MANSFIELD - Loyalsock players have not read their scouting reports but they have heard what some think is their achilles heel.
Loyalsock does not start a player taller than the 6-foot-2 Ben Sosa. Some have said that means the Lancers do not have an inside presence.
Sosa has become a force as this season has progressed and was at his best in Tuesday's District 4 Class AA semifinal against Towanda. Sosa scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds while helping Loyalsock win, 85-73 and earn a spot in their third straight championship. The Lancers (24-2) clinched a fourth straight state tournament appearance and will try for a three-peat this weekend against Lewisburg.
"We're getting all this criticism for being an undersized team but Ben takes that and uses that as motivation to do things a lot of big guys in the state can't do," Loyalsock guard Mike Pastore said. "He boxed and played his role and he came up big for us."
Sosa dominated the paint and hit 13 of 18 shots as Loyalsock's talented guards repeatedly found him. The junior center had a double-double just 90 seconds into the third quarter, hit shots at key times and kept possessions alive with his rebounding and hustle.
Size is just a number to Sosa, who runs the court like a guard and fits in well with this four-guard offense. He even displayed a nice passing touch, dealing five assists and having a hand in six straight to put the game away after Towanda (22-4) had cut a one-time 22-point second-quarter deficit to five with 3:50 remaining.
Opponents might want to tear up that scouting report.
"It's playoffs, and I have to pick it up for (departed all-state center) Roger (Wilson) so I knew I had to do a good job inside," Sosa said. "I've just worked on boxing out because I'm not going to outjump every kid that I play against."
"Everybody says you don't have any size, you don't have any bigs so he's taken it upon himself to prove people wrong," Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. "He played with composure and played with a lot of authority."
So did all the Lancer starters.
Loyalsock hit 35 of 62 shots and topped 80 points for a second straight playoff game. The two-time defending district champions have scored 183 points in two playoff games and were 7 of 12 from 3-point range last night.
Pastore shined after a slow start and made some big plays in the second half as Towanda made its furious comeback. He scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half and added a game-high seven assists.
"Coach Jeff (Everett) talked to me and kind of got me mad a little bit and did it to get me to play harder," Pastore said. "He told me I had to play with a little chip on my shoulder and said it looks like I don't want to be out there. It got me mad and I played with controlled anger."
Loyalsock needed all its firepower to hold off Towanda and dynamic point guard Noah Huff.
The junior erupted for 36 points and scored 15 in the third quarter as Towanda started rallying. His off-balance 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter pulled the Knights within 76-71 but consecutive Little and Datres assists to Sosa ignited a game-clinching 7-0 run.
Little scored 19 points but his defense might have been even more crucial. Insinger put him on Huff in the fourth quarter and Little held him to four points, including none over the last three minutes, 50 seconds. Datres played strong too, scoring 14 points, hitting 6 of 9 shots, grabbing seven rebounds and dealing five assists.
"It helps a lot because they're good guards and they look out for me and find me when I'm open," Sosa said. "That's how I score as many as I do."
"We're scoring enough points to win, we just have to pick it up a copule notches on defense," Insinger said. "We can't allow that amount of points or we'll end up on the lower side of the bracket."
Noah Huff 11 11-11 36, Dave Rodenhizer 8 3-3 22; Noah Wheeler 0 0-0 0, Garrett Mosier 3 4-5 10, Nick Place 2 0-0 5. Totals 24 18-19 73.
Tommy Baggett 2 3-4 8, Ben Sosa 13 1-2 27, Kyle Datres 6 1-2 14, Mike Pastore 6 2-5 17, Omar Little 8 1-5 19, Luke Glavin 0 0-0 0, Brennan Casale 0 0-0, Marcus Williams 0 0-0 0, Wes Lapoint 0 0-0 0. Totals 35 8-18 85.
Towanda11 21 25 16--73
Loyalsock24 20 23 18--85
3-pointers: Towanda 7 (Huff 3, Rodenhizer 3, Place); Loyalsock 7 (Pastore 3, Little 2, Datres, Baggett).
Records: Loyalsock 24-2. Towanda 22-4.