The District 4 playoffs open next week, but one of the district's hottest teams will not be playing.
But that does not mean Loyalsock cannot have some fun before closing the door on this season. The Lancers have embraced the role of spoiler and are going out swinging. They also are building momentum since all but one player returns next season.
Loyalsock beat playoff-bound Central Columbia 62-55 last Tuesday and three nights later knocked Lewisburg out of the playoffs, rallying for a 51-45 road win in front of a sold-out crowd. The Lancers could have given up on their season a few weeks ago. Instead they are fighting on and making a statement.
Loyalsock will fall short of the .500 record needed to qualify for the District 4 playoffs, which begin next week.
"It definitely shows that even though we were eliminated we can always come back and show what kind of team we are," freshman forward Cassi Kuhns said.
Ultimately, Loyalsock's brutal non-conference schedule is the biggest reason it is not advancing. The Lancers actually are tied for fourth in the brutal HAC-II and are ahead tied with Central while being two games ahead of playoff-bound Southern Columbia. They have four wins against playoff teams in the league, twice took three-time defending district champion Mount Carmel to the limit and are above .500 in the HAC-II.
Losses to Class AAAA Williamsport, Chester and Bishop Shanahan as well as to District 11 title contenders North Schuylkill losses to Pine Grove and Class AAA top seed Danville, however, proved too much to overcome. Think about who it has played and the way it is playing now and it is not hard imagining Loyalsock being a threat in the postseason.
"It is so nice to see them play the way I though they could play. I told them earlier in the year I really thought we had a shot to compete for a district championship," said Loyalsock coach Demarr Wright. "I thought we could do that if we played the way we have the last two games but at least we're doing it now. That is a blessing."
That is especially true since the Lancers have so much talent returning. Four starters are back while players like Kuhns, Emma Fox and Abby Sullivan could have breakout years. All three played pivotal roles against Lewisburg as Loyalsock overcame a six-point third-quarter deficit. Sullivan tied the game with a 3-pointer and Kuhns dominated the fourth quarter.
Kuhns has not played much at the varsity level, but Wright has been easing her into the rotation late this season. Against Lewisburg, she looked like a potential force, scoring 10 of Loyalsock's 12 points during one fourth-quarter stretch and helping Loyalsock pull away.
"It was really exciting. I don't always get in there I just try and do my best and that's what I did," Kuhns said. "I felt like I was on fire and I just had to keep it up so I could help my team to get a win."
Allie Pagana also shined, scoring 17 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dealing five assists. Pagana has come up big throughout the season but she is the team's lone senior and will not be back next year. The way Pagana (10 points, 9 steals, 7 assists in a road win at Southern) is fighting to the end, though, is serving as an example moving forward and her impact could carry on even after she graduates.
"People follow what she does on the court," Wright said. "At the end of the season we'll have our meeting and let the coaches vote on the things and she gets snubbed a lot and I don't know why. She's one of the best players, regardless of what she does points-wise in this conference."
Pagana might be one of the best players and next season, Loyalsock has a chance to be one of the HAC-II's best teams. Kayla Gee and Kendall Watkins both are averaging in or close to double figures. Angie Cardillo has made huge strides and Cellina Salvatori is an outstanding defender who also can become an offensive threat.
The thing is, if Loyalsock was not playing so well late this season, optimism might be so high entering the offseason. The Lancers have turned a negative into a positive. They know what they can do and they understand the future appears bright.
"This gives us a lot of momentum," Kuhns said. "It shows us what we can look forward too."
COMEBACK KIDS: South Williamsport opened the season 3-8 and was relatively inexperienced. Playoffs seemed like an afterthought at that point. Suddenly, what was a far-fetched idea, however, has become reality. South (10-10) has made a huge comeback and can clinch a playoff berth if it wins at Bloomsburg Tuesday and/or at home Saturday against Jersey Shore.
The Mounties pulled even after rallying past Neumann, 52-49 last Friday. South has been one of the district's most resilient teams and has made second-half comebacks a staple. It turned a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit into a 3-point win Friday, overcame a 14-point deficit against Muncy and ignited its playoff push with a thrilling overtime win over Loyalsock after trailing by 10 late in the third quarter.
Senior Jen Jackson has been outstanding, scoring at least 18 points in six straight games while also hitting the boards hard. The development of underclassmen Anna Steer and Kelsey Gantz also has been crucial. Steer is developing into one of the area's premier all-around sophomores and Gantz scored a career-high 11 points against Neumann.
