District 4 girls basketball preview

A year ago no area girls team captured a District 4 championship, something that had not happened since 2004. Unless an underdog emerges the title drought will reach two years in the next two weeks.

While the area features several quality teams, none are seeded among the top two in their fields and all face uphill climbs. The following is a breakdown of the four district playoff tournaments.

Class AAA

(6 teams, 2 advance)

This might be the district’s most wide-open tournament since all six teams appear capable of making a run. Athens (19-3) is the top seed and thumped No. 2 Danville (18-4) in the regular season but squandered a big second-half lead against it last year.

Athens is an experienced team that captured the NTL-East championship and might have the most talent in this field. The Wildcats will face either defending champion Shamokin or No. 5 Milton (12-10). Milton is the field’s most improved team. Milton bounced back from an 0-4 start to come within a game of winning the HAC-I championship. The Panthers swept Danville and split with Shikellamy, taking the last contest, 47-39. They have made a six-win improvement this season and are a close-knit, senior-laden team that won 12 of 15 games at one point. Senior forward Emily Baker averages close to a triple double and the Panthers have a tall front line while having a talented guard in Mackenna Miller.

Shamokin (12-10) swept two games from Milton and finished a game behind Danville in the HAC-I. It rallied to beat Milton last Monday.

Danville (20-4) awaits the winner of Selinsgrove-Shikellamy and has peaked late this season. The Ironmen upset Mount Carmel in the Heartland Tournament and overcame an eight-point deficit in the final two minutes of Saturday’s championship to stun Benton in overtime. They have a terrific freshman in 6-foot Amber Renz, who averages 16.1 points per game.

No. 3 Shikellamy (15-7) is a well-coached team that might have the field’s best player in 1,000-point guard Alexis Angstadt. Selinsgrove (12-10) rallied to win five of its last seven games to qualify.

Tournament Sleeper-Milton: The Panthers have lost three straight but three wins in their last three games against Danville and Shikellamy make them as dangerous as any tournament team.

Player to Watch-Katelyn Gensel, Milton: The senior forward can do damage inside both offensively and defensively. She scored the game-winner in a huge comeback win over Danville three weeks ago.

Projected Semifinals: Athens over Shamokin; Danville over Shikellamy

Projected Final: Danville over Athens

Class AA

(10 teams, 3 advance)

Two-time defending champion Mount Carmel is the team to beat again after capturing the HAC-II championship and winning its last seven league games. The Tornadoes (19-4) have a terrific guard in Ali Varano and tough post players in 1,000-point scorer Christina Perles and Anna Reybuck.

Warrior Run or Wellsboro will have the first crack at Mount Carmel in the quarterfinals. The Defenders (14-8) lost to Mount Carmel by two the first time they played and might have won in overtime had referees given them the two technical foul shots they were supposed to receive at the game’s conclusion. The Defenders won nine of their last 12 games and turned a 10-point halftime deficit at Montoursville into a 13-point win. Steph Shamburg is one of the field’s best forwards and Tay Parker is a dangerous guard.

No. 9 Wellsboro (11-11) rallied from a 2-7 start and has some promising freshmen along with standout senior point guard Mackenzie Marple. The Hornets played Lewisburg tough in districts last year and could be a major player the next few seasons.

No. 4 Williamson (17-5) captured its first NTL-West championship since 2002 and had won eight straight before dropping its season finale to Wyalusing. It meets No. 5 Muncy in the quarterfinals. The Warriors have a terrific front line featuring 6-footers Lori Horton and Kim Daugherty who combine for more than 32 points per game while guard Cheyenne Jones adds 12. Horton had 20 points, 23 rebounds and 10 blocks in a midseason win over North Penn.

Muncy missed being a Class A team by one student after reaching states the past two years. The Indians are dangerous when clicking. Guards Brianna McLaughlin and Jordan Jones are one of the field’s best tandems and Crystal Good and Charity Good are tough inside. McLaughlin and Jones combine for 28 points per game and are tough defenders. Gina Paisley has had some nice games down the stretch and is a good outside shooter. Muncy is making its fourth straight playoff appearance.

No. 6 Montoursville (16-6) faces No. 3 Southern Columbia. Montoursville was in the running for both a HAC-II championship and a top seed before a late-season three-game losing streak. The Warriors, who started 15-3, righted things with a win over Central Columbia and play defense as well as anyone in the field. Kirsten O’Malley averages 15 points per game and all five starters are underclassmen. Montoursville has won more games than any Warrior team since 2002 and swept Lewisburg, winning the last game by 22 points on the road.

Southern (17-5) handed Mount Carmel its only league loss and has won five straight. The Tigers highlighted their season-end flourish with a win over Montoursville. Senior guard Kayla Lavella is a 1,000-point scorer. Montoursville and Southern split two league games, the home team winning each time.

