Two ACL tears have hit Lancer girls

Entering the season, Loyalsock looked like one of the district’s most dangerous teams. The Lancers returned four starters from a Class AAA state qualifier and were adding talented freshmen Cassie Gee and Summer McNulty.

But Gee tore her ACL in December and was lost for the season. Loyalsock continued playing well but then suffered a devastating blow two weeks ago when three-year starting guard and leading scorer Maddie Fox suffered a similar fate. The Lancers were 10-4 at the time, but their league and district championship hopes seemed dashed.

Loyalsock never believed that. And the Lancers have not lost since.

As much as losing a player and leader like Fox hurts, Loyalsock has not used it as an excuse to fall apart. Instead, these resilient Lancers (14-4) have rallied around each other and won four straight games while giving themselves a shot at winning both league and district titles. Rumors of this team’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

“We’re still a work in progress and our identity changes a little bit without Maddie out on the floor because you take away one of the best shooters in the area so we had to change our offensive approach a little bit and we’ve been doing it on the fly,” Loyalsock coach Curtis Jacobson said. “We’re not where we need to be, but I feel like we’re going in the right direction.”

It is not just that Loyalsock has won all four games without Fox, it is who it has beaten. The Lancers first snapped Lewisburg’s 13-game winning streak before routing Hughesville by 21 on its home court. Next came an overtime comeback win against Shamokin (14-3), the HAC-I leaders who had won 14 of their previous 15 games. Before those teams played Loyalsock they had won a combined 24 straight games.

Now, the Lancers have a shot at winning at least a share of their first league championship since 2008 and their first district title since 2010. Loyalsock entered the week a game behind Mount Carmel in the HAC-III standings and could do no worse than tie for the crown if they beat Bloomsburg, Warrior Run and Mount Carmel this week.

“We’re going to play hard, we’re going to compete and we’re going to see where we end up,” Jacobson said. “It’s a matter of peaking at the right time.”

No one player can replace Fox, or Gee for that matter. It is a collective effort and Jacobson is receiving steady contribution from every player he uses. McNulty, Juliana Cruz and Sam Stopper have taken turns leading the team in scoring the last four games. Rhiallie Jessell has shined in her first year playing basketball and is sparking Loyalsock with her all-around play and hustle. Sarah Van Fleet is tough inside, fights for every rebound and loose ball and Charlotte Neylon provides a lift off the bench.

Every player is during their part and every player is giving maximum effort each night. Instead of adversity breaking this team apart, it is pulling it closer together. It helps too, that Loyalsock is playing swarming defense, holding four straight opponents to 45 points or fewer. The Lancers rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit Thursday against Shamokin and won in overtime after holding the Indians scoreless for the game’s final 7 minutes, 40 seconds.

“Defense is usually our best offense,” Cruz said. “It leads to turnovers. If we play great defense we’re usually set and can get the game going our way.”

Loyalsock may have been as well-equipped to handle the injuries that have hit it as any district team. The Lancers play, arguably, the district’s toughest schedule. The HAC-III could send all eight teams to the postseason and Loyalsock also has played teams like Shamokin, Lewisburg and one-loss North Schuylkill out of conference.

“It’s better to play strong teams. It makes us better,” Cruz said. “If we’re playing better competition we know what to expect when playoff time comes around.”

Loyalsock has traveled a difficult road thus far. Despite all the obstacles, the Lancers are starting to hit a stretch of green lights. Many challenges remain, but Loyalsock has shown it will embrace those.

“We’ve had some hiccups along the road, but when you play quality teams every night which is what we’re doing, things like that happen,” Jacobson said. “I feel like we’re going in the right direction but not there yet which is OK. We have time to get there.”

NICE COMEBACK: Montgomery has come a really long way in a short time since starting 0-11. Instead of quitting on their season the determined Red Raiders have turned things around and won their third game Friday, defeating CMVT, 44-40. It was the second time in a week that Montgomery avenged a previous defeat after stunning Muncy the previous Friday. Equally impressive, Montgomery rallied from 13 and 10-point deficits to win both games. CMVT led Montgomery 23-13 at halftime, but the Raiders dominated the second half and won their third straight home game.

Montgomery is a young team so this resurgence could pave the way toward bigger things next season. Riley Fry is having a breakout season and recorded five straight double-doubles at one point before adding 14 rebounds against CMVT. Jessica Umpstead had 12 points and 10 rebounds in that win and Brynna McHenry scored a career-high 12 points while adding seven rebounds.