PUTBACKS: Bucktail's Maria Morgan is looking more and more like an all-state lock for a second straight year. The junior point guard scored 33 points, dealt 10 assists and made 11 steals in Friday's 77-19 win over CMVT. Morgan is averaging 28 points per game and has helped surging Bucktail (12-7) win seven straight ... Cowanesque Valley's Grace Earle scored a career-high 37 points in Friday's 67-53 win over Liberty. Earle has had a big season and has established career-highs in points in three of her last five games ...Galeton is a win from clinching a second straight playoff berth. The Tigers (10-10) have won three straight and Latascia Shadle continued her big season by scoring 44 points in two wins last week ... Wellsboro (10-11) and Milton (10-11) both won big games Thursday and Friday and face do-or-die situations tonight and tomorrow. Wellsboro faces Wyalusing while Milton plays Shamokin. Sarah Ingerick kept Wellsboro's playoff hopes alive with a 24-point performance in a 52-50 win over Williamson while Dani Lincoln (19) and Brooke Swartz (18) reached career-highs in a 63-57 win over Selinsgrove ... Williamson all-state center Lori Horton concluded her brilliant scholastic career with another double-double against Wellsboro. She finished her career with 1,048 points and 1,024 rebounds.
Dr. Masse's top five in girls basketball
1. Warrior Run (17-3): The Defenders came back strong after Mount Carmel snapped its seven-game winning streak and captured the HAC-II championship. Warrior Run beat Hughesville and St. John Neumann last week and now is two wins from clinching the district's top seed. A win over Loyalsock Tuesday would likely put the Defenders into the Heartland Conference Tournament too.
"These wins helped a lot to get us back on track going into the Loyalsock game," Warrior Run coach Jon Weaver said. "They are going to come after us. They are trying to be spoilers so we have to come ready to play."
Watch Chloe Eisenhuth in that game. The barely five-foot guard can go without scoring and still make a huge impact. She is an excellent defender and passer who is critical to the team's success.
2. Muncy (18-3): The Indians swept three games last week and recorded a big win Saturday, going to Lourdes and beating the five-time defending District 4 Class A champions, 49-43. Lourdes had won three straight over Muncy during the last two seasons. Crystal Good is coming on strong in her senior year and had 12 points in that win while Brianna McLaughlin and Jordan Jones combined for 31. If the Indians can win at Millville Tuesday and Loyalsock upsets Warrior Run, Muncy will earn District 4 Class AA's top seed. The Indians also will play in the Heartland Tournament Thursday since HAC-III champion Millville has opted out.
3. Mansfield (18-3): Sophomores Ali Hillson and Alysa Davey-Bostic have helped make Mansfield strong this season and possibly even stronger in coming years. Both are double-digit scorers who do a lot more too. Hillson had 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists in Friday's 62-41 win over North Penn while Davey-Bostic scored a career-high 21 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots. Kaitlyn Garverick has had a big season too and has made double-doubles her norm. She had 11 points and a season-high 18 rebounds Friday as Mansfield won for the 13th time in 14 games.
4. Montoursville (13-7): The Warriors will open districts on the road but are as dangerous as a lower-seeded team can be. They proved it again Friday, defeating three-time defending district champion Mount Carmel, 57-50. Montoursville swept Mount Carmel and is the only HAC-II team to defeat the Tornadoes since its league opener last season. Kirsten O'Malley is having a strong season and scored 24 points in that win while juniors Marissa Hall and Kelsey Stine came through with clutch performances, combining for 26 points. The Warriors are attempting to reach the district semifinals for the first time since 2002.
5. St. John Neumann (14-7): Before losing two hard-fought games to South and Warrior Run, Neumann cooled off streaking Bloomsburg, winning 53-45 after losing to the Panthers by 15 earlier this season. The Knights have lost to only one Class A team and have the potential to get past the quarterfinals for the first time in the 21st century although they will have to win on the road to do so. All-state guard Meghan Trenholm averaged 20 points in those three games.
Player of the week
Corrine Shaffer, Montgomery: The senior point guard has had an outstanding season and helped lead Montgomery to a 61-34 win over Benton before matching her career-high with 54 points in a loss to undefeated Millville. Shaffer never gave up on this season after Montgomery started slow and has averaged 22.1 points over her last five games.
Game of the week
Muncy at Millville: The Indians will be trying to wreck Millville's undefeated season Tuesday while clinching a wild card berth in the Heartland Conference Tournament that opens Thursday in Montoursville. They also will be trying to slow down Madi Bower who scored 54 points against Montgomery last Friday. Millville took Round 1, 61-51 last month and the rematch should be a fun one in what has become a good rivalry.