×

Local girls offer an exciting brand of basketball

Loyalsock and Williamsport produced one of the season’s more exciting games last Thursday, trading baskets all night before Loyalsock scored the last six points in the final minute and won a 57-50 thriller.

As impressive as the game was, the crowd that watched it might have been even better. Williamsport pulled out the bleachers behind the scorer’s table for the first time in 15 years at a girls basketball game. The normally open side was pretty much full before 7 p.m. with a 7:30 varsity tip and both student sections were boisterous all night. It was a playoff environment for a midseason game and it was a lot of fun.

Sadly, it also is pretty rare in girls basketball.

The boys teams often attract larger crowds, but the girls work every bit as hard, are equally driven and play exciting games as well. It is a head-scratcher, especially when so many girls teams in District 4 have enjoyed success over the years. Personally, I have covered both boys and girls basketball since 1999 and I can tell you that I get every bit as excited for the girls games as I do the boys.

Hopefully, what took place at the Magic Dome last week becomes a regular occurrence at girls basketball games. They certainly deserve the recognition and support.

Loyalsock and Williamsport showed why with their outstanding neighborhood rivalry game. Both teams rallied from deficits of six points or more and Williamsport cut a 10-point third-quarter deficit to one three times in the fourth. The outcome was not decided until 17.9 seconds remained and players from both teams played with ferocious competitiveness. The scoreboard said Loyalsock won, but girls basketball was the biggest winner that night.

“It was a good environment for both teams to play in. It’s a huge factor for girls basketball because you don’t get a lot of it,” Loyalsock coach Curtis Jacobson said. “Both crowds were great and it’s good for the area. It’s good basketball, it’s a high level of basketball. They made plays, we made plays. We threw punches at each other and we were fortunate to have a couple more points at the end.”

“As a basketball lover it was fun for me to watch,” Williamsport coach Terrill Seward-Buxton said. “They all competed hard.”

The environment both played in should help Loyalsock and Williamsport going forward. This was a non-conference game, but both teams competed like it was a district championship. Both have larger goals than winning in the regular season, but securing local bragging rights means a lot, especially when one side knows the other so well.

Playing in what felt like a high-stakes game with fans loud the entire night gives Loyalsock and Williamsport a taste of what playoff basketball could be like. That is especially important for a team like Loyalsock which has only three players who received significant playoff minutes a year ago.

“This game was important because this is an atmosphere like it is with a playoff crowd,” Loyalsock guard Summer McNulty said after scoring 29 points and making six steals. “We don’t get that usually because nobody really goes to girls basketball games.”

That is a shame, but hopefully this Loyalsock-Williamsport game starts changing the narrative. The Lancers, Millionaires and all the other girls teams around here play a similar brand of exciting basketball every game, every season. Go and check them out. You will not be disappointed.

A bonus last Thursday was Williamsport having its Little Millionaire basketball players watching the game. Seeing the intensity with which each team competed and how excited the large crowd was had to light a fire in those future high school players.

“It’s been a long time since they opened those bleachers. We had our Little Millionaires there so they could see that atmosphere,” Seward-Buxton said. “We want to get everyone kind of falling in love with Williamsport basketball again.”

Here is hoping more and more people continue falling in love with girls basketball and jam the stands more than once or twice a year.

SURGING SULLIVAN

It already was not going to be easy replacing two good starters from last year’s second round Class A state qualifier. But the challenge facing Sullivan County became even more difficult when two projected starters did not play this season. Yet, here the Griffins are, again perched atop the Mid-Penn standings. The Griffins (11-3, 7-0) have just one senior, play two freshmen prominently but keep getting better and have won four straight games.

Sullivan played one of its best games last Wednesday, going on the road and defeating Millville, 53-36, in a battle of league unbeatens. The Griffins then blew open a close game in the second half, winning at Montgomery, 58-30. Three players scored in double figures in that victory and first-time starter Samantha Albright had 14 points and seven rebounds against Millville.

Several faces may be new this season, but the results are not for a team which rests atop the Class A district rankings.

“The freshmen and sophomores, I’m super proud of them and the coaches are super proud of them. They have stepped it up,” senior forward Jessica King said after recording her 11th double-double. “They give it all they can in practice and during the games and you can’t ask for more than that. Everyone brings something to the table and the team really works well together.”

King and Sophia Springman are the returning starters from last year’s district runner-up and both are having strong seasons. But players like Albright, Kassidy Beinlich, Angel Fitzgerald, Carly Rupert, Ellie Springman, Cassidy Skoranski and Stella Harney also have made positive impacts. These young players are maturing quick and have helped Sullivan earn big wins against big school teams like Mifflinburg and Selinsgrove while pursuing a fourth straight league championship.

“They’ve come a long way in a short time,” Sullivan coach Kurt Parrish said. “Stat-wise of any of them are capable of giving us a big night.”

