Loyalsock’s Gair named top area boys player
Loyalsock hopes the season lives on but with the state quarterfinals at a standstill and at most three games remaining, the postseason Sun-Gazette Awards have been determined. Here is hoping everything returns to normal soon, everyone stays safe and next season goes off without any stoppages.
Coach of the Year
Second runner-up-Brian Litzelman, North Penn-Liberty and Glenn Vaughan, Sullivan County: Litzelman played on some outstanding North Penn-Liberty teams in the late 1980s and he coached a terrific one this season. North Penn-Liberty captured its first league championship since 1991 and just the second in program history, while making a seven-win improvement and winning 20 games. The Mounties did so with just one senior starter. Vaughan helped Sullivan County continue building on its winning tradition as the Griffins won 19 games and reached the Class A state tournament for the eighth time in 10 years. The Griffins won six more games than a year ago, were three points from potentially winning a district championship and finished third or higher in District 4 for the seventh time since 2011.
First runner-up-Mike Mussina, Montoursville: A basketball resurgence continued at Montoursville as Mussina and the Warriors continued raising the bar higher. Despite playing without 2019 conference all-stars Austin Loe and Dillon Young for a combined 19 games, Montoursville captured its second District 4 Class AAAA championship in three years, won their first state tournament game since 1985 and totaled 21 victories for the first time since 1991. No Montoursville team had reached three straight state tournaments since 1973-75 and the Warriors won 11 of 12 late-season games, avenging that one defeat by beating Danville in the district final, before losing to three-time defending state champion Imhotep. Mussina’s teams have gone 59-21 and won 10 playoff games. This year’s team featured six players who averaged 7.8 or more points per game, showing the balance and unselfishness which has sparked this impressive turnaround.
And the winner is … Ron Insinger, Loyalsock: He has coached for 46 seasons and shows no signs of slowing down. And remarkably, Insinger put together one of the best coaching performances of his storied career this past season. Despite losing four multi-year starters from a 27-win district champion, Loyalsock one-upped that team. The Lancers repeated as district champions, put together their first undefeated regular season since 1993 and are 28-1 entering the state quarterfinals against Neumann-Goretti. Equally impressive, Loyalsock features just two senior starters. Loyalsock made massive improvement throughout the season, pushed its HAC-II winning streak to 24 games and reached 28 victories for the first time in 27 years. Growing pains were expected, but Loyalsock has become a team as resilient as it is talented, rallying from double-digit deficits five times to win, including four times against district champions or runners-up. The Lancers are 55-3 over the past two seasons and are competing in the state quarterfinals for a second time in three years and for the fourth time since 2013. Insinger is the state’s all-time leader in wins and enters the quarterfinals with 1,041, averaging a staggering 22.6 per season.
Honorable mention: Joe Clark, St. John Neumann; Nick Tagliaferri, Hughesville; Kipper Burleigh, North Penn-Mansfield; Steve Adams, Wellsboro; Eric Wertman, Warrior Run; Scott Munro, Jersey Shore; Matt Salsman, Lewisburg.
Dillon Young, Montoursville: Montoursville was so well-balanced and unselfish that the top six players in the rotation all were all-star worthy. Still, Young often seemed like the engine powering this well-run machine. The junior point guard was outstanding all season and earned co-HAC-II MVP honors after guiding one of the district’s most efficient offenses. Young can beat an opponent in many ways and averaged 11 points and a team-high 4.1 assists per game. Sometimes, Young torched teams with his scoring, sometimes with his passing, but he almost always made a big impact in some way. That included on defense where Young was selected as a first team HAC-II defensive all-star. He scored 19 points, made three steals and hit the game-clinching free throws as Montoursville defeated Danville and captured the District 4 Class AAAA championship.
David Hill, St. John Neumann: Although he missed eight games with an injury, Hill still clearly was one of the area’s top players and Neumann would not have won the District 4 Class A championship had he not returned for the postseason. Building off his all-state sophomore campaign, the Division I recruit continued showing off his all-around game, averaging 20.9 points and five rebounds per game. Hill also averaged two assists, topped 1,000 career points and shined throughout the playoffs. In four playoff games, Hill averaged 22.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He often played his best basketball in some of the most crucial moments, taking over in the fourth quarter of an intense semifinal against Sullivan County and recording a double-double against Northumberland Christian in the district final. Although injuries have cost Hill 10 games the past two seasons, the Mid-Penn first teamer still has scored 1,105 career points.
