Plenty of teams set to make deep runs in D4
By CHRIS MASSE
Loyalsock ended an area three-year District 4 championship drought last March when it captured the Class AAA championship. Several area teams start their championship quests this week and are trying to make sure there is no drought between championships this time.
The following is a look at the four District 4 tournament fields. Williamsport (8-14) competes in the District 2 Class 6A field and will be the No. 3 seed. The Millionaires face No. 2 Wilkes-Barre (13-9) in the semifinals. Williamsport reached last year’s final and has a solid blend of balance and depth. Putting it together on the same night is the key now.
District 4 Class AAAA
(8 teams, top 3 advance to states)
Defending champion Mifflinburg reached last year’s state semifinals and runner-up Danville the quarterfinals. While Mifflinburg lost most of last year’s starters, top-seeded Danville (21-3) has most of its back and romped to the HAC-I championship, finishing undefeated in league play before beating Bloomsburg and Loyalsock in the HAC Tournament. Corinna Petrus and Linae Williams form one of the district’s best inside-outside tandems and the Ironmen, who open against No. 8 CMVT, are an overwhelming tournament favorite.
No. 5 Jersey Shore has a shot at dethroning Mifflinburg in the quarterfinals, but the No. 4 Wildcats (10-12) swept the season series. The Bulldogs (9-13) won their last two games against Wellsboro and Milton and have reached states in two of the last three years. Aubrey Stetts has had a big senior year and Sadie Griswold, Haley Stetts and Aubrey Schilling are capable of being game-changers.
Athens and Shamokin anchor the other side of the bracket. No. 2 Athens (19-4) finished second in the NTL-I and has a nice mix of experience and depth. No. 3 Shamokin (14-8) is the field’s hottest team, winning nine straight games. The Indians took off after forward Grace Nazih returned and are the biggest threat to Danville’s title dreams. No. 6 Milton (6-16) has one of the field’s best post players in Crystal Hamilton and a good shooter in Taylor Snyder but are heavy underdogs at Shamokin.
Tournament Sleeper –Montoursville: Call it a long shot, but the Warriors have upset potential if they can get on the same page at the right time at Athens. Montoursville is battle-tested and MacKenzie Weaver and Maddie Adams both average more than 12 points per game. Freshman point guard Alaina Marchioni has made big strides and Mackenzie Cohick can fill up the stat sheet.
Best Quarterfinal — Jersey Shore at Mifflinburg: While Mifflinburg swept the season series, Jersey Shore had its chances in both games and lost 57-50 in the most recent game.
Player to watch — Aubrey Stetts, Jersey Shore: The senior point guard plays with a motor that does not stop and has put together her best season. Stetts leads Jersey Shore in scoring, can produce in several ways and also is a tough rebounder and defender.
Projected semifinals: Danville over Mifflinburg; Shamokin over Athens
Projected final: Danville over Shamokin
Projected third-place game: Mifflinburg over Athens
(8 teams, top 3 advance)
Loyalsock (21-3) has reached states the last three seasons, winning last year’s title and reaching the second round the past two. The Lancers earned the top seed again despite losing four starters from last year’s team and must navigate through the district’s deepest bracket if they hope to repeat. Loyalsock lost to Danville, 46-38 in Friday’s HAC Tournament final and could turn that negative into a positive if it learns from mistakes made. Summer McNulty is having an outstanding season and she and Cassie Gee both average more than 11 points per game. Mia Patterson, Allyia Kennedy and Sophia Gardner have had some big individual performances and if Loyalsock can receive consistent performances throughout districts, it could be a tough out again.
The Lancers open against No. 8 Wellsboro (11-11). The Green Hornets also took a big graduation hit from a year ago, but progressed well throughout the season and have won four of their last five games. Cathryn Brought (17.6 ppg) won the regular-season area scoring title and both Bailey Monks and Emma Coolidge can do damage inside.
Loyalsock could see a familiar face if it reaches the semifinals. It would play either No. 4 Towanda (17-6) or No. 5 Central Columbia (14-9). The Lancers have twice played Central and both games have been good ones, including in last Thursday’s HAC Tournament semifinals when the Blue Jays were tied at halftime before losing, 46-33.
Towanda captured the NTL-I championship and is a young, dangerous team which also has a bright future.
