Gair, Jennings propel Lancers
SUNBURY — His teammates changed his name as Eli Gair conducted a post-game interview. Dom Jennings was the last leaving the Loyalsock locker room and carried water bottles.
Both juniors left the Shikellamy Field House in different fashions, but each left quite a mark on the court and played their best high school basketball games at the perfect time.
Gair and Jennings were spectacular off the bench Wednesday night in the Heartland Conference Tournament semifinals, sparking game-changing runs every time they entered and helping the ailing, short-handed Lancers defeat Mount Carmel, 77-63. Gair and Jennings combined for 21 points, seven assists and four steals, helping Loyalsock (23-0) reach a fourth straight final while playing without sick point guard Idris Ali and with leading scorer Aiden Gair battling an illness that has limited him all week.
Rees Watkins (17 points, 13 rebounds delivered a double-double and Loyalsock will play Danville in Friday’s championship back at Shikellamy as tries repeating as champion.
“The boys were telling me they deserved more time and they made a believer out of me,” ailing Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. “I was so pleased with our depth tonight. It really came through. Jennings and Little Gair were kind of catalysts at times. Every time they came in they lifted up the team up a few notches.”
HAC-III champion Mount Carmel (17-6) erased a 12-point first-half deficit and tied it 24-24 midway through the second quarter. Jennings then drained a 3-pointer and Loyalsock never trailed again, closing the half on a 16-6 run and building a 10-point halftime lead.
Eli Gair scored five points, dealt two assists and made two steals during that run. Jennings added an assist and Loyalsock destroyed the myth that it was not that deep this season.
“Coming into the season we knew we had depth, but we haven’t really used it till now. We figured it would be most important for the playoffs,” Eli Gair said. “That 3-pointer Dom hit was really important. They were getting hot and Dom hit that 3 so it kind of turned things around.”
“My teammates gave me the ball and I hadn’t been looking to shoot much in the last few games and I just fired away and it went in. I was looking to shoot more from there,” Jennings said. “It was fun. It was the best game I’ve played in varsity and I’m looking forward to having more of them.”
Gair and Jennings showed no nerves on a big stage against a fellow District 4 Class AAA title contender. Gair produced a career-high 12 points, four assists and four steals. Jennings scored nine points and added three assists.
Mount Carmel kept coming back, but the reserves kept reversing the momentum. Sparked by Tommy Reisinger (21 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists) and Michael Balichik (19 points, 6 rebounds), Mount Carmel cut a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to 61-56 with 4 minutes, 30 seconds remaining. Again, Jennings and Gair delivered.
Jennings stopped the run when he found Saraj Ali for a layup, Gair drew a charge before assisting Watkins and Jennings fed Dane Armson for a dunk as Loyalsock went up 14 in the last minute and clinched its fourth straight HAC semifinal win.
“We made a statement because coming into this year people thought we lost four seniors so we’re going to fall off but that really wasn’t the case,” Gair said. “Now with it being playoff time the bench showed up and played well. I think everyone was shocked a little bit.”
“People who didn’t see our depth the last few games, now they have and it’s something that can help us going onto the next level and competitions,” Jennings said. “I just think we need to keep working to do better.”
Watkins and Parrish provided strong senior leadership and both stuffed the stat sheet. Watkins dazzled with his versatility and Parrish’s defense and passing helped Loyalsock start strong. Both played a major role in Loyalsock making 55.8 percent of its shots. Watkins drained three 3-pointers and Parrish delivered nine points and six assists.
“We look for our couple seniors to step up and Rivers really picked up the team at the beginning and made some good defensive plays and Rees gave us a little more explosion on the other end,” Insinger said. “It all helped.”
MOUNT CARMEL (63)
Tommy Reisinger 10 1-2 21, Michael Balichik 9 1-4 19, Garrett Timco 2 0-0 4, Brock Evert 2 2-4 7, Dylan Pupo 5 0-0 11, Nick Nestico 0 0-0 0. Totals 27 5-11 63.
Aiden Gair 4 1-2 12, Rees Watkins 7 2-2 19, Saraj Ali 3 1-4 7, Rivers Parrish 4 1-2 9, Julian Wilson 2 0-0 4, Sean Jensen 0 0-0 0, Eli Gair 4 3-3 12, Chase Cavanaugh 0 0-0 0, Dom Jennings 3 1-1 9, Dane Armson 2 1-2 5. Totals 29 10-16 77.
Mount Carmel 16 14 16 17–63
Loyalsock 22 18 17 20–77
3-point goals: Mount Carmel 2 (Pupo 1, Everett 1), Loyalsock 9 (A. Gair 3, Watkins 3, Jennings 2, E. Gair 1).
Records: Loyalsock (23-0), Mount Carmel (17-6).