Nate Ewing, Jersey Shore: Another league MVP, Ewing was named the HAC-I’s top player and stands alone as the program’s all-time scoring leader. The senior guard broke the career scoring record just past the year’s midway point and closed his outstanding scholastic career with 1,346 points. Ewing went out strong as a senior, averaging 20.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He topped 30 points four times, going for a season-high 38 against Shikellamy and added 29 points in a thrilling District 4 Class AAAA quarterfinal comeback win at Shamokin. Ewing was potent off the dribble or from long-range, knocking down 55 3-pointers. He could jumpstart the offense with his defense, averaging two steals per game and also made 76.9% of his free throws. Ewing also averaged more than 20 points for a second straight year as Jersey Shore made a seven-win improvement.
Joe Grab, Wellsboro: After four starters graduated from a District 4 Class AAA finalist, Wellsboro needed a big lift from its most experienced player and the Sun-Gazette’s second runner-up for Player of the Year provided just that. A dynamic point guard, Grab won the area scoring title, averaging 24 points per game and helped the Green Hornets return to districts while laying the foundation for a bright future. Grab has made big strides in both his sophomore and junior years after helping Wellsboro win the district crown as a freshman. Like Young and Ewing, he can shoot and attack and he also averaged three assists and two steals per game. Grab went over 30 points five times and produced 38 or more three times. He was at his best in a thrilling 94-90 loss against St. John Neumann last December, scoring 38 points and dealing nine asissts. Grab could reach 1,000 career points early next season and ignited a dramatic fourth-quarter rally against rival North Penn-Mansfield, scoring 15 of his career-high 39 points in the 65-59 February win.
Davion Hill, St. John Neumann: Putting together one of the best freshman seasons this area has ever seen, Hill burst onto the scene and had an all-state worthy debut. With his brother missing those eight games, Neumann relied heavily on their freshman point guard and he consistently came through with super performances. Hill scored an area freshman-record 626 points, averaging 23.2 points per game, good for second in the area. Freakishly athletic, intelligent and hard-working, Hill also grabbed 5.1 rebounds and dealt 3.6 assists per game while leading the team in steals and earning first team Mid-Penn honors. Hill shared his brother’s big game gene and took over a February comeback win against Sullivan County in the fourth quarter while making the go-ahead steal and basket in that Wellsboro victory. Hill scored 37 points in his first high school game against Hughesville and put the team on his back in the district quarterfinals, scoring 42 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, dealing six assists and making six steals in a comeback win against Meadowbrook Christian.
Player of the Year
Aiden Gair, Loyalsock: The only starter returning from that 2019 district champion, Gair carried a heavy load, especially early in the season when his young teammates were still adjusting. The senior has some strong shoulders because he carried that load in impressive fashion all year, delivering a sensational all-around campaign which has led Loyalsock to the state quarterfinals. Gair was a tremendous shooter in 2019, playing through a torn meniscus. Healthy this season, Gair displayed his entire arsenal, still raining down 3-pointers, but also relentlessly attacking the basket and scoring in just about every way possible. The West Chester-bound linebacker was both strong and explosive and could score off the dribble, from outside or in the post. He averaged 21.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game while making 73 3-pointers. Gair often played his best in Loyalsock’s biggest games and twice topped 40 points. He went off on big scoring binges in comeback wins against Montoursville, Danville and St. John Neumann and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer before making a steal and layup that helped Loyalsock defeat Central Columbia, 68-64, for the district title. Gair put on a show in front of a sold-out crowd at Neumann in January when he scored a district-high 44 points and made eight 3-pointers in a 102-86 victory. Gair scored 23 second-quarter points, making 12 of 13 shots from the field and line during that dazzling quarter. An all-state football player last fall, Gair likely will be adding all-state to his basketball resume as well.