PUTBACKS

Williamsport forward Samiyah Little played one of her best games against Loyalsock. The senior has game-changing potential inside and scored 12 points, while adding 10 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks … Central Mountain has shown enormous growth this season and its five wins already are more than in the previous four years combined. The Wildcats (5-6) rallied from a first-half deficit Friday against Milton, winning 43-32 as Avery Baker and Quinlynn McCann combined for 34 points and 11 rebounds … Cowanesque Valley (7-6) is heating up and recorded its most impressive victory yet last Thursday when it defeated perennial NTL-I title contender North Penn-Mansfield, 40-37. Makayla Vargeson scored 18 points two nights after Kailey Wells went for a career-high 16 in a 51-29 victory over Sayre … Canton (8-6) has hit the boards hard throughout the year and that is a big reason why the Warriors could reach the postseason for a third straight year. Molly Ward, Reagan Kelly and Courtney Weiskopff all grabbed at least nine rebounds in Friday’s 39-25 win at Sayre. Ward pulled down 15 rebounds and has 49 in her last four games. Hughesville’s Alex Snyder scored a career-high 18 points against Loyalsock and Jersey Shore’s Aubrey Stetts continued her strong senior campaign with 33 points against Shikellamy and Selinsgrove.

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 Girls Basketball teams

1. Loyalsock (14-0)

Jacobson had mixed emotions following the Williamsport victory. Although pleased with the team’s victory, he also is waiting for the Lancers to put a complete game for 32 minutes together. Still, better to pursue that goal with an unblemished record. The one thing Jacobson needs not worry about is his players giving him everything they have. That came shining through Friday as Loyalsock found the energy to go into another hostile environment a day after the Williamsport game and beat another quality opponent, this time downing Hughesville, 54-38. That win was all about character as Loyalsock gradually extended its lead over the final three quarters and had four players score at least eight points. Guard Sophia Gardner is becoming a weapon and scored a career-high 15 points against Hughesville.

2. Warrior Run (10-4)

There was a stretch in which Warrior Run went cold from outside, but when the Defenders are consistently hitting their perimeter shots they can become a nightmare to defend. It is that strong inside-outside game which has fueled a four-game winning streak. Warrior Run has connected on 24 3-pointers during that time and Emily McKee has played well inside, scoring at least 13 points in each game. Gracy Beachel has 10 3-pointers in four games, Jordan Hartman hit three in Friday’s win against Midd-West and Sydney Hoffman is hurting opponents from outside, off the dribble and with her passing. Hoffman is averaging 17.3 points over her last three games and is setting into her new position as well.

3. South Williamsport (9-5)

Last week might have been a turning point for the Mounties who showed why they are a serious District 4 Class AA title contender. South won back to back games against outstanding Southern Columbia and Bloomsburg teams, excelling late both times. The Mounties beat Southern for the first time since 2012, overcoming a 10-point deficit with four minutes remaining, before snapping Bloomsburg’s 10-game winning streak. South has won three straight and is receiving stellar contributions from both starters and reserves. All five starters scored at least six points in the victories and senior leaders Julie Anthony, Haley Neidig and Sydney Bachman all made clutch plays late each game. Claudia Green and Rachel Stahl are forming a nice inside tandem and Madi Tolomay and Sami Branton are providing strong minutes off the bench.

4. Sullivan County (11-3)

Beinlich is doing a nice job running the offense and produced 21 points and 11 rebounds in Sullivan’s victories. Albright grabbed seven rebounds against Millville and both King and Springman delivered double-double performances in that win. Springman stuffed the stat sheet against Montgomery with 15 points, six rebounds, seven assists and four steals.

5. Muncy (10-4)

Like Sullivan, Muncy has replaced three guard starters and made large strides in a short time. A last-second loss at Sullivan 10 nights ago is Muncy’s only blemish over its last eight games and it stayed in the Mid-Penn title race with road wins at Montgomery and St. John Neumann. Freshman point guard Mia Edkin has been key to the team’s continued success and delivered 10 points and four assists against Neumann. Forward Aleaha Bigelow has scored 18 or more points in nine straight games, Bell Hitesman grabbed 14 rebounds aainst Montgomery and Avery Bigelow made six steals at Neumann.

Players of the Week

Cathryn Brought, Wellsboro and Ariana Copeland, Muncy

Brought earned NTL Defensive Player of the Year honors last year but she has become quite an offensive presence this season and scored a career-high 34 points in an important 59-48 win at Wyalusing. The senior leader scored 53 points in two games and also is one of the team leaders in rebounds, assists and steals. She is second among area scorers with 18.5 points per game. Copeland is mirroring the path Bigelow took during her sophomore year, quickly developing into a well-rounded threat. Copeland dazzled in both Muncy wins, scoring 16 straight second-half points against Montgomery en route to a career-high 19 before recording a double-double against Neumann. Copeland finished her breakout week with 35 points, 20 rebounds and six steals and could be poised for big things moving forward.

Game of the Week

South Williamsport at Hughesville

These HAC-III rivals meet again Tuesday and have played some outstanding games the last three years. Four of the last five in this series have been decided late, including earlier this season when Hughesville rallied and won, 39-32. That also was the fourth straight time the road team won in a series between teams who mirror each other in tenacity.

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

COMMENTS