D4 boys field full of good matchups

District 4 avoided a debacle. The state’s Nos. 2-3-ranked Class AA teams, Loyalsock and Lewisburg, are placed in different playoff brackets. And for the most part, the matchups in all three tournaments seem fair.

Still, the system needs changed and a power system should be used in the future. Maybe it will too. For now, let’s look at this year’s tournaments.

Class AAA

(7 teams, 2 state berths)

Milton surprised many last year when it captured the championship and a darkhorse winning the title is again a possibility.

Top-seeded Shamokin (20-3) captured the HAC-I championship but was dealt a midseaon blow when leading scorer Austin Stine was lost for the season to two broken wrists. Still, it is the favorite and has a deep and versatile lineup.

No. 4 Jersey Shore (13-9) and No. 5 Milton (13-9) will meet in the quarterfinals’ best game with the winner playing Shamokin. The two have split intensely-played games in the last two weeks with the home team winning each time.

Jersey Shore is seeking its first playoff win and first semifinal berth since 2001 when current South Williamsport coach Matt Fisher was its starting center. Ryan Eck, a 6-foot-7 center, broke the program single-season blocks record and the team has three double-digit scorers, including junior forward Zach Miller. Point guard Eric Huling has heated up too for a team that features several players that have won district baseball and football championships last spring and fall.

Milton edged Jersey Shore 75-69 last Monday, hitting 11 3-pointers. Milton lost its leading scorers from last year but has come a long way in Gene Bruno’s first season and features a balanced and versatile offense. Four players are scoring in or near double figures and all five starters can hit the 3-pointer.

No. 2 Central Columbia (16-6) finished third in the HAC-II and played well down the stretch. Four of its six losses are to Loyalsock and Lewisburg. It opens against No. 7 Shikellamy (12-10) which beat Milton and Jersey Shore by double digits on their home courts last week.

No. 3 Danville (15-7) hosts No. 6 Athens (12-10). The Ironmen have reached the semifinals in 11 straight seasons. Athens lost a lot from last year but played well in a regular-season finale win over Sayre.

Player to watch-Ethan Baker, Milton: The junior point guard scored 20 points and dealt nine assists in last Monday’s win against Jersey Shore. He runs the offense well, attacks the basket and has a nice outside shot. He scored 39 points earlier this month in a win over Mifflinburg.

Projected Semifinals: Shamokin over Jersey Shore; Danville over Central Columbia

Projected Final: Shamokin over Danville

Class AA

(8-9 teams, 3 state berths)

Loyalsock is seeking its third straight championship and ninth since 2001. The Lancers (22-1) have won 16 straight with their only loss coming by two points to District 1 Class AAAA title contender Upper Darby. Loyalsock has four starters back from last year’s team that was a split second from reaching the state semifinals and has appeared on a mission throughout the season to finish what it started a year ago. Kyle Datres, Omar Little and Mike Pastore form one of the state’s best backcourts while Ben Sosa is strong inside and Tommy Baggett has become a weapon too. The Lancers meet undefeated St. John Neumann for the HAC championship tonight at Montoursville.

No. 7 Williamson (12-10) lost three starters from last year but returned to the playoffs for a third straight year. Troy Adriance has had some huge games and averages 19.1 points per game.

No. 6 South Williamsport (16-6) has made a 10-win improvement and was in the hunt for a HAC-III championship until last Saturday. The Mounties are one of the field’s deepest teams and their bench has been outstanding all season. Cody Nelson has emerged as a nice inside threat, Billy Rummings is versatile and capable of having big games and point guard Riley Thomas has made huge strides from last season. Rummings has scored 33 points in his last two games.

The Mounties face a tough quarterfinal at No. 3 Towanda (21-3). The Knights lost for the first time in 17 games Saturday against Wellsboro and romped to the NTL-I championship. Noah Huff is an explosive guard and both he and Dave Rodenhizer took games over at times for a team that lost its two regular-season games by only three points.

No. 5 Wellsboro (19-5) has won 13 of its last 14 games and is peaking at the perfect time, capturing last weekend’s NTL tournament championship. The Green Hornets snapped Towanda’s 16-game winning streak in convincing fashion and reached last year’s final for the first time since 1998 and are the only district team that has five starters averaging in double figures. Forward Dylan Prough has been terrific down the stretch, routinely recording double-doubles and scoring at least 18 points in five straight games at one point.

Lewisburg (20-3) lost two games in the final seconds to Loyalsock before dropping an eight-point decision to St. John Neumann in Friday’s HAC semifinals. The Before that, the Dragons had not lost to a District 4 team other than Loyalsock the last two seasons and have one of the best front lines in the district. Sam Allen, a 6- 7 forward, is one of the district’s premier post players and 6-8 Will Sigl is adept at blocking shots while Nadir Boone is versatile and solid inside or attacking the basket. Jesse Flannery is an underrated point guard who efficiently runs the offense.

No. 1 East Juniata (21-0) has set a program record for wins. Explosive guard Nick Lorenz and 6-7 center Bailey Coder are 1,000-point scorers. The Tigers reached last year’s semifinals, beating Towanda.

Mount Carmel (10-11) plays at Mifflinburg tonight. If it wins it faces No. 8 Southern Columbia Wednesday. The Tornadoes have won two straight.

Tournament sleeper-Southern: The Tigers feature one of the field’s top scorers in Mike Klebon and are one of the field’s more battle-tested teams.

