Lancers learn from early season defeat

Loyalsock played good opponents throughout its first seven games, but outside of being pushed hard against rival Montoursville, the state’s No. 5-ranked Class AAA team made an undefeated start look pretty easy.

That all ended last Wednesday at Danville. The defending Heartland Conference champions controlled the second half and defeated Loyalsock, 66-58. The loss might have stung, but it also might have been just what the Lancers needed. Ultimately, it was a non-league game against a team that Loyalsock will not see in districts so it did not hurt in the big picture. Nobody wants to lose, but the Lancers already looked like they have learned from that defeat and might be a better team because of that.

It certainly looked that way last Friday. Playing against fellow district title contender Southern Columbia, Loyalsock displayed a sense or urgency from the start, controlled all facets and played one of its best games, winning, 76-32. Many challenges remain, starting tonight against Central Columbia (7-1), but the Lancers now know well the fine line between winning and losing.

And they do not want to experience that losing feeling again any time soon.

“We always find ways to find positives out of negatives so that game taught us a lot. We know now that if we don’t play team basketball things can go poorly for us,” forward Connor Watkins said after recording a double-double against Southern. “We learned a lot from that game and coming out (Friday) we wanted to show we knew what we were doing and we had good team camaraderie.”

Four Lancers scored in double figures and Loyalsock efficiently moved the ball setting up good shots inside and outside. Instead of sulking about the Danville loss, Loyalsock came out swinging two nights later and built a 21-5 first-quarter lead. Once ahead, Loyalsock did not let up, using runs of 19-0, 12-0, 11-0 and 7-0 against a strong team that had won six of its first seven games.

It obviously is never fun losing, but better to learn from defeat in early January then late February. A long road lies ahead, but Loyalsock looked reinvigorated instead of disappointed following that loss.

“I’m one of the world’s worst losers and losing can bring out the worst in us, but we have to find a way to bounce back and we had a good practice after that,” Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. “We wanted that to springboard into (Friday) and it did.”

“After our loss to Danville, we weren’t down on ourselves, but it was a small setback so we came in (Thursday) and worked hard in practice and we just wanted to get back on the right track,” Watkins said. “We knew they were a talented team so we came out with a good attitude and energy.”

That is important because Loyalsock certainly has the talent and experience. Four starters are back from last year’s state quarterfinalist and four players are averaging in double figures. Gerald Ross earned all-state honors last season, Watkins is a four-year starter, Anthony Pastore is a three-year contributor and Aiden Gair has broken out after showing promise off the bench as a sophomore. Senior forward Bam Brima has become one of the area’s premier defenders and his defense set the tone against Southern.

The core of this team has played together since junior high. These players have grown together and won together. They also have lost together and have shown they can come back stronger. It happened a year ago when the Lancers lost the district championship against Wellsboro, but won two state playoff games and came within a few shots of reaching the state’s Final 4. Time will tell how much the Danville loss pushes Loyalsock upward but early returns are impressive, especially with everyone clicking against one of the district’s premier teams.

“It’s been like that since we were in middle school and it’s just kind of built since we were there. Every night can be somebody different that’s lighting up the score sheet,” Watkins said. “We’ve had four different guys be the lead scorer in the game. It’s stuff like that which proves to us that we’re all very good basketball players and when we play together, we play well.”

WELL-TRAVELED

Montoursville center Austin Loe spent much of last summer on the move. The 6-foot-5 junior was coming off a promising season in which he helped Montoursville capture the District 4 Class AAAA championship, averaging close to 10 points per game off the bench. Unsatisfied and knowing he would be one of the top contributors returning from a squad that lost four starters, Loe prepared to take the next step forward.

And it appears he has.

Loe played in various camps and tournaments. The stats he produced and the wins he helped his teams generate were not important. Learning at each stop and refining his skills was. Loe is becoming a more well-rounded weapon and has been dominant at times in the low post. Loe topped 20 points in three straight recent games and helped Montoursville rally past St. John Neumann, 62-37 last Thursday, scoring 14 fourth-quarter points and converting two 3-point plays.

Loe is still learning and becoming a more well-polished player but he is much improved. He is averaging 16.5 points per game and has the ability to control the boards. All that summer work is paying dividends.

“I have worked with a lot of coaches over the last year and they tell you a lot of different things and you start to put that all together and as you play more and more basketball it helps you out so much,” Loe said. “I have all these great coaches, (Montoursville’s) Mike Mussina, (Lycoming assistant) Joe Britto over the summer and others and it was amazing to have all of them help me get better and see how much they cared.”

