Good weekend for area hoops

With an area as football crazy as any across the country, some might find it surprising that in the heart of gridiron country beats the steady rhythm of a stronger than normal basketball following.

But with names like Joe Montana, Mike Ditka, and Fred Biletnikoff representing the Pennsylvania with the second most Pro Football Hall of Famers, it’s easy to see why the area craves the pigskin. Also, let’s not forget the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Heck, it might even be easier to consider this a baseball town with the home of Little League Baseball minutes from most residents’ doorsteps.

But, with all the star power of the names enshrined at Canton, it’s easy to forget names like Kobe Bryant or Wilt Chamberlain, both of whom hail from Pennsylvania. Or, if you’d like a more resent example, or local for that matter, just take a look at players like Kelly Mazzante and Chevy Troutman.

This area boast a basketball following just a strong as its gridiron and baseball counterparts.

“It says a lot about this area and basketball,” Williamsport assistant coach Jeremiah Washington said. “We’ve had a tradition in this area of playing good basketball.”

And, if there still are any naysayers take a look at this past weekend after three area teams, representing the top of the District 4 food chain, opening bids at a state championship run.

What ensued were packed gyms, scalped tickets, and fans being turned away as host schools filled gyms to capacity.

“It’s great to always be part of something bigger than yourself,” Isaiah Washington said. “It’s an honor to play basketball for Williamsport. I’m just glad I could be a part of it.”

Friday night District 4 Class A champion St. John Neumann opened up play in front of a sold out Montoursville gymnasium. Saturday offered even more as Loyalsock opened PIAA Class AA play at the Magic Dome with longtime coach Ron Insinger in search of his 800th win. Only hours later, Williamsport opened its postseason against Bethlehem Liberty. And you guessed it, both gyms were filled to capacity.

Loyalsock defeated Mid Valley, 63-54, to claim Insinger’s 800th win. Williamsport then defeated Liberty, 62-60, in the night cap.

“My dream has always been let’s make Williamsport a hot bed for basketball, just like downtown Philadelphia and I think we have made big strides this year to make that dream come true,” Insinger said.

Friday’s fans ranged from diehard homers, who had followed Neumann all season, to people simply hoping to catch a quality performance on the hardwood. And all were treated, as Neumann defeated Harrisburg Christian, 84-38.

Then there was Saturday, possibly one of the most anticipated nights on the local sports calendar.

And the day delivered as the Loyalsock boys won a hard fought victory for their longtime leader.

Kyle Datres finished with 13 points and Ben Sosa pulled down two rebounds to go with a block and 14 points as Loyalsock defeated Mid Valley, 63-54.

“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Loyalsock’s Ben Sosa said. “Now we’re all like one team. We’re like a family and we’re going to support each other every game.”

But, as good as those players were, the game on the floor belonged to Omar Little, who finished with a team-high 16 points, while playing his best basketball over the final eight minutes of the game.

It was fitting that the son of a well known 1990s Williamsport Millionaire basketball player by the same name helped deliver Insinger’s win.

“It’s means a lot,” Little said. “All the coaches have worked hard, all the players, and they came out and played basketball this year. It’s exciting.”

Yes, with an area seeped in as much football and baseball tradition as any, it might be hard to see why the basketball following has become so rabid. But as weekends like this past one become more of the regular, it’s easy to see why this fan base won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

“This is great for the community,” Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. “It’s great when you have all the teams within this Williamsport community go out and performance the way they did. It kind of put of city on the map. It’s speaks volumes about the level of talent and coaches we have in this area.”