Dragons trending in right direction
Lewisburg started slow but produced a strong finish a year ago. The Green Dragons looked like they might try taking a similar route earlier this season, but their playoff push has come sooner this time.
That leaves room to grow these next few weeks. And that makes Lewisburg particularly dangerous if it continues trending upward while gaining momentum entering the District 4 Class AAAA tournament. The Green Dragons (11-5) clinched a playoff berth in dramatic fashion last Wednesday at Montoursville, rallying from five down with 47 seconds remaining and winning, 52-51 in overtime.
Lewisburg started 2-3 but has won nine of its last 11 games. Last season, the Dragons dug themselves a 5-10 hole but won six of their final seven games before dropping a two-point heartbreaker against eventual finalist Shamokin in the district quarterfinals. Putting things together sooner this time around could signal a deeper run this time.
“We were missing some guys at the beginning and started getting them back and worked together and we won a few games in a row,” guard Dante Sims said after hitting the free throws that forced overtime at Montoursville. “We just kept going and we feel like we’re one of the best teams in the districts. We feel like we can make a championship run and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
The Dragons opened the season without guard Ben Liscum, a strong all-around player who had seven rebounds and five assists against Montoursville. Liscum scored the game-winning basket in that game and Lewisburg is 9-2 since he returned. He is one of three players averaging in double figures, joining four-year starting forward Nick Shedleski and versatile forward C.J. Mabry.
Mabry is battling an injury and has missed the last three games, so winning two games last week without him is another encouraging development. The Dragons are building more depth and players like freshman point guard Cam Michaels are making big impacts. Michaels was a defensive difference-maker against Montoursville and it was his assist that produced Liscum’s game-winning layup.
Peter Lantz can do damage in a variety of ways and has come on strong. Sims does a lot of the dirty work that crucial to winning and Brett Herman and Forrest Zelechoski provided some key minutes last Wednesday. Earlier this season, if teams contained Shedleski they had a good shot at beating Lewisburg but this team has grown more balanced and dangerous since then.
“Pete gives us a lot from time to time, we always can rely on Shed and Ben has had some big games and now Cam Michaels been playing some big minutes for us,” Lewisburg coach Matt Salsman said. “That just adds to our depth.”
“We miss playing without CJ, but we have guys that step up,” Sims said. “When he comes back we’ll be ready.”
While Lewisburg has won nine of its last 11 games it is, ironically, a loss that might be highlight its improvement. Loyalsock throttled Lewisburg last month, defeating it 81-47. Lewisburg lost to Montoursville a few nights later, but then won its next seven games. Loyalsock ended the winning streak, but Lewisburg had it on the ropes at times, trailing by just two in the fourth quarter before losing the road game, 63-57.
The thing is, Lewisburg can be a lot better. The Dragons defeated Central Mountain and Montoursville last week, but also nearly blew a big lead against the Wildcats before watching a 16-point second-quarter lead turn into a late five-point deficit against the Warriors. Lewisburg played near flawless basketball the first 12 minutes, making 8 of 11 shots, surrendering just three field goals and looking like the best version of itself.
The goal now is converting those bursts into a consistent four quarters. Do that and a program which won three district championships last decade could continue building on the winning tradition.
“As coaches, we have to try and figure out the way to push the right buttons to get the guys to really buy into what we’re trying to do,” Salsman said. “Sometimes it’s going great and sometimes it’s like guys think they have to do more than what we need and that’s not helping us, but we can beat anybody in the district if we play like we did at the start (against Montoursville).”
ANOTHER CLASSIC: The JV game did not start until 6:30 p.m. Saturday night at Lycoming’s Lamade Gym, but many fans started filling the bleachers at 5:15, eagerly anticipating the Williamsport-Loyalsock varsity game that was more than three hours away. Again, the Millionaires and Lancers did not disappoint.
For a third straight season, these neighborhood rivals had an overflowing crowd riveted from start to finish as Loyalsock rallied from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit and edged Williamsport, 63-62. The previous two games in this series had gone to overtime and Idris Ali scored the game-winning basket, floating like a butterfly on a runner, this time with 20 seconds remaining as Loyalsock closed the game on a 17-5 run.
“You wouldn’t expect anything different. Williamsport always brings their A-game against us and that’s what we want. We want it to be a showcase. We want to be evenly matched and it certainly it was,” Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. “It wasn’t our best game in any sense of the word, but they battled. They never gave up and they made a courageous fourth-quarter run.”
Ali scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and both Rivers Parrish and Aiden Gair made some clutch fourth-quarter shots, too, as Loyalsock (16-0) continued its best start since 2003. That was after Williamsport had stormed back from a nine-point second-quarter deficit and built a 57-46 lead a minute into the fourth quarter. Ahmir Ellzy scored a career-high 26 points, making 10 of 15 shots, and four Millionaires produced at least three assists.
This game was well-played, fiercely-fought and both teams took turns looking good in front of the one of the biggest crowds they will see this season. This was another win for the city and fans likely already are exciting for next year’s game.
This reporter sure is.
“It’s a great high school basketball game and we want to keep this rivalry going as long as we can,” Insinger said. “Hopefully we can continue to use this facility because it showcases Lycoming and it gets a lot of people on campus and it’s a win-win for everyone.”
