Girls teams helped by crowds

It was not rock-concert-level noise Friday at Hughesville but it was still mighty loud.

Those hoping to socialize at the Loyalsock-Hughesville game were out of luck. Communicating with those near one proved difficult. The bleachers were jammed and the fans on both sides loud. Loyalsock defeated Hughesville, 54-43 but the environment produced an even bigger win for area girls basketball.

Outside of Mount Carmel, which features one of the district’s best student sections, area schools have been slower to rally around the girls basketball teams. But both Hughesville and Loyalsock have started changing that and both had large contingents backing them Friday as two District 4 Class AAA title contenders went at it. Maybe it is a sign that those in the area realize there is some good basketball being played, that should be watched and should be enjoyed.

“I turned to my sons at one point and said, do you remember these days, flashing back,” said Hughesville coach Craig Weaver, who often had boisterous Montgomery fans backing his teams during their glory days. “If we didn’t call timeout they couldn’t hear us. It was hard to communicate because it was deafening in here. That’s what high school sports are all about. What an atmosphere. It was tremendous.”

It also was beneficial to both teams. Loyalsock and Hughesville are a combined 23-12 and both have played top-seeded Mount Carmel tough. The Class AAA field is balanced and loaded so Friday gave both teams an early look at what it will feel like and sound like in two weeks when districts open.

Loyalsock (13-6) handled the environment especially well, building a 14-point halftime lead and holding a double-digit lead until the final minute. The Lancers avenged a previous defeat against Hughesville and have come back strong after enduring a midseason funk that included a three-game losing streak.

“The biggest thing (Friday) was it was a tough environment on the road is that’s what we’re going to get in playoffs,” Loyalsock coach Curtis Jacobson said. “Those are the games you’re going to play in two weeks.”

Loyalsock actually is treating every game like a playoff contest right now. The Lancers are fighting for the No. 2 seed in districts and could do so if they win their last three games. Loyalsock is the midst of an eight-game, 17-game stretch against all playoff teams so it will certainly be battle-tested wherever it lands in the playoff field.

“Our mentality that we have right now is one and done right now because we know we need to win each game to get that No. 2 seed,” Jacobson said. “We view each game as an elimination game and that’s good motivation.”

So is playing in front of crowds like Loyalsock and Hughesville did Friday. While Loyalsock has been a perennial playoff contender, Hughesville fell on hard times after 2007 and did not reach the playoffs again until last year. The Spartans have made big strides in each of the last three seasons, increasing their win total each time and have a chance for their best season since 2007 now.

When the current Hughesville seniors were freshmen, they played in front of largely empty seats. Holding a conversation with someone across the court was not a difficult order back then. Compare that to last Friday’s game and one understands how far this team has come.

“I told the seniors now you’re playing in front of crowds and that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to put people back in the gym and these seniors have done a job,” Weaver said. “We’ve made great strides here and for these girls to plug away like they have this was rewarding.”

For the whole area, too.

PLAYOFF-BOUND: St. John Neumann lost a 1,000-point scorer, a 700-rebounder and more than half its scoring production from last year. Other than that, Neumann did not have much to worry about much entering the season.

It looked like Neumann might be in major rebuilding mode, but instead the Knights kept on moving forward and are playoff-bound once again. Neumann (11-7) has won four straight and earned its ninth playoff spot in 10 seasons last Saturday, defeating North Penn-Mansfield, 43-26. A young team has grown together quickly and might be hitting its stride at the perfect time, too.

“We struggled in the beginning and we didn’t know if it would come down to the last game but now that we’ve got it we can focus on what we’re going to for playoffs,” forward Shelly Floyd said after scoring 11 points and grabbing 21 rebounds. “It gives us more of a chance and time to come together as a team.”

“We’re so young even in varsity knowledge. Now we have this younger team coming together with younger parts coming up and we’re going to be OK,” Neumann coach Junior Parrish said. “When we put it all together our effort is phenomenal.”

Shayna McNamee leads the area in scoring and Floyd is averaging near a double-double. Players like Gabby Lisi (23 points against Mansfield and Bucktail) and Abby Henderson also are becoming weapons. Add in Mikayla Plocinski making five steals against Mansfield and Neumann is becoming a well-rounded team.

The Knights also know that if the offense is having an off night they still have a chance. Their defense has turned nasty at times and was operating at peak level against Mansfield. The Knights allowed only nine field goals, forced a lot of turnovers and blocked 10 shots.

“They are tenacious. They are everywhere. They are aggressive but it’s aggressive under control,” Parrish said. “It’s everything we’ve been trying to do this year and they’re putting it together at the right time.”

