Sock not afraid of deficits
The reaction remained the same when Loyalsock trailed by 15 points and when it called timeout in a tie game with 2.9 seconds remaining. The Lancers exuded confidence.
It was different night, similar situation. Really, overcoming adversity has become Loyalsock’s staple. True to form, the Lancers delivered again.
Loyalsock erased that 15-point late second-quarter deficit and defeated Holy Redeemer in Saturday’s Class AAA state tournament opener, 62-60, when Gerald Ross hit a buzzer-beating, fadeaway jumper. The Lancers (20-7) would rather not put themselves in these precarious situations Wednesday when they face District 1 champion Valley Forge Military Academy in the second round, but they know how to handle them if they occur again.
“You’re never totally prepared for something like this but it (the experience) certainly helps,” Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. “They can maintain their composure because they’ve been there before. That in itself is a plus for us.”
Saturday was the second time this postseason that Loyalsock both overcame a 15-point deficit and won at the buzzer. Against Mount Carmel in the Heartland Conference semifinals it was Ross finding Connor Watkins at the buzzer as the Lancers rallied for a 53-51 win. Two days before that, Loyalsock again fought back late and beat HAC champion Danville, 49-47 when Ross hit a last-second 3-pointer.
Few things have come easy, but Loyalsock keeps finding a way and its resilience, as much as its talent, is a major reason it is one of only 16 Class AAA teams still playing.
“We’re confident,” Ross said. “When it comes down to the wire I trust my guys to get a good shot. Whether it’s me or someone else, I trust my guys to come up with a shot in the clutch.”
“We practice a lot of end-game situations in practice,” Aiden Gair said after scoring 12 points off the bench against Redeemer. “We get used to it now.”
It looked that way against Redeemer. The Royals tied the game with 25 seconds remaining and Loyalsock spread the floor for Ross after bringing the ball upcourt. After calling timeout, Loyalsock drew up a player named after late former manager Dana Williams. Watkins and Ross was an all-state combination in football last fall and Watkins threw a cross-court pass to Ross that he caught on the run. The junior guard dribbled once, faded away and drained the long jumper before his happy teammates swarmed him.
There were so many other key plays that led to that moment. Redeemer threatened to turn the game into a rout when it went on a 24-2 run bridging the first and second quarters, taking is 15-point lead with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining in the first half. In a sequence that might have been overlooked because of the thrilling finish, point guard Anthony Pastore scored five quick points to stop the bleeding. Ross and Bam Brima then made last-second steals and Loyalsock pulled within 29-22 at halftime.
The Lancers briefly made it a one-point game in the third quarter but trailed by six entering the fourth. Some teams might have panicked. Not Loyalsock. It really was in its comfort zone and has had plenty of practice.
“We just had to trust our game plan. We had all the confidence in the world playing against this team,” Ross said. “We knew they were really good and we trusted ourselves and stayed positive the whole game.”
It has been that way all season. Loyalsock opened its season with second-half comeback wins against North Penn-Mansfield and District 4 Class AAA champion Wellsboro. The Lancers later overcame second-half deficits against Shamokin and Mifflinburg and turned a 12-point deficit into a 71-57 late-season win against Athens.
Even in defeat, Loyalsock has stormed back. Danville led Loyalsock by 17 late in the second quarter of the HAC championship before the Lancers twice made it a 2-point game. Wellsboro held a 10-point lead with less than 90 seconds left in the district final before Loyalsock cut it to five and had a chance to make it a one-possesion game. This is a team that believes it can win, no matter the circumstance.
That showed against Redeemer. Pastore sparked the comeback, Gair scored nine third-quarter points, Brandon Bauman hit two key 3-pointers, Connor Watkins had a hand in four straight points in five seconds to start the fourth quarter. Mitch Klingerman hit a big 3-pointer late to put Loyalsock up four and Ross scored 25 points, twice hitting go-ahead and game-winning shots in the last 84 seconds.
“We need everybody to step up at this time of the year,” Ross said. “It’s not a one-man or a two-man show. We need all 9-10 guys to come through and get the win.”
Loyalsock needs the same against Valley Forge. And it is seemingly ready for anything because it has been through just about everything.
“You start this tournament 0-0 again,” Insinger said. “You put all the bad games behind you and dwell on everything positive and good things will happen.”