Nassir Jones, Williamsport (12 ppg, 8 rpg, 1 spg, 11 charges drawn, 18 blocks); Blake Sherwood, Hughesville (11.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.3 spg, 1st team HAC-III); Noah Spencer, North Penn-Liberty (14.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, area-best 5.2 apg, 2.7 spg); Ethan Laudenslager, South Williamsport (14.0 ppg, 7 rpg, 5 apg, 1st team HAC-III); Rees Watkins, Loyalsock (12.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.4 apg, 3.1 spg, 1st team HAC-II); Sam Carpenter, Sullivan County (13.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.1 spg, 1st team Mid-Penn)
Ahmir Ellzy, Williamsport (11 ppg, 5 apg, 25 steals); Nick Shedleski, Lewisburg (13.0 ppg, 1st team HAC-II); Logan Tokarz, North Penn-Mansfield (13.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.6 apg, 3 spg); Idris Ali, Loyalsock (12.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2 apg, 1.7 spg, 2nd team HAC-II); Josh Burger (9.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 25 3s); Trevor Gee, Jersey Shore (14.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.3 spg , 50.9 shooting, 2nd team HAC-I)
Cam Michaels, Lewisburg: One of several promising area freshmen, Michaels was key in helping Lewisburg close the season on a 14-3 tear. A talented point guard, Michaels sparked the team’s defense and was adept at hounding opposing ballhandlers and forcing turnovers. When the team was dealing with some injuries, Michaels pounced on his opportunity and helped the Green Dragons surge. He also averaged 6.6 points per game and ran the offense well.
Rees Watkins, Loyalsock: Watkins was effective in nearly all areas, but somehow flew under the radar at times. The senior forward, however, was the glue on this team, stuffing the stat sheet every game and giving Loyalsock a boost in all areas. That included defense where Watkins effectively defended guards and post players. Watkins averaged 3.1 steals per game and his tough defense helped change the complexion of the Camp Hill game. Fast, lenghty and seemingly able to jump out of the building, Watkins earned first team HAC-II All-Defensive honors and usually was the player Loyalsock turned to when it needed to slow someone.
Peyton Mussina, Montoursville: As balanced as it was offensively, Montoursville also featured several quality defensive players who took turns delivering strong performances. Mussina, however, took a big step forward and was at the heart of Montoursville’s defensive success. The junior guard played a large role in slowing opponents down as Montoursville turned up its defense when it was dealing with injuries and illness throughout the regular season. A first team HAC-II Defensive all-star and second team overall all-star, Mussina made a team-high 56 steals and also averaged 9.9 points per game while making 54 3-pointers.
Nick Trevouledes, Hughesville: The runner-up for HAC-III Defensive Player of the Year, Trevouledes was outstanding at slowing high-scoring guards. Trevouledes’ ability to fluster the opposing point guard or its most explosive scorer was key to fueling one of the area’s premier defenses. The sophomore has the potential to be one of the area’s premier point guards the next two seasons and his swarming defense makes him a big factor every game even if he is not scoring a lot. Hughesville returns several good players next season and Trevouledes igniting the defense makes him one of the most valuable.
Jalen Thomas, Sullivan County: Similar to Trevouledes, Thomas was who Sullivan County looked toward when it needed someone contained. The junior guard was the top defensive player on a team which produced excellent defensive performances throughout the season. A tenacious competitor, Thomas frequently disrupted offenses with his pressure up front, averaging 3.5 steals per game. Thomas often set the tone for Sullivan County with his strong defense and continued evolving as an all-around player, averaging 9.9 points and 4.3 assists per game.
Player of the Year
Justus Leighow, Hughesville: This was a fairly easy choice. Not only was Leighow a ferocious defender, but he could skillfully defend all five positions. Wherever coach Nick Tagliaferri needed a defensive stopper, he could go to Leighow and depend on his senior leader. Even if he did not score a point, Leighow heavily influenced each game he was in because he so effectively guarded all over the court. Leighow could change a game’s complexion with that smothering defense and also was one of the team’s top passers. He missed most of his sophomore season with an injury, but Leighow helped pave the way for future Hughesville success over the past two seasons and was a major reason it won 17 games this season despite being ravaged by injuries.
Sun-Gazette Breakthrough Underclassman of the Year
Second runner-up-Branson Eyer, Muncy and Ethan Hartman, Warrior Run: Following an excellent debut football season, Eyer made his mark in basketball, too, helping one of the area’s youngest teams come within one victory of reaching districts. The first team Mid-Penn all-star averaged 10.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.4 steals per game. A versatile guard, Eyer is one of several promising players that Muncy can build around the next few years. Hartman played a vital role in Warrior Run reaching states for the first time since 2004 and developed into one of the HAC-III’s premier post players. The junior forward became a first team league all-star, averaging 12.2 points, 6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. He also scored 22 points in a state-qualifying win against Hughesville.
