Loyalsock boys becoming a force

Loyalsock won big games against Lewisburg and Hughesville last week while remaining the rugged HAC-II’s last undefeated team. The Lancers opened up a one-game and two-game lead over their biggest threats thus far and snapped winning streaks that were a combined 14 games.

But they are far from satisfied. This is Loyalsock and one look around the gym that is overflowing with championship banners tells these players all they need to know. Regular-season wins are nice, but when one plays at Loyalsock he expects much more.

This year is no different. It was not surprising then that following an impressive 64-55 win over previously undefeated Lewisburg that players were looking forward and not basking in the glow of a big win.

“When everybody is working together it’s scary the things we can do,” guard Kyle Datres said. “But we can’t just do that for a quarter, we have to put four quarters together if we want to do something in districts and states.”

Loyalsock (10-2) captured last year’s District 4 Class AA championship and has won seven district titles since 2001. State success has eluded the Lancers during that time, but this team wants to change that and that is why it realizes now is no time to start patting itself on the back. Big challenges are ahead, games with Hughesville, which it beat 54-37 on the road, Lewisburg and state power Communications Tech-remain.

The Lancers made a nice statement last week and the previous Saturday when it took Class AAAA’s No. 9 team, Williamsport, to the wire in a hard-fought loss. That matters little to them, though. They want to make their biggest statements in March. And that is why even after their biggest win thus far this season, players like Datres were still talking about the things that went wrong in that game.

“We can’t get a lead and let it go like that and let them get back in it at the end,” Datres said after a big defensive and 10-assist effort. “We have to put our foot on their throats and finish them off and we didn’t do that (Wednesday) so we still have improvement to make.”

That is especially true since it could end up in the same bracket as Lewisburg (11-1) come districts due to a flawed seeding system that only uses overall records to seed teams. Loyalsock has lost its only two games to Class AAAA state title contenders Williamsport and State College and that could make for a more difficult postseason road.

Wherever the road goes, though, long-time coach Ron Insinger has to like that his team is eager to take on that challenge.

“They practice hard every day and really get after it,” Insinger said. “It’s nice to know they’re still hungry and they know that there’s work to be done.”

ROAD WARRIORS: St. John Neumann has played District 4’s three fellow 2012 Class A qualifiers on the road and won all three games by double-digit margins. The Knights (12-0) beat Lourdes and Sullivan County by 11 each and downed Muncy, 60-46 last Friday. It has been an impressive run by an undefeated team that has embraced the challenge of playing those teams who are a combined 33-7 on their home floors.

Each time, Neumann has encountered not only outstanding teams, but also huge and boisterous home crowds. Instead of rattling the Knights, those crowds seem to energize them.

“We don’t really care about the environment. We try to block that out the environment. The crowds are always big but that gets us motivated,” Neumann forward Noah Beiter said. “We’ve played great against those teams and now we have to keep working hard to play them again and just take it one game at a time.”

Neumann is off to the best start in school history and its ability to stay focused and calm no matter the situation is a big reason why. Nothing has shaken a team that is playing well together and that is staying level-headed despite its success. After Muncy took a three-point lead late in the first half Friday, Neumann rallied to take the lead at halftime, challenged each other in the locker room and then played a brilliant second half.

The Knights are undefeated but they are hungry too. Many challenges are ahead but that is what this team enjoys. The bigger the games, the happier they are.

“For them to step up against those teams (Lourdes, Sullivan and Muncy) really showed me that they are gamers,” Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. “They play hard. You get in a real serious game and they can get at it and they all showed that (Friday). They knew what was at stake.”

PUTBACKS: Bucktail junior Chuck Probst played a terrific game in Friday’s 79-73 win over CMVT. Probst scored a career-high 31 points and dealt seven assists. A solid three-sport athlete, Probst was a huge part of the football team’s success last fall and is a big-time pitching prospect … Central Mountain (7-5) has won seen of its last eight games and handed Bald Eagle Area its first loss last week as Tyler Everhart scored a career-high 20 points. Senior Cole Renninger is an all-state candidate, averaging 27 points per game and he had 27 points, 11 rebounds and 6 steals in the BEA win … Hughesville’s Tristan Jeffreys has three double-doubles in his last five games … Bo Burleigh has quietly had a breakout season at Mansfield and had 10 rebounds and five steals in Friday’s 57-42 win over Cowanesque Valley … Milton (9-4) is on a tear and is re-establishing its basketball tradition. The Black Panthers (9-4) have won six straight and trail defending district champion Danville by just one game in the HAC-I.

Dr. Masse’s top five in boys basketball

1. Williamsport (13-2): Isaiah Washington missed most of last week’s game at Hollidaysburg with the flu, but all-state forward Jahad Thomas continued playing outstanding and scored a career-high 29 points in a 76-47 road win. Thomas has a motor that does not stop and is as hard-working as he is talented. He added 17 points in an 81-59 win over Shipley Saturday. Williamsport has scored at least 66 points in its last seven games and Thomas Ross played well off the bench against Shipley, scoring 11 points. The Millionaires highlight the first of two showcases on their homecourt this Saturday against White Plains, N.Y.

2. Loyalsock (10-2): Roger Wilson is having a terrific season and has topped 10 rebounds in all 12 games. The senior center scored a career-high 24 points in the Lewisburg win and has become a team leader after coming into his own late last season.

“Roger is having a really good season and he’s learned to control his emotions,” Insinger said. “That’s been a big turnaround because that’s compensated his game. He doesn’t have the mind games to overcome anymore.”

3. St. John Neumann (12-0): Senior guard Jordan Cole is one smooth player. He can shoot, handles the ball well, displays excellent vision and plays tenacious defense. Cole scored a career-high 23 points against Muncy and has helped Neumann win 30 games the past two seasons. He and Richard Allen form a strong backcourt and Allen runs the offense well while playing excellent defense. Allen had six assists against Muncy.

4. Lewisburg (11-1): Senior center Erich Kline was a bright spot in the Loyalsock loss, scoring a career-high 22 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Kline, 6-foot-5, can take his game inside and outside and is one of the team’s best shooters. He combines with 6-6 freshman Sam Allen to give Lewisburg an imposing inside game. Mike Driscoll is a versatile threat as well and all three of those players scored 17 points in a 65-44 win over Southern Columbia last Friday. Those who think dynamic point guard Travis Conrad is the team’s only offensive threat are consistently being proven wrong.

5. Wellsboro (14-1): It looks like no team can touch the Green Hornets on their way to a third straight NTL-West championship and fourth in five years. Wellsboro has won its five league games by a 33-point average and thumped Williamson, 69-40 Friday. Senior guard Matt Reese is a fun player to watch, exerting a lot of influence on the game even if he does not score. He had eight assists, seven rebounds and six steals against Williamson.

Player of the week

Derek Wilkins, Sullivan County: His teammate Conner Wylie made a push with a huge 37-point, 12-rebound performance Saturday, but Wilkins delivered three straight strong performances last week. The senior forward averaged 16 points and nine rebounds in those wins. He was brilliant in a 70-38 win over Benton, scoring 22 points, grabbing six rebounds, dealing five assists and hitting 9 of 11 shots from the field.

Game of the week

Hughesville at Muncy: Any time these two rivals play it is a big deal and especially when both are having quality seasons. Tonight’s game should be a dandy with the teams being a combined 16-8. Muncy beat Hughesville for the first time since 2004 last season and the Spartans are in the midst of a difficult stretch that includes games against Lewisburg and Prep Charter this week. Expect an exciting and close game.