PUTBACKS: South Williamsport (5-4) is coming on strong and has won three of its last four games. The Mounties are looking like a potential District 4 Class AA title contender and defeated Sullivan County for the first time since 2011 last Wednesday, winning 51-49. They followed that up with a 58-39 win against Troy and receiving quality contributions throughout the rotation. Tyler Trojan played outstanding defense against Sullivan, Ethan Laudenslager effectively ran the offense against Troy and Cole Lentz scored 30 points in the wins … Hughesville has won two straight games and is winning the close ones that eluded them earlier. The Spartans edged Milton, 43-42 on the road last Friday and their last two victories are by eight combined points. Devon Braden is a rebound shy of having four straight double-doubles and Blake Sherwood and Clayton Poust combined for 21 points against Milton … Muncy stayed within a game of St. John Neumann in the Mid-Penn, defeating Montgomery, 78-44. Noah Rymsza, Kolby Moyer, Dylan Wilt and Kyle Lenhart all scored in double figures … Central Mountain’s Collin Jones is having a big senior season and helped the Wildcats win their first game, 67-60, finishing with 23 points, 12 rebounds and six steals. Jones has topped 20 points in five of six games and has at least seven rebounds in each of his last five … Fresh off earning all-state football honors at tight end, Canton’s Ben Knapp scored a career-high 14 points and helped the Warriors defeat Montgomery, 66-44 … Bucktail has improved over the last month and edged Northern Potter, 54-53 as Gabriel Conway scored 16 points and Devin Serafini added a season-high 15.

–Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 Boys Basketball Teams

1. Loyalsock (8-1)

Watkins is a four-year starter and his all-around play is a big reason Loyalsock has reached states the past two seasons. The senior forward was outstanding against Southern, scoring 12 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and adding five assists. He also is one of three players who has delivered 24 or more points in a game. The Lancers possess a nice inside-outside game and can stretch a defense more than in previous season. That was shown against Southern when Loyalsock hit 10 3-pointers.

2. Montoursville (6-2)

The Warriors nearly squandered a 17-point fourth-quarter lead against North Penn-Mansfield, but clutch free throw shooting preserved a 57-56 win. Two nights earlier, Montoursville erased a fourth-quarter deficit and beat St. John Neumann, 62-57. The Warriors went 6 for 6 at the foul line late in the North Penn-Mansfield win and are producing well in high-pressure situations. Montoursville is 4-0 in single-digit games and has rallied three times in the fourth quarter to win games, handing Central Columbia its only loss in eight games. Senior Dylan Bower is providing quality production and leadership and averaged 17 points in the two wins. The sophomore class is making a big impact and Dillon Young scored 14 points against North Penn-Mansfield, while Peyton Mussina added a career-high nine and hit three 3-pointers.

3. Wellsboro (6-2)

Hunter Brown earned all-state football honors two weeks ago after becoming Wellsboro’s all-time sacks leader. Now, he is flourishing in his first year starting and combining with double-double machine Brandyn Tuttle to give Wellsboro a quality inside game. Brown scored a career-high 14 points and pulled down nine rebounds in Friday’s 60-32 against Wyalusing. Tuttle recorded his fourth straight double-double, producing 22 points and 10 rebounds as Wellsboro won its seventh straight game. Senior Andrew Brelo was one of the area’s top defenders a year ago and now is emerging as an offensive threat as well. Brelo has reached double figures in six straight games and continues playing smothering defense, making seven steals against Wyalusing.

4. St. John Neumann (5-3)

The Knights have played better in their last two games and quickly regrouped from the Montoursville loss, beating CMVT, 81-51 a night later. David Hill scored a game-high 31 points, topping 30 points for a third time. He also is improving as a passer and had seven rebounds against Montoursville. Jaiden Cioffi helps ignite Neumann’s defense and played a strong all-around game against CMVT, scoring eight points, grabbing seven rebounds, making six steals and dealing five assists. Malaki Parlante is a potential weapon inside and scored 14 points in the win. Keep an eye on point guard Rivers Parrish who made some big plays against Montoursville and had four assists.

5. Jersey Shore (5-3)

A week ago I wrote how Jersey Shore was a mystery entering the season. Turns out it still might be. The Bulldogs started 5-1 but struggled in road losses against Mifflinburg and Milton, both by double digits. The Bulldogs have shown how dangerous they can be and have a win over District 4 Class AAAA title contender Shamokin so it will be interesting to see how it reacts moving forward. Nate Ewing continues his big junior season and had 25 points and 11 rebounds against Milton. Tanner Lorson added seven rebounds and six assists after Trevor Gee had eight rebounds against Mifflinburg.

Players of the Week

Sam Carpenter, Sullivan County and

Pete Sinibaldi, South

Carpenter is having a breakout season after becoming Sullivan’s new point guard and showcased his arsenal with big performances against South and Bucktail. Carpenter scored a career-high 27 points against South, then had 17 points, 10 rebounds and three steals two nights later. Carpenter is a good shooter who sees the court well and competes hard. Sinibaldi is having an excellent senior season and continues playing well despite opposing defenses focusing their attention on him. Sinibaldi scored 39 points in South’s two wins and had 20 points against Troy. Sinibaldi has a good all-around skill set and his leadership also has been key in sparking South’s turnaround.

Game of the Week

North Penn-Liberty at North Penn-Mansfield

The fun aspect of Friday’s game is that opponents were teammates last fall who helped the North Penn-Mansfield football team win nine games and a league championship. Now friends become rivals in an intriguing matchup of quality teams. North Penn-Liberty (6-2) has started strong and is looking like a team that could reach the Class A state tournament. North Penn-Mansfield has played a difficult early-season schedule and has controlled this rivalry the last few years. This should be a good battle.

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