First runner-up-Logan Almeida, Montgomery: One of the catalysts for a revived Montgomery team, Almeida built off his promising debut season and became one of the area’s top sophomore players. A well-rounded point guard, Almeida averaged 13 points per game and also was one of the team leaders in assists, steals and rebounds. Almeida was a force in Montgomery’s season-defining comeback win at Muncy and is a major reason this team could take the next step and reach districts next season.
And the winner is … James Evans-McQuay, Williamsport: Speaking of teams which could put together outstanding 2021 campaigns, Williamsport looks like one and McQuay is a big reason why. One of the area’s more explosive guards, the 6-foot junior has game-changing ability and could be quite a difference-maker if he puts in a strong offseason. McQuay averaged 9.5 points, four rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game, playing against a series of demanding opponents. McQuay played one of his best games late in the year, scoring a career-high 23 points as Williamsport erased a 13-point second-half deficit and beat Susquehanna Township, 73-70.
Other Underclassmen to watch in 2021: Conner Adams, Wellsboro; Saraj Ali, Loyalsock; Dylan Bieber, Hughesville; Kenon Brown, Williamsport; Keon Burkholder, Neumann; Carter Cowburn, Hughesville; Curtis Craig, North Penn-Mansfield; Ross Eyer, Muncy; Eli Gair, Loyalsock; Tristan Gallick, Jersey Shore; Lee Habalar, South Williamsport; Dom Jennings, Loyalsock; Cooper Kitchen, Canton; Ben Liscum, Lewisburg; Colton Litzelman, North Penn-Liberty; Liam Manning, Wellsboro; Cayde McCloskey, Central Mountain; Alex Schweitzer, Sullivan County; Alex Stein, North Penn-Mansfield; Brandon Thompson, North Penn-Liberty; JerVal Weeks-Shuler, Neumann; Maurice Walters, Montgomery; Damian Williams, Jersey Shore
GameS of the Year
Second runner-up-Montgomery 58, Muncy 54, OT: I covered this game a month and a half ago and still cannot believe the result. Muncy seemingly had the game won, leading by nine with just 1 minute, 16 seconds remaining. Montgomery, however, had other ideas and started a remarkable comeback. Building off a double technical foul on Muncy, Montgomery quickly closed within five. Freshman Gavin Moore tied the game with an offensive putback, forcing overtime before Logan Almeida and Steven Prince took over in overtime, helping Montgomery beat its rival on the road for the first time since 2010. The Red Raiders made a six-win improvement this season and this game could signal to more good times coming.
First runner-up-St. John Neumann 62, Sullivan County 60: Neumann-Sullivan County has become one of the district’s best rivalries over the last nine seasons and all three games this season were excellent. It was the District 4 Class A semifinal, though, at Montoursville which really stood out. It was a heavyweight battle with the lead switching hands 15 times in the middle quarters. Neumann guard David Hill returned from an ankle injury for the first time in seven games and scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter as Neumann went up, 61-55 with 1:31 left. Sullivan came storming back and tied the game 61-61 when Justin Metzger drilled a 3-pointer at the 19-second mark. Davion Hill then showed his clutch gene, hitting a game-winning turnaround jumper with 6.5 remaining as Neumann reached its eighth district final in nine years.
And the winner is … Loyalsock 66, Camp Hill 65: For now, the best has been saved for last. Loyalsock’s second-round state tournament victory against Camp Hill 12 nights ago was one of the most thrilling contests this reporter has seen in 21 years on the job. The pace was frenetic and it seemed like Camp Hill, fresh off an impressive victory over powerhouse Bishop McDevitt was on its way to the win when it opened a 14-point third-quarter lead. Like it has all season, Loyalsock showed no fear and no quit, furiously rallying and closing within two entering the fourth quarter. Five times late in the third and in the fourth quarter, Loyalsock cut the deficit to two or one but Camp Hill answered every time — until the end. Loyalsock trailed 65-60 with less than a minute remaining when Idris Ali sank a 3-pointer. Ali then forced a turnover at midcourt. Loyalsock wanted to go Gair’s