Lancers sweep season series from Spartans

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Loyalsock's Rhiallie Jessell and Hughesville's Kendra Smith dive for a loose ball during the fourth quarter Tuesday at Hughesville.

HUGHESVILLE — A quiet hush fell through the gym last Friday when Maddie Fox suffered a potentially serious knee injury. Without Fox, many thought Loyalsock might struggle and that its district championship hopes might be gone.

Turns out rumors of Loyalsock’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Loyalsock can still make some noise.

The Lancers cannot replace someone like their dynamic three-year starting guard with just one person. But collectively, they can lift each other up, rally around each other and play quality basketball. That is exactly what they did Tuesday against rival Hughesville. Summer McNulty, Juliana Cruz and Sam Stopper all scored in double figures while the defense swarmed and Loyalsock flawlessly executed its offense as it thumped the Spartans, 50-29. Loyalsock (13-4, 7-2 HAC-III) completed a season sweep of Hughesville (12-6, 6-4) and has now beaten it and Lewisburg (13-3) on the road during an impressive four-night span.

“Losing Maddie was definitely a huge loss. We knew we’d have to step it up and all of us seemed to have stepped it up and have gotten the job done,” Cruz said. “We heard them say this was their chance without Maddie and we had to show them that we could step up and we could get everything done that we needed to get done.”

Loyalsock never trailed Tuesday as it built a 27-11 halftime lead and never let Hughesville pull closer than 12 in the second half. McNulty (13), Cruz (11) and Stopper (11) all heated up at different times while Rhiallie Jessell and Sarah Van Fleet helped Loyalsock control the boards. Charlotte Neylon and Anna Burdett provided quality minutes off the bench and the Lancers dominated the final three quarters after holding a 12-9 first-quarter advantage.

Many more challenges remain, but Loyalsock is just a game behind Mount Carmel in the HAC-III. Despite losing Fox as well as Cassie Gee earlier this season, one better believe it remains a title contender.

“It was definitely our best team win,” Cruz said. “No matter whoever was out on the floor for how long everyone contributed.”

“The girls are responding. Starting with the South game (last Friday) I told them I don’t need any of you to become Maddie Fox because none of you are going to become Maddie Fox. You have to be yourself and play to your strengths,” Loyalsock coach Curtis Jacobson said. “We have to change our style, adapt to what we have and play hard and that’s what we did tonight. Our halfcout execution was the best its been all season.”

McNulty provided an early spark, scoring five early points. When Hughesville focused more attention on her, Cruz started hurting it. Then Stopper heated up and made all five shots she took over the last three quarters. Van Fleet and Jessell combined for 10 rebounds and five assists. No one person carried the offense, but together Loyalsock was hard to stop.

Four nights after it snapped Lewi­sburg’s 13-game winning streak, Loyal­sock broke Hughesville’s four-game run. Just as impressive, the Lancers carved up a defense which had not allowed more than 35 points in any of those games.

“I said to them to just do your job and that was just a fun game to watch because no one did more than what they are capable of doing,” Jacobson said. “It was one of our better team basketball games this season and I’m very pleased with the effort they showed tonight.”

Cruz has become a Spartan killer the last two years, especially when these teams play at Hughesville. The junior point guard played one of her best games last season when she paved the way for a convincing win there and she gave Hughesville problems early and often again last night. Cruz scored eight first-half points, drained two 3-pointers during that time and added three assists.

Hughesville cut a 17-point third-quarter deficit to 12 midway through the third quarter, but Cruz responded by blowing past the defense on the ensuing trip down the floor, converting a 3-point play. That flipped the Loyalsock switch again and the Lancers went on a 7-0 run during a 30-second span to build 19-point lead that was never seriously threatened again.

“I don’t know what it is. I just try and come out and do everything I can for the team and try and distribute the ball and do what I’m supposed to do,” Cruz said. “Knowing everyone can step up at certain times is definitely an advantage for us.”

Hughesville recorded an impressive win Monday night, rallying in the fourth quarter to defeat Southern Columbia. The Spartans, though, could not rediscover that momentum against a tenacious Loyalsock zone. The Lancers played man-to-man defense the entire game a few weeks ago against Hughesville, but switched things up this time and held the Spartans scoreless for nearly the first seven minutes in the second quarter while building a 16-point lead. Alisha McKinley scored eight points for Hughesville and Jayden Leighow added seven points and six rebounds. Kendra Smith dealt four assists, but the Spartans shot just 25 percent from the field and never scored more than five consecutive points.

“We’re mixing in full-court stuff, traps, and zone. It was a different style this game which is good for us because we know we can play different styles if we run into foul trouble,” Jacobson said. “We haven’t really run that defense very much. We decided to run it at Lewisburg and it was effective so we stuck with it and said we’re going to try and get really good at it because our defense needs to be our offense right now.”

LOYALSOCK (50)

Summer McNulty 4 5-7 13, Sam Stopper 5 0-0 11, Sarah Van Fleet 3 0-2 6, Rhiallie Jessell 1 2-3 4, Juliana Cruz 4 1-1 11, Charlotte Neylon 0 3-4 3, Sophia Gardner 0 0-0 0, Anna Burdett 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 11-17 50.

HUGHESVILLE (29)

Emily Akers 1 2-2 5, Jayden Leighow 3 1-2 7, Alisha McKinley 3 2-4 8, Kendra Smith 0 0-0 0, Jade Cordrey 2 0-0 5, Gracie Grieco 0 2-2 2, Lauren Henry 0 2-2 2. Totals 9 9-12 29.

Loyalsock 12 15 11 12–50

Hughesville 9 2 8 10–29

3-pointers: Loyalsock 3 (Cruz 2, Stopper); Hughesville 2 (Akers, Cordrey).

Records: Loyalsock 13-4, 7-2. Hughesville 12-6, 6-4.

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