PUTBACKS: That Montgomery loss is the only one Muncy has suffered in its last six games and it continued its playoff push last week with convincing wins against Bucktail and Northeast Bradford. The 43-31 win at NEB was especially impressive since the Panthers had been streaking and will be a Class AA playoff team. The Indians (9-8) are getting good balance and young players like Aleaha Bigelow and Bella Fave are coming on strong … Hughesville (13-6) bounced back well after the Loyalsock game and played one of its best offensive games in a 58-45 win over Line Mountain. Kendra Smith scored a season-high 16 points while Jade Cordrey, Emily Akers and Jayden Leighow all produced nine or more … Cowanesque Valley (12-6) is one of the area’s most improved teams, making a seven-win improvement so far and clinching its first playoff berth since 2012. The Indians have won seven of their last eight games and completed their first season sweep of North Penn-Mansfield in six years, winning 46-39 last Thursday … Canton sophomore Tamara Hess is having an outstanding season and has topped 20 points in five of her last seven games. She has 47 points in her last two games as Canton (9-10) closes in on its first playoff berth this decade … Williamson (10-8) lost most of its rotation from last year but has all but clinched a Class AAA playoff berth after beating Wyalusing and Towanda last week. Bethanny Boyce had 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists against Wyalusing … Lydia Albert scored 16 points and Allyse Marchioni and freshman Mackenzie Weaver combined for 19 in Montoursville’s 46-33 win over Milton.

Dr. Masse’s girls basketball top five

1. Loyalsock (14-4): Sam Stopper led Loyalsock in rebounding during the 50-29 win at Hughesville, then showed her scoring punch two nights later, delivering a season-high 19 points against Shamokin. Cruz has shined at Hughesville the past two seasons and her all-around play helped Loyalsock break that game open in the second quarter. Jessell has made a huge impact in her first season playing basketball, providing quality rebounding, scoring, defense and hustle. Her emergence has been critical to Loyalsock’s success and she and Van Fleet form a nice inside duo.

2. Wellsboro (18-1): Like Loyalsock, Wellsboro has been hit hard by injuries, losing starters Rachael Tuttle and Emma Poirier. Like the Lancers, Wellsboro also continues excelling and is closing in on the NTL-I championship. The Hornets stayed undefeated in league play and recorded an impressive 48-39 win at Athens last Thursday while moving within a victory of clinching District 4’s top Class AAA seed. Cathryn Brought and Liza Manning have played key roles in helping Wellsboro flourish even without their valuable starters. Brought grabbed eight rebounds and Manning just missed a double-double against Towanda when she scored nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Manning added five steals against Athens.

3. Lewisburg (15-3): Talk about an impressive rebound. A night after Mifflinburg held it to 15 points, Lewisburg played its best offensive game this season and defeated HAC-III-leading Mount Carmel, 59-51. Two nights later, Lewisburg clinched a share of the HAC-II title, winning a hard-fought 37-35 thriller against Danville. The Green Dragons can win the title outright if they defeat Central Columbia Tuesday. It would be Lewisburg’s first league championship this decade. Point guard Grace Kelleher excelled at the foul line in both games, making 29 of 32 shots. Bethany Rippon and Emily Sholly combined for 23 points in the Mount Carmel win and Lewisburg reclaimed District 4 Class AAAA’s top seed.

4. Jersey Shore (13-5): The Bulldogs have won five straight games and continue excelling when the pressure is high. Jersey Shore rallied past Shikellamy, 39-33 Friday and is 14-2 in games decided by six points or fewer the last two years. Senior Averie Hess helps ignite Jersey Shore’s all-out mentality and players like Aubrey Stetts, Janel Eck, Krista Eck and Sadie Griswold, to name a few, did a great job inside against Shikellamy, combining for 25 rebounds. The Bulldogs are in the running to host a first-round playoff game for a second straight year in what is shaping up as a deep and loaded Class AAAA field.

5. Sullivan County (14-2): So Sullivan County and Lourdes played an entertaining District 4 Class A championship rematch Saturday with the Raiders winning, 65-54. But here we go again a mind-numbingly illogical district seeding system. There is a good chance the Griffins who have the district’s best record could end up in the same bracket with the Raiders who have played in three straight state quarterfinals and the 2016 state championship. Year after year, sport after sport this nonsense happens. Every year with hear the same excuses about exploring possibilities for doing it different in the future but it never happens. District 11, District 3 and District 2 have gone to a power system in the last few years and it is way, way overdue that District 4 does so and stops punishing its strongest teams. Mykenzie Malacusky scored 15 points in Saturday’s loss and Jessica King nearly recorded another double-double.

Players of the week

Tory Self, Wellsboro and Hannah Kauffman, Jersey Shore: Self was a big reason Wellsboro did not miss a beat last week despite its injury issues. The standout point guard averaged 23.7 points, 5.7 assists and 6.3 rebounds in the three wins. Kauffman is having a sensational junior season and delivered 25 points and seven rebounds against Shikellamy. Kauffman unloaded in the second half, hitting two critical 3-pointers and scoring 17 straight Jersey Shore points.

Game of the week

Mount Carmel at Loyalsock: These rivals have played three fantastic games over the past two seasons with Mount Carmel winning three close ones, including 48-46 last month. A Mount Carmel win tonight would likely give them the HAC-III championship but a Loyalsock victory would cause a tie for first. Both teams are tenacious and hard-working so this should be a fun one.