McNulty erupting as key piece for Lancers

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Loyalsock’s Summer McNulty takes a shot against Mount Carmel earlier this season.

Loyalsock coaches and players knew Summer McNulty could play. But she is just a freshman, so expectations were not too high entering her debut season.

Most figured McNulty would be another quality piece to a potentially strong team. McNulty came off the bench the first two varsity games while starting the JV games. Soon she worked her way into the varsity starting lineup. Then around midseason something happened.

McNulty erupted.

The freshman guard started playing at a level beyond her years. She consistently produced big and well-rounded performances while helping Loyalsock capture a Heartland Conference championship. Then, on her biggest stage yet last Friday, McNulty played her best game. The versatile freshman scored a career-high 28 points as Loyalsock defeated District 3 champion Trinity, 53-51 in the Class AAA state tournament’s opening round.

“Playing in my first state tournament game was a blast. High school basketball, in general, has been more fun than I would have ever expected it,” McNulty said. “I am so thankful for my teammates and coaching staff because, without them, I wouldn’t of had this opportunity.”

McNulty has embraced her opportunities all season. She is a major reason Loyalsock is competing in the second round of states for the first time since 2011 and meeting three-time defending state champion Neumann-Goretti Tuesday. That is especially true after the Lancers lost Cassie Gee and dynamic guard Maddie Fox to season-ending injuries.

Every Lancer has elevated her performance and McNulty doing so with no previous high school experience has been especially impressive. She now leads Loyalsock in scoring at 13.4 points per game and also has provided steady rebounding and defense.

“I remember watching Summer back when we were kids and knowing she was going to become a great player, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted how great she would really be,” forward Sarah Van Fleet said. “She has this dominance on the floor that doesn’t compare to any player I know, and she has really become the key to our offense this season.”

McNulty is a gifted athlete who also excels on the softball field. Still, the real key to her success is a yeoman-like work ethic. McNulty never really rests during the year and never takes a break on the court. Each season starts with a blank canvas and McNulty has painted some artistic strokes, constantly working on her game and remaining unsatisfied.

A game after Fox was injured, McNulty scored a career-high 22 points in a 42-41 win at District 4 Class AAAA runner-up Lewisburg. Two weeks later she exploded for a career-high 27 points as Loyalsock rallied past 15-win Warrior Run, 52-42. She added 17 points in the Heartland Conference championship win against Lewisburg then nearly recorded a double-double when Loyalsock defeated Bloomsburg and clinched a state tournament berth.

“She does a nice job hitting that mid-range jumper which is a lost art. She can hit those shots and hits those shots because she works extremely hard at it,” Loyalsock coach Curtis Jacobson said. “She doesn’t hit that because it’s natural. She makes it because she’s worked all season on that shot.”

It helps, too that McNulty has the speed to beat defenders off the dribble and both the size and strength to post up defenders. She can score in a variety of ways and did just that against Trinity. McNulty also can drain the 3-pointer and has become a well-rounded threat.

Still, few outside the locker room expected McNulty to do what she did against Trinity. McNulty took over the game at times consistently beating a defense that shut down so many opponents during its season-long run to a district championship.

“I thought as long as I could play a part, whether it was rebounding, or being a defensive wall it didn’t matter because someone else would be there to contribute. So this win doesn’t go to just me or Sam (Stopper) or anyone else on this team. It’s goes to all of us together,” McNulty said. “This game was most definitely a team effort. My teammates came into the game and played their hearts out for every second they were in there.”

McNulty was knocked down repeatedly as she has been all season but kept getting back up and making plays. The gym at East Pennsboro was filled, rocking and not far from Trinity’s home court either.

None of it fazed McNulty. That reveals as much about McNulty as her stats do. It also shows how far she has come in such a short time.

“She’s fearless,” Jacobson said. “The gym was actually packed and the moment wasn’t too big. All the returnees had experience, but this was her first state playoff game and she played one heck of a game.”

Just think what the future might hold.

“She has absolutely no fear when she plays,” Van Fleet said. “That makes it really hard to believe that she is only a 14-year-old freshman.”