Best quarterfinal-Wellsboro at Lewisburg: The Hornets held Lewisburg to a regular-season low 40 points in December’s 7-point loss and have the kind of balance to hang with anyone if they are playing well.

Player to watch-Riley Hengler, South: The senior has had a terrific senior season, becoming a team leader in addition to being the team’s top scorer and rebounder. Hengler averages 15 points per game and fills up a stat sheet with his rebounding, assists and steals.

Projected Semifinals: Lewisburg over East Juniata; Loyalsock over Towanda

Projected Final: Loyalsock over Lewisburg; Third-place: Towanda over East Juniata

Class A

(11 teams, 3 advance)

St. John Neumann (23-0) is seeking its second straight championship and third straight state tournament berth. Like Loyalsock, the Knights have a lot of players back from last year’s team that reached the second round of states and are hoping to take another step forward. Alize Johnson has had one of the best seasons in program history, averaging 24 points and more than 15 rebounds per game while willing his team to wins at times and dazzling with his versatility. Richard Allen is one of the area’s premier guards and 6-8 center Njoku-Ibe Amanze has the potential to be a difference maker. Neumann became the first District 4 team other than Loyalsock to beat Lewisburg, winning Friday’s HAC semifinal, 45-37, and will host Muncy or Cowanesque Valley Friday.

No. 8 Muncy (12-10) hosts No. 9 CV (11-11) Tuesday. Muncy is as dangerous as anyone in the field with Nick Ring being one of the field’s best post players. Ted Clark and Leone Ghezzi are solid guards. Clark is the glue keeping the team together and had a career-high 28 points in his last game while Ghezzi has averaged 13.2 points per game in his first varsity season and scored a career-high 29 against Warrior Run.

CV is in the postseason for the first time since 2009 and is trying to win its first playoff game of the 21st century. Josh Nudd, Bryant Painter and Tyler Melko average in double figures and the Indians received a boost when Brandon Whitesell returned from a broken ankle a few weeks ago.

No. 4 Mansfield (16-7) hosts No. 5 North Penn Friday in a game District 4 might want to consider moving to Mansfield University since it will draw a huge crowd. The Tigers lost four starters from last year’s team but has increased its win total by three games and captured the NTL-II championship. Junior forward Bo Burleigh has been a force, averaging a double-double and 19.1 points per game. Point guard Brady Andrews is the team’s only senior starter and the Tigers won eight of their last nine regular-season games.

No. 5 North Penn (16-6) is one of the district’s hottest teams, winning its last nine games and beating both Mansfield and Sayre in the last two weeks. Three Panthers are scoring in or near double figures and Levi Christman has come on strong. Dayton Wood is a good point guard and Kaynen Arredondo has had some monster games inside.

No. 2 Galeton (18-4) is having its best season since reaching states in 2003. Guard Dakota Shadle averages 18.3 points per game and scored his 1,000th career point earlier this year. Bob Williams scored a career-high 23 points against Liberty last week. The Tigers have won 11 of their last 12 and meet the winner of the Millville at Sayre first-round game. Millville won its last four games to qualify. The Quakers (11-11) beat Muncy on a buzzer-beater eight nights ago and thumped Bloomsburg last Friday.

No. 3 (17-5) Sullivan County hosts either No. 11 Lourdes or No. 6 Meadowbrook Christian Friday. Sullivan has had a nice season after losing four starters from last year’s team that reached the state tournament’s second round for a second straight year. Sullivan captured the 2012 championship and reached last year’s final and Conner Wylie was a big reason why. The forward is averaging a double-double. The Griffins have played in the last two district finals and are aiming for their record fourth straight state tournament appearance.

Lourdes (11-11) is young but dangerous playing in a tough league and always being a hard-nosed team. The Red Raiders are well-coached and freshman Larry Czeponis is a name many could hear over the next few years. Meadowbrook entered districts for the first time in eight years and is hoping to fare better than it did the last time when Neumann humiliated it in a blowout quarterfinal.

Tournament sleeper-Sayre: The No. 7 Redskins (15-8) have the potential to make a title run. They have several starters back from last year’s team and Nate Williams is an all-state candidate. The junior guard is a 1,000-point scorer who can fill it up fast. During one four-game stretch this season he scored 40, 39, 41 and 39 points.

Best quarterfinal-North Penn at Mansfield: Not only should this game be outstanding, but it also is bursting with subplots. These schools are merging next fall so players competing against each other Friday will be teammates next season. This has been one of the NTL’s best rivalries the last decade and Friday’s game is the final chapter. The winner will never forget this one and this game means a whole lot to both towns separated by a few miles.

Player to watch-Adam Szklanka, Sullivan County: The first-time starter is a big reason Sullivan has remained one of the district’s best teams. He can bang around with the post players and also take his game outside. Like Wylie, he has become a double-double threat down the stretch and is key to the team’s performance.

Projected Semifinals: Neumann over Mansfield; Sayre over Sullivan County

Projected Final: Neumann over Sayre; third-place: Sullivan over Mansfield

Dr. Masse’s Top Five

1. Loyalsock; 2. St. John Neumann; 3. Lewisburg; 4. Wellsboro; 5. South Williamsport

Players of the Week

Kieron Smethers and

Dylan Prough, Wellsboro

The forwards were outstanding in three wins and especially shined in impressive tournament wins over Mansfield and Towanda. Prough had 17 points and 12 rebounds in the championship while Smethers added 10 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks. Those two helped Wellsboro snap Towanda’s 17-game league winning streak.