do our best to act like it's a game-time situation," Little said. "We go at it and contest the play and that's the thing, it's the whole team coming through."
"We practiced this all year long because we know when playoffs come around we're going to have it down perfect if we want to move on and make a run in states," Datres said. "The hard work paid off and got us a bucket to win the game."
No. 4 Loyalsock (9-1, 5-0) handed Lewisburg (11-0, 4-1) its first loss and took a one-game lead in the HAC-II while offering a glimpse of how fun the rematch might be. The Green Dragons led by 11 in the second quarter but by just one at halftime. After that, no team led by more than four the rest of the way. The Lancers trailed 49-46 with 55 seconds remaining and that is when the real fun began.
Datres hit a difficult pump-fake, leaning 3-pointer that tied it before Will Sigl (16 points, 8 rebounds) hit a foul shot to make it 50-49. Datres sank two foul shots with 15 seconds left to put Loyalsock ahead 51-50 before Sam Allen brought the ball downcourt and Lewisburg called a timeout. The Dragons drew up a great play as Allen hit Jesse Flannery cutting down the middle of the lane. The point guard hit a driving shot and put his team up 52-51 with 5.9 seconds remaining.
Following a missed foul shot, Tommy Baggett grabbed the rebound, raced to midcourt and Loyalsock called timeout with 2.3 seconds left. Twelve years earlier, coach Ron Insinger drew up a game-winning play as Kory Datres hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to stun Lewisburg 50-49 and deliver him his 600th win. This time, it was Kyle Datres who played the trigger man.
Sigl, a 6-foot-8 center, tightly contested the inbound play, but Datres swung it around his long arms and found Little on the right wing. Little, who had missed 11 of 12 shots through three quarters, dribbled a few times, before jumping up and getting off a shot despite blanket coverage. The junior guard banked it off the glass and set off a wild scene as jubilant Loyalsock students stormed the court and celebrated the district's most thrilling win yet this season.
"He contested the shot and I just squared up as best I could and just hit it off the backboard," Little said. "We just kept our heads. You have to give it to our second team. They work us so hard in practice and keep us in it and we were ready."
"I know if I got it to Omar he's either going to put it in the basket or get fouled," Datres said. "He's the first option and he made a play for us to win the game."
Loyalsock not only overcame a late deficit, but also the losses of leading scorers Mike Pastore (15 points) and Ben Sosa (12 points, 10 rebounds) who both fouled out in the fourth quarter.
Little came up big at a crucial time and hit his last two shots while Datres excelled under pressure, hitting his last three shots in the final minute while also playing spectacular defense on the 6-7 Allen despite giving up nine inches.
"We never lacked the heart and that was huge down the stretch," Insinger said. "Lewisburg is so well-coached and solid and they played their hearts out. They gave it everything they have. What a credit to them and their program. It could have gone either way."
The Dragons never wilted after Loyalsock stormed back and erased that 11-point second-quarter deficit. Sosa and Wes Lapoint threw down consecutive rim-bending third-quarter dunks to put Loyalsock up 36-32 and it appeared one of the big runs that hurt Lewisburg in all four games last year was coming again.
Instead, Lewisburg called a timeout and scored the next four points. Baggett hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to put Loyalsock up 39-36 entering the fourth quarter, but the Dragons soon started taking control. Flannery hit some big shots and skillfully handled Loyalsock's pressure defense while Sigl hit some clutch foul shots to put Lewisburg up three 55 seconds left.
From there, the district's two best teams so far took turns making big plays and bringing their enthusiastic fans to their feet. The first three quarters provided a harbinger as each ended with a player draining a buzzer-beater.
"This is one of those it's a shame to see either team lose. It's just two heavyweights throwing punches and unfortunately their last punch landed at the buzzer," Lewisburg coach John Vaji said. "There's a lot of disappointed young men in that locker room but I can't wait to have them in practice again tomorrow to go back to work. They're just a super bunch of kids."
Sam Allen 5 1-2 12, Will Sigl 5 6-8 16, Matt Fedorajka 2 2-4 7, Jesse Flannery 4 1-3 9, Nick Costigliola 2 1-2 5, Tanner Host 0 1-2 1, Drew Newcomb 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 12-21 52.
Omar Little 3 1-3 7, Kyle Datres 2 4-4 9, Ben Sosa 5 2-2 12, Mike Pastore 7 1-1 15, Tommy Baggett 1 0-0 3, Wes Lapoint 1 3-4 5, Saabir Gibson 0 0-0 0, Luke Glavin 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 11-14 53.
Lewisburg17 9 10 16-52
Loyalsock12 13 14 14-53
3-pointers: Lewisburg 2 (Allen, Fedorajka); Loyalsock 2 (Datres, Pastore).
Records: Loyalsock 9-1, 5-0 HAC-II. Lewisburg 11-1, 4-1.
JV Score: Loyalsock 75-47.