Losing the District 4 Class AA championship was a huge blow, but it was not a knockout punch.
When Lewisburg defeated Loyalsock, 61-45 and captured the district title 10 nights ago, Lancer players seethed but they did not mope. Several have been down this road before. They are a resilient team that knows while one championship eluded them, a bigger one remains a possibility.
The team's baseball players can tell every Lancer personally how true that is. Last spring, Loyalsock dropped a nine-inning heartbreaker to Hughesville in the district final before regrouping and winning the state championship two weeks later. Starters Kyle Datres, Ben Sosa and Tommy Baggett also started on that baseball team and now are trying to help Loyalsock turn the ultimate double play.
Loyalsock, with Tommy Baggett, Omar Little, and Mike Pastore, play Delaware Valley Charter. The Lancers have lost two of their last four dating back to the HAC title game vs. St. John Neumann, but have still reached the PIAA’s second round.
"It's a cliche, but everyone says you're 0-0 and it's true so we came out and turned our season around in baseball and hopefully we can do that same thing in basketball," Datres said following Saturday's first-round win over Trinity. "We took the first step (Saturday) and we have a long way to go, but I think we can do it if we stay mentally smart and keep fighting in practice and getting better every day."
Loyalsock (25-3) took that first step in impressive fashion Saturday, routing the District 3 champions, 61-45 while exacting revenge for last year's state quarterfinal loss. The Lancers try clearing the next hurdle Wednesday at Cumberland Valley when they play Delaware Valley Charter.
It is a different sport but coming back from adversity is valuable experience no matter the athletic endeavor. The three starters and valuable reserve Luke Glavin were nice assets to have following the Lewisburg loss. As disappointing as that loss was, those players could keep everyone focused. All they had to do was show them their championship rings as proof.
"That was a tough pill to swallow, but we said rather than creating a huge negative, were were going to use it as a positive and springboard us into states," Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. "Everyone is 0-0 now so you know what teams do now is what really counts. People quickly forget what they did in the regular season."
It is not like Loyalsock needed much more incentive entering states but they immediately received it when it learned Trinity was its first opponent. The Shamrocks rallied late last year in the state quarterfinals, hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to force overtime and then won 73-68. Saturday's rematch provided the perfect launching pad for a team seeking redemption on two fronts and Loyalsock dominated from the start, opening a 21-point halftime lead and never letting Trinity pull closer than 13.
Loyalsock played one of its most complete games with Omar Little scoring 28 points, Datres dealing 11 assists, Sosa recording a double-double and Mike Pastore adding 13 points. The Lancers stewed for a week and then showed a perennial power how dangerous it can be.
"Coach told us all week in practice, just work hard and lay it all out there," Little said. "Just do whatever it takes."
That mantra continues being heard this week. Saturday was an impressive opening statement but the Lancers did not enter this season hoping to just win one state playoff game. There is more work to be done.
Extra motivation should not be hard to find either. All year, Loyalsock has heard about being undersized with Sosa its tallest starter at 6-foot-2. Some have discounted the Lancers as a serious state title threat because of that and they have used it as fuel. Trinity featured a strong front line that went 6-6, 6-5 and 6-3, but Loyalsock outrebounded it 35-29 and Sosa grabbed 11 rebounds while Little added eight.
"I'll take hustle and quickness over height any time," Insinger said.
"Ben has a lot of heart," Little said. "We go based off him and crash boards and get rebounds and get out on our transition and he helps a lot."
Loyalsock faces another bigger team with a tall front line and a 6-3 swingman Wednesday. It offers yet another challenge in a season filled with them. But this is why Insinger beefed up the schedule the last two seasons and why he had Loyalsock scrimmage a big Abington Heights squad last week. The Lancers might not be the biggest team but that does not mean it cannot excel. Twenty-five wins for a second straight year prove that.
Nine months ago, the baseball team learned that losing a district title does not eliminate the chance to bounce back and show others that one can still become the state's best team. That is the quest now.
Revenge has been gained but Loyalsock's quest for ultimate redemption continues. Lewisburg knocked Loyalsock down, but the Lancers are coming back swinging.
"It definitely helps, going through baseball and knowing what it takes to come back after a big loss like that," Datres said. "You just have to keep putting the hard work in and coming out strong again in the state tournament."