AROUND THE AREA: Warrior Run might be heating up at the perfect time. The Defenders (13-7) have won three straight and their stingy defense appears stingier than ever. Warrior Run has allowed just 58 points during its winning streak and Madi Welliver, Avery Bieber and Megan Zimmerman all reached double figures Friday as Warrior Run thumped Southern Columbia, 45-27. That win highlights the team’s improvement after Warrior Run lost to Southern by 19 last month … Wellsboro (14-7) recorded its most impressive win this season, defeating Athens, 49-46 in overtime and handing the NTL-I champions their only league loss. Rachael Tuttle recorded a double-double and Lizzie Poirier had 13 points and eight steals as Wellsboro won for the fifth time in six games  … Montgomery was ravaged by graduation, but has made improvement throughout the season and won its second game last Thursday, defeating CMVT, 41-29. Sophomore guard Jessica Umpstead scored a career-high 15 points and made eight steals as Montgomery dominated the final three quarters … South Williamsport’s Megan Weber scored 20 points against Mount Carmel, giving her four 20-point performances in her sophomore season … Mansfield is one of the area’s youngest teams but looks like it has a bright future and rallied for a 46-39 win at Towanda. Freshman Shaelyn Berguson scored a game-high 16 points while fellow freshman Joanne McNamara added a career-high 11 … Galeton (13-5) kept rolling, defeating Cameron County and Austin. Makaya Shadle had a big week, scoring 37 points in those wins.

Dr. Masse’s top five in girls basektball

1. Montoursville (19-1): The Warriors will be hanging a league title banner for the first time since 2000. Montoursville clinched a share of the HAC-II championship last weekend, defeating Danville and Lewisburg by 35 combined points. The Warriors also are fighting for the top seed in District 4 Class AAAA and hold a one-game lead over Mifflinburg and Athens. Montoursville has not allowed more than 36 points in a game during its winning streak and had a nice inside-outside combination working against Danville with Lexi Marchioni and Marlene Bassett combining for 32 points. Lauren O’Malley added 14 points in Friday’s 46-29 win at Danville.

2. Jersey Shore (14-4): The Bulldogs won a thriller against Shamokin in a battle for first place in the HAC-I Friday as Averie Hess hit two free throws with five seconds left to give them a 38-36 victory. But Jersey Shore let Shamokin tie the race a night later, losing 43-35 at Shikellamy. Still, the Bulldogs are tied for first, have another game with Shamokin and have a shot at winning their first league title of the 2000s. It has been an impressive run for a team that had not had a winning season since 2007 entering this year. Jersey Shore lost for the first time in nine games Saturday but still has a good shot at hosting a first-round playoff game and carving out a nice niche in program history.

3. Sullivan County (16-3): The Griffins play some nasty defense and may have delivered their masterpiece Friday at Muncy, holding the eight-win Indians to three field goals and forcing 27 turnovers in a 34-12 win. Sullivan has held seven teams to fewer than 20 points and leads the area in points allowed per game. Even in Saturday’s 34-30 loss to District 4 Class AA top seed Sayre, the Griffins still stymied a strong opponent. The Muncy win kept Sullivan perfect in the Mid-Penn and the Griffins need just one more win to secure the league championship. Ashley Faus ignites Sullivan’s defense up top and had 23 points against Muncy and Sayre.

4. Loyalsock (13-6): The Lancers defeated two playoff teams last week also completing a season sweep of Southern Columbia and winning, 49-41. Their most impressive performance, though, might have come in a 43-40 loss at Shamokin. Playing without leading scorer Maddie Fox, Loyalsock led until the final seconds. It was another sign of this team’s development. Jacobson is going nine-deep and Loyalsock is developing some nice balance and a solid inside-outside game to complement a tenacious defense.

“We’re playing good basketball,” Jacobson said. “More people  are scoring the basketball and that gives me the opportunity to go deeper. I can throw anybody into the game and feel comfortable and that helps us a lot.”

5. Hughesville (10-6): The Spartans trailed by 21 midway through the third quarter and were without their top reserve against Loyalsock. Add in losing Emily Akers to injury midway through the fourth quarter and Makenna Budman playing with four fouls the entire second half and Hughesville had every opportunity to pack it in. But the Spartans stormed back and pulled within nine in the game’s last minute. That is the kind of attitude the program’s basketball resurgence has been built upon.

Players of the week

Janessa Davis, Wellsboro and Shayna McNamee, Neumann: Davis made it a week to remember. She signed to play college basketball at Houghton, then was a big reason Wellsboro won all three games it played. She scored a career-high 18 points against Mansfield and came up big in the Athens game with strong defense and five steals. McNamee is leading the area in scoring and had 35 points in wins over Bucktail and Mansfield. McNamee had 20 points, five rebounds and two blocks against Mansfield, scoring 13 in a game-changing second-quarter when she made jumpers like they were layups.

Game of the week

Montoursville at Mifflinburg: The Warriors have clinched a share of the HAC-II championship and can win it outright if it wins tonight. A Mifflinburg win means the two will share the title. Montoursville also can take a big step toward capturing the district’s top seed if it wins. Doing so will not be easy. The first game was a tough one with Montoursville overcoming a slow start and defeating Mifflinburg, 35-31.