Lancers suffer 1st loss of season
SUNBURY — KJ Riley dribbled away the final seconds as Danville players and students cheered before running toward midcourt and celebrating.
All Loyalsock could do was watch and try comprehending this new feeling. For the first time this season, Loyalsock tasted defeat. And for the second time in three years, Danville captured another conference championship.
Dante Harward scored 22 points, all five starters grabbed at least five rebounds and Danville made 25 of 28 free throws Friday at the Shikellamy Field House as it defeated Loyalsock, 64-54, and won the Heartland Conference Tournament championship. The Ironmen (18-6) defeated Loyalsock for the second time in three finals and handed the Lancers (23-1) their first loss in 24 games this season.
“They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Danville coach Lenny Smith said. “We had fresh legs and Loyalsock putting us in the bonus helps because we’re a pretty good foul shooting team.”
Loyalsock has rallied from second-half deficits throughout the season and turned a nine-point second-quarter deficit into a two-point lead early in the third. The Ironmen, however, took a four-point lead into the fourth, went up by seven with three minutes remaining and never let Loyalsock pull closer than three again.
Aiden Gair scored a team-high 20 points for Loyalsock and seemed on the verge of going on a blistering run like he did in a comeback win against Danville last month, but the Ironmen made timely stops at critical times. Gair drained a long 3 in the corner and added two foul shots as Loyalsock closed within 55-52 at the 2-minute, 16 mark but three offensive rebounds down the stretch and near perfect foul shooting helped Danville win another title.
“One of our goals was to keep Gair from going into one of his streaks,” Smith said. “He’s going to get them, you just hope that he doesn’t get them three in a row or something like that because they are killers.”
Danville absorbed every Loyalsock rally and repeatedly answered, playing an outstanding team game, efficiently moving the ball and receiving strong balance. The Ironmen outrebounded Loyalsock and Harward (12 of 13 at the line), Jack Smith (14 points, 6 rebounds) and Jagger Dressler (12 points, 8 rebounds) all scored in double figures.
All five starters missed time with injuries at different times and Dressler did not play in the first Loyalsock game. Full strength for the first time, Danville has taken off and won seven straight games and had all five starters pulling equal weight.
“It would have been great to win this, but Danville wanted it a little bit more than Loyalsock tonight,” Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. “They’re just quality athletes. It looks as if they spent a lot of time in the weight room and they have done their homework.”
Gair finished on rebound shy of a double-double and Rees Watkins added 11 points. Saraj Ali scored 10 points, pulled down six rebounds and blocked three shots. A River Parrish steal and dish to Ali gave Loyalsock its final lead midway through the fourth quarter before Danville started heating up, making shots and/or drawing fouls.
Loyalsock features some ferocious competitors so the loss obviously stung. Still, the biggest prizes are still out there with the district tournament starting next week. Loyalsock will be the top seed in District 4 Class AAA and host North Penn-Mansfield.
All the Lancers can do now is learn from what went wrong against Danville, used it as fuel and try and stage its own celebration in two weeks.
“I told them the big dance starts next week. We have to regroup, focus and be ready to play good basketball and not dwell on this,” Insinger said. “Now they know they’re not invincible. They know if we don’t have our A game we could end up out of the tournament.”
Danville appeared to have its A game in both HAC Tournament games, beating Montoursville and Loyalsock by double-digit margins. The Ironmen experienced some setbacks with injuries throughout the season’s first half. But now they have made quite a comeback.
The Ironmen never buckled when Loyalsock mounted its fourth-quarter rally. After Gair made it a three-point game, Mavin James found Harward inside and Riley and Harward made three free throws as the Ironmen went up 60-52 with 44 seconds remaining and sent their fans who vastly outnumbered Loyalsock’s into a happy frenzy.
“We weren’t boxing out and they got a lot of offensive putbacks,” Insinger said. “It’s the little things that really become big factors when you play a quality team like Danville.”
Danville 64, Loyalsock 54
(HAC TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP)
Mavin James 0 4-4 4, KJ Riley 3 3-4 9, Jagger Dressler 5 2-2 12, Jack Smith 4 4-5 14, Dante Harward 4 12-13 22, Carson Persing 1 0-0 3. Totals 17 25-28 64.
Aiden Gair 7 2-3 20, Rees Watkins 5 1-2 11, Idris Ali 2 0-3 5, Saraj Ali 5 0-0 10, Rivers Parrish 1 0-0 2, Dane Armson 0 0-0 0, Eli Gair 0 2-2 2, Dom Jennings 0 0-0 0, Julian Wilson 2 0-0 4. Totals 22 5-11 54.
Danville 18 11 14 21 — 64
Loyalsock 13 16 10 15 – 54
3-point goals: Danville 5 (Smith 2, Harward 2, Persing 1), Loyalsock 5 (Gair 4, I. Ali 1).
Records: Danville (18-6), Loyalsock (23-1).