PUTBACKS: Jalen Thomas is one of the area’s premier defenders, but also is becoming a quality offensive weapon and shined last week while helping Sullivan County (13-3) win three games in four nights. Thomas made 23 steals in those victories, including a season-high nine Saturday against Benton. Thomas scored 16 points in that win and against CMVT. Gehrett Parrish also played well and scored a career-high 15 points while adding 10 rebounds in a 59-36 win against Montgomery … Jersey Shore (9-4) scored 56 first-half points in Friday’s 87-62 victory over St. Joseph’s. Nate Ewing had 29 points, six rebounds and four assists while Trevor Gee scored 19 points and Damian Williams grabbed 10 rebounds … Montgomery continues making strides following last year’s winless season and won its third game Saturday against CMVT, winning 54-26. Logan Almeida and Steven Prince each had 15 points … Muncy freshman Ross Eyer recorded his third double-double of the season in a 41-26 victory against CMVT three nights earlier … Warrior Run (8-6) has won three straight games and four players reached double figures in Saturday’s 65-50 win against Milton. Ahmahd Keyes led the way with 17 and Tyler Pick scored a career-high 14 … Canton (9-7) is in the hunt for a first-round home District 4 Class AA playoff game after winning three straight games last week, highlighted by a 57-49 over Northeast Bradford, a finalist the last three years … Wellsboro sophomore Liam Manning is becoming a difference-maker inside and produced career-highs of 20 and 21 points in consecutive games against North Penn-Mansfield and Towanda.
DR MASSE’S TOP 5 BOYS BASKETBALL RANKINGS
1. Loyalsock (16-0): The Lancers have little time to celebrate Saturday’s rivalry win with another big game coming Tuesday at rival Montoursville. Loyalsock has proven as tough as talented this season, beating good teams like Williamsport, Montoursville, St. John Neumann and Danville after trailing by nine points or more.
“They have some qualities that you cannot coach. We can draw a lot of things on the clip board, but they have to go out and execute and it has to come from within,” Insinger said. “They’re very gutsy and they believe in themselves. That’s three-fourths of the battle.”
2. Montoursville (9-3): The bad news is that Montoursville has been playing without HAC-II all-stars Austin Loe and Dillon Young. The good news is that both players could soon return. Still, whoever is on the court, Montoursville knows it must limit the mistakes that doomed it against Lewisburg after going up 49-44 with 47 seconds remaining. Josh Burger shined in defeat, scoring 14 points, grabbings 12 rebounds, dealing five assists and making four steals. The Warriors again played unselfish offense and three players had five or more assists, including Hunter Shearer (17 points) and Peyton Mussina. Jake Simms is becoming dangerous inside and scored 17 points in a 55-44 win at Mifflinburg.
3. St. John Neumann (14-2): While the Knights feature an explosive offense, it is the defense improving which could provide an especially big boost as the playoffs approach. Neumann put together strong defensive performances in wins against defending District 4 Class AA champion Millville and Southern Columbia, allowing just 89 points in those games. Neumann held Millville to 16 second-half points as it rallied from a seven-point deficit on the road and edged it, 53-50. It was the second time this season that Neumann overcame a fourth-quarter deficit and beat Millville.
“Our defense is getting a lot better,” David Hill said after scoring his 1,000th career point in Saturday’s 74-54 win against Muncy. “We struggled earlier with man to man defense and our guys are starting to pick it up easier now.”
4. Hughesville (12-4): This usually is the time of year when Hughesville starts hitting its stride, but it lost two road games at Bloomsburg and Central Columbia last week. Still, this team is loaded with potential and freshman Dylan Bieber shined against Central, scoring a career-high 17 points while helping Hughesville almost overcome a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit in a 61-58 loss. Ethan Snyder is one of the area’s more versatile defenders and also is developing offensively after scoring 11 points at Central.
5. North Penn-Liberty (14-2): Northeast Bradford ended North-Penn Liberty’s 12-game winning streak Saturday, but not before the Mounties staged their latest second-half comeback in a 52-49 victory against Sayre. That was the third time in five games Liberty rallied from at least seven points down in the second half. The Mounties then scored a season-high 92 points in a 40-point win against Cowanesque Valley. Noah Spencer averaged 16 points and six assists in the three games and Colton Litzelman produced a double-double off the bench against CV when five players scored in double figures.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Isaiah Niemczyk, Canton and David Hill, Neumann
Niemczyk is enjoying a breakout sophomore season and the versatile forward played his best game Saturday against Cowanesque Valley, scoring a career-high 27 points in a 70-52 win. Niemczyk is a double-double threat each game and averaged 18.3 points in Canton’s three victories. Hill dazzled against Muncy, making his 1,000-point milestone day a memorable one. He scored 33 points, grabbed eight rebounds and made four steals. That capped a strong three-game stretch for Hill who averaged 22.3 points in his team’s three wins.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Sullivan County at
St. John Neumann, Wed.
This was a tough one with Montoursville and Loyalsock also playing, but Wednesday’s Mid-Penn showdown earns the selection because of the championship implications. Neumann holds a one-game lead over Sullivan and a win here would all but ensure of it an eighth straight league crown. A Sullivan win, however, ties things up. Add in that these two teams have been big rivals the last 10 years and that both are again serious District 4 Class A title contenders and this one has the ingredients to be a lot of fun. That goes double after Neumann won an 83-78 thriller in Laporte last month.
Chris Masse may be reached by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.