Loyalsock avenges last year’s loss in semifinals

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Loyalsock’s Anthony Pastore attempts to shoot as Hughesville’s Taylor Mason defends at Williamsport High School on Tuesday.

Same place. Same teams. Same tip-off time.

Different result.

Nearly a year ago to Tuesday’s date, Hughesville defeated Loyalsock in the District 4 Class AAA semifinals at Williamsport. Given a second chance Tuesday at Williamsport, the Lancers made sure history did not repeat itself. They did so in dominant fashion.

Loyalsock stormed out to a strong start, built a 16-point halftime lead and cruised from there as it defeated the defending champions, 58-36, and reached the district final where it will play Wellsboro. Gerald Ross scored a game-high 22 points, Anthony Pastore (14 points) ignited a game-breaking third-quarter run and Loyalsock (20-6) led 18-7 after the first quarter as it clinched its 15th state tournament appearance in 18 seasons. Hughesville (13-11) can still reach states for a third straight year if it defeats Southern Columbia in the third-place game.

“We talked about that (last year) a lot up until right before the game. We knew that we came in with the same confidence last year and they pulled the upset,” Connor Watkins said after making a game-high six steals. “They’re a great coached team and very disciplined. We knew we had to come out and be confident, but we also knew that they got us last year and had our number so we came out with a little sense of urgency.”

“We talked about energy a lot and the team that had the most energy will win the game. Hughesville has been energized last 11-12 games and we tried to convince them that couldn’t happen to us or else they would blow us out the doors,” Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said after earning his 36th 20-win season. “I was pleased with the first 4-5 minutes because we started exhibiting what we’re capable of doing and the rest took care of itself.”

Loyalsock never trailed and led 11-2 a little more than three minutes in. Ross scored 12 of the team’s first 14 points and Aiden Gair hit a last-second jumper that made it an 11-point game. Sparked by Logan Rouhoff’s swarming defense, Hughesville pulled within nine midway through the second quarter, but the Lancers closed on a quick 9-2 run as Ross hit a buzzer-beating jumper. Loyalsock never led by less than 16 points again and pushed its lead to 27 late in the third.

The defense consistently hounded Hughesville’s guards and forced 18 turnovers, including 16 in the first three quarters. When Loyalsock did hit a dry spell, it countered with that strong defense and squeezed the life out of the Spartan offense five nights after Hughesville defeated HAC-III champion Mount Carmel in the quarterfinals.

“We wanted to start out fast and get up because we know their game plan is to slow it and run their stuff. We wanted to get out early and run so they had to change up their game plan,” Watkins said after grabbing eight rebounds. “All week we stressed perimeter pressure. We knew if we were able to get up on them and pressure them and force passes we’d be able to get out and run and score in transition.”

Tobias Harrington scored the third-quarter’s last six points and two Taylor Mason free throws early in the fourth cut the Loyalsock deficit to 46-27. Pastore, though, stomped out any hopes of a dramatic comeback when he had a hand in the next nine points. The junior point guard scored four straight, then found Ross for a layup. Seconds later Ross made a steal and found Pastore who converted a 3-point play that gave Loyalsock a 55-27 lead.

“Anthony plays with confidence and he’s capable of putting a lot of points on the board, but he’s also capable of making things happen on both ends,” Insinger said. “His defense kind of feeds off what he did offensively. He made a couple key steals and converted them. I liked the way we pushed the ball up the court.”

Mason was sensational for Hughesville. The 6-foot-11 center scored 21 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked four shots. A player who should receive serious all-state consideration, Mason scored 17 of Hughesville’s first 19 points and was lethal whenever he touched the basketball. At one point in the third quarter, four players guarded Mason and he still scored.

The problem was Hughesville could not generate any other offensive threats to take pressure off Mason. Before Harrington heated up late in the third quarter, players not named Mason were 1 for 16 from the field. Harrington was the only Spartan other than Mason to score more than two points and the Spartans made no 3-pointers.

“They’re surrounding them and he has no help. Any time there’s a big moment the help evaporates,” Hughesville coach Nick Tagliaferri said. “You can’t have just your center being that guy and be successful, I don’t care how good he is. Not in today’s game. Not with the 3-pointer being so important and spread, pick and roll being so important. Your center can’t just will you to win. You need perimeter play and our perimeter play has been wildly up and down this season.”

Hughesville has been up and down throughout the season but still can build on its stellar tradition if it wins the third-place game. Southern swept the season series from Hughesville with the last game two weeks ago going to overtime. Loyalsock is the only team to beat Wellsboro (25-1), beating it in the second game of the season last December.

“Congratulations to basketball fans because the two best teams are playing for the championship,” Tagliaferri said. “That was wildly clear tonight.”

Hughesville (36)

Taylor Mason 8 5-6 21, Matt Myers 1 0-0 2, Devon Bushor 0 0-0 0, Isaiah Savage 0 0-0 0, Pat Rogers 0 0-0 0, Luke Ergott 1 0-0 2, Nick Rouhoff 0 0-0 0, Devon Braden 0 0-0 0, Logan Woolcock 0 1-4 1, Steve Milheim 0 1-2 1, Austin Long 0 1-2 1, Tobias Harrington 2 2-3 6, Ori Shaner 1 0-0 2. Totals 13 10-17 36.

Loyalsock (58)

Gerald Ross 10 0-1 22, Connor Watkins 2 0-0 4, Mitch Klingerman 1 0-2 2, Anthony Pastore 4 5-6 14, Bam Brima 2 0-0 4, Aiden Gair 2 2-2 7, Collin Graver 1 1-2 3, Brandon Bauman 1 0-0 2, Ryan Sullivan 0 0-0 0, Rees Watkins 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 8-13 58.

Hughesville 7 6 12 11–36

Loyalsock 18 11 17 12–58

3-point goals Hughesville 0, Loyalsock 4 (Ross 2, Pastore 1, Gair 1).

Records: Loyalsock (20-6), Hughesville (13-11).