No. 7 Lewisburg (15-7) opens against No. 10 Bloomsburg in the first round. It gave Mount Carmel its toughest league game down the stretch and also gave it a scare in last year’s quarterfinals. Mansfield-bound point guard Maria Kelleher is one of the district’s best and hurt opponents in a variety of ways. Emily and Kasey Conrad are versatile and Lois Lesher has had four games in which she has blocked at least six shots.

Bloomsburg (11-11) made a huge rally to reach the postseason and defeated Muncy last week. Natalie Whitman is a big-time scorer and had 32 points in a playoff-clinching win over Sullivan County.

The winner of that game faces No. 2 Wyalusing (17-5). The Rams lost some good players from last year’s district finalist but remain dangerous and made a run at a league title. The Rams have a nice mix of good athletes and nice experience and thumped Williamson last Friday.

Best first-round game-Warrior Run vs. Wellsboro: The Defenders have shown how dangerous they can be at times but face a tough challenge against surging Wellsboro. The Hornets nearly upset Lewisburg in last year’s tournament and this could be a thriller.

Tournament sleepers-Montoursville and Southern: There were stretches this season where Montoursville looked like the district’s best team. If the offense executes, the Warriors are especially tough to beat. I think whoever wins this quarterfinal goes to the championship.

Player to Watch-Mackenzie Marple, Wellsboro: Based on how young her teammates are, Marple is the NTL-West’s MVP because Wellsboro would not have whiffed the playoffs without her. She averages 16 points per game but also is an outstanding passer and rebounder who has provided good leadership.

Projected Semifinals: Mount Carmel over Muncy; Southern over Lewisburg

Projected Final: Mount Carmel over Southern

Third-place: Lewisburg over Muncy

Class A

(9 teams, 3 advance)

Lourdes has built a dynasty, winning the last four district championships. The Red Raiders are strong again but will be pushed by teams like Benton and Sayre to name a few. Lourdes (17-5) is the No. 3 seed and will play No. 6 Galeton (14-8) in the quarterfinals. No team is more battle-tested than the Raiders and that might push them over the top again.

Galeton has made an 11-win improvement. Sophomore Latiesha Shadle averages 14.4 points per game and Andi Leach avergages 12.

No. 2 Benton (19-4) has the field’s best player in 6-foot center Justine Seeley. The senior has multi 40-point games and had 35 points, along with 26 rebounds in a Heartland semifinal win over Shamokin. She followed that up with 37 points and 24 rebounds as Benton came within a second of beating Danville for the HAC championship. Point guard Casey Gavin also is solid.

The Tigers face No. 7 East Juniata in the quarterfinals. EJ is well-coached but could have a tough time matching up.

No. 4 Mansfield had a great postseason run from 2003-2007 and has the potential to make a title run. The Tigers (13-7) are a well-rounded team that has four players averaging in or near double figures. Mansfield lost six of its seven games to bigger school teams and most were close. Molly Wood, Emily James and Jackie Hillson have had strong seasons and this team is tough to beat when it executes well.

Mansfield faces Northeast Bradford in the quarterfinals in an intriguing game. The Panthers are battle-tested although Mansfield beat it 74-48 earlier this season. NEB started the season strong and held its own in a tough NTL-East that includes Athens, Wyalusing and top-seeded Sayre.

Sayre (19-3) is experienced, talented and plays methodical basketball. Mollie Robinson is one of the field’s best player and Sayre is tough to come back on because it might take minutes off the clock at a time working for a good shot. The Redskins were Class AA last year and finished fourth.

Sayre faces either St. John Neumann or Millville in the quarterfinals. No. 8 St. John Neumann (12-10) is making its record sixth straight playoff appearance. The Knights beat Galeton Saturday and opened the season 8-2. They also nearly beat Benton earlier this season and have one of the field’s best players in junior 1,000-point scorer Meghan Trenholm. She and Emily Shoder are three-year starters who excel in the backcourt and if they get help in the postseason, Neumann could be dangerous.

Neumann swept two close games with Millville.

Best Quarterfinal-Mansfield vs. Northeast Bradford: Both teams have the potential to be title contenders if they can win this contest.

Tournament Sleeper-Millville: The No. 9 Quakers (12-10) have a dominant post player in Madi Bower who can change games. She scored 39 points in a midseason upset at Muncy and matched Seeley nearly point for point in another midseason game. Guard Maci Bower also is tough.

Player to Watch-Baylie Gerrity, St. John Neumann: The freshman forward has a lot of potential and a bright future. She can be tough inside and if she plays her best basketball in the postseason, Neumann might make a run.

Projected Semifinals: Sayre over Mansfield; Lourdes over Benton

Projected Final: Lourdes over Sayre

Third-place: Benton over Mansfield

Dr. Masse’s Top Five: 1. Montoursville (16-6); 2. Lewisburg (15-7); 3. Williamson (17-5); 4. Warrior Run (14-8); 5. Muncy (16-6)

Player of the Week-Aisha Evans, Williamsport: The senior forward scored 50 points against Mansfield and Altoona. She had 25 points, 13 rebounds and five steals as Williamsport rallied past Mansfield, 64-46.