No. 2 Bloomsburg (18-5) is the lone District 4 team that defeated Loyalsock in the regular season and has a quality combination of size, quickness and shooters. Freshman Madeline Evans, Kailey Zentner and Kelsey Widom all are solid inside and junior guards Ellen Hull and Rylee Klinger provide production and experience. The Panthers open against No. 7 Hughesville and have won 17 of their last 19 regular-season games.
No. 3 Warrior Run (15-7) reached last year’s final for the first time in more than 30 years and also won the program’s first state tournament game. The Defenders again are heating up at the right time and have won three straight games, including against Class AA top seed Mount Carmel. Sophomore forward Emily McKee is having an outstanding season and have averaged 26.7 points during the winning streak. Sydney Hoffman is a three-year starter who has settled in at point guard and does damage as a scorer and distributor. Gracy Beachel and Jordan Hartman stretch the floor and Marissa Pick rebounds well.
The Defenders host No. 6 East Juniata (15-8), a semifinalist a year ago which returned most of those starters.
Tournament sleeper — Hughesville: The Spartans have performed well in this role in the past, reaching the 2017 and 2018 finals as the No. 6 seed. Bloomsburg routed Hugehsville (12-10) twice, so the Spartans should be plenty motivated and one of the tournament’s best guards in Jade Cordrey. Alex Snyder and Olivia Strother can be game-changers inside and Cierra Getz and Lauren Henry ignite a tenacious defense.
Best quarterfinal – East Juniata at Warrior Run: Both these teams have won at least 15 games in each of the last two seasons and both have plenty of playoff experience, so this could be a good one.
Player to watch — Mia Patterson, Loyalsock: The sophomore can play as a guard or as a forward and is one of the field’s more versatile players. Patterson has come a long way this season and looks like one of the area’s rising stars for the next few years.
Projected semifinals: Loyalsock over Central; Bloomsburg over Warrior Run
Projected final: Bloomsburg over Loyalsock
Projected third-place game: Central over Warrior Run
(8 teams, top 3 advance)
Top-seeded Mount Carmel (17-5) has won eight district championships, including four straight and returns most of last year’s starters who helped the Tornadoes reach the state tournament’s second round. Dani Rae Renno is one of the district’s best post players and the Tornadoes are well-coached, experienced and battle-tested. No. 8 Cowanesque Valley (11-11) has first crack at the defending champions in the quarterfinals and has put together a quality year in which Makayla Vargeson, Kailey Wells, Kaitlyn Streeter, Abby Ackley and Paisley Nudd all have had big games.
If Mount Carmel advances it will play either No. 4 North Penn-Mansfield or No. 5 Muncy in the semifinals. Muncy (14-8) has exceeded expectations after losing three quality starters from last year’s semifinalist. The Indians closed their regular season with an eight-point win at Montoursville and forward Aleaha Bigelow is averaging a double-double for a second straight year. Junior center Bell Hitesman already has grabbed 500 career rebounds, freshman Avery Bigelow stuffs the stat sheet and Ariana Copeland has emerged as a reliable scorer down the stretch.
No. 3 South Williamsport is on the other side of the bracket and is seeking its second state tournament appearance in three years. Like Muncy, South has performed well a season after losing three good starters and split two close games with No. 2 Southern Columbia. South (12-10) also dropped a five-point heartbreaker against Mount Carmel two weeks ago and snapped Bloomsburg’s 11-game winning streak last month. Senior guards Julie Anthony, Sydney Bachman and Haley Neidig all are experienced leaders and sophomore Claudia Green has become a nice weapon in the post.
South hosts No. 6 Canton in the quarterfinals. Canton (12-10) has done an excellent job reviving its program and is in the playoffs for a third straight year. Senior Elle Binford averages 12 points per game and scored a career-high 26 in a late-season comeback win against Sayre. Molly Ward is one of the area’s top rebounders and has grabbed at least 10 in eight straight games.
No. 7 Montgomery (12-10) is at Southern and is making its third straight playoff appearance. Center Riley Fry is averaging a double-double for a second straight year and sophomore Faith Persing has developed into a quality point guard and scoring option. Nita Imeri plays big for her size and is a fierce competitor while Taylor McCrae consistently has produced strong rebounding performances.
Southern (13-9) has reached states the past two seasons and is going to be strong for the next few years with freshmen Ali Griscavage and Loren Gehret leading the team in scoring. Griscavage scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds last Tuesday when Southern took Loyalsock to overtime before losing, 57-53.
Tournament sleeper — North Penn-Mansfield: The Tigers (15-8) have come together at the right time and won eight of their last 10 games. Point guard JoAnne McNamara is a 1,000-point scorer and also one of the area leaders in assists. Jaime Palmer and Lizzi Welch have recorded multiple double-doubles and Emma Palmer surged late this season.
Best quarterfinal — Muncy at North Penn-Mansfield: These are evenly-matched teams who play a similar style and this one could go either way.
Player to watch — Haley Neidig, South: The senior point guard fuels a swarming defense and often does a good job shadowing the opponent’s best player. Neidig is a lightning-fast three-year starter who leads the team in assists and also has had big scoring games.
Projected semifinals: Mount Carmel over North Penn-Mansfield; Southern over South
Projected final: Mount Carmel over Southern
Projected third-place game: South over North Penn-Mansfield
(7 teams, top 4 advance to states)
Sullivan County and Lourdes have highlighted this field over the last three years and now they square off in the quarterfinals. The No. 2 Griffins (18-4) host the three-time defending champions who defeated them in last year’s and the 2017 championship. It is a shot at revenge for Sullivan County which is seeking its first district championship and fourth straight state tournament appearance.
Despite losing three starters from last year’s team, Sullivan County captured a fourth straight Mid-Penn championship and won 10 straight games at one point, including against Mifflinburg, Selinsgrove and top-seeded Northeast Bradford. Jessica King likely will earn all-state honors for a third straight year and is averaging a double-double while joining the 1,000-point, 1,000-rebound club. Sophomore point guard Kassidy Beinlich can change a game’s complexion with her all-around play and freshman Cassidy Skoranski is develping into a weapon.
Lourdes (7-15) also took a big graduation hit and while its record might not reflect it, the Raiders remain dangerous. Lourdes won a one-point thriller against Sullivan County last month and play a demanding schedule every season that makes them well-prepared for the playoffs.
The Lourdes-Sullivan winner will meet either Millville or Meadowbrook Christian. No. 4 Millville (17-5) was the only Mid-Penn team which defeated Sullivan County and shared the Mid-Penn championship. No. 5 Meadowbrook Christian (14-6) has good balance with three players averaging in double figures. Jackie Stokes averages 13.5 points for Meadowbrook which is making its second straight playoff appearance.
No. 4 Northumberland Christian (16-4) faces No. 5 Benton (11-11) in final quarterfinal. Northumberland is competing in districts for the first time and has a well-rounded team led by standout sophomore Emily Garvin who averages 16.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. It also has quality wins against Lourdes, Millville, Montoursville and Steelton-Highspire while taking Bloomsburg to the final seconds last month. No. 5 Benton (11-11) reached states a year ago and has one of the field’s best centers in Emily Lockhard.
NTL-II champion Northeast Bradford earned a bye into both the semifinals and state tournament. The Panthers (19-4) won 18 of their last 19 regular-season games and defeated NTL-I champion Towanda at midseason. Seniors Lindsay Moore and Vickie Rought have had strong seasons.
Tournament sleeper – Lourdes: One can never underestimate the Raiders, especially with their track record over the years.
Best quarterfinal — Lourdes at Sullivan County: Lourdes edged Sullivan County, 41-40 on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in early December. Do not be surprised if the rematch is equally exciting.
Player to watch — Sophia Springman, Sullivan County: Building off a breakthrough sophomore season a year ago, Springman has developed into one of the area’s premier all-around players. Able to play multiple positions and strong on both ends, Springman averages 14 points per game, has recorded several double-doubles and leads the team in assists.
Projected semifinals: Northumberland Christian over Northeast Bradford; Lourdes over Millville
Projected final: Northumberland Christian over Lourdes
Projected third-place game: NEB over Millville
Dr. Masse’s top five teams: 1. Loyalsock (21-3); 2. Warrior Run (15-7); 3. Sullivan County (18-4); 4. South Williamsport (12-10); 5. North Penn-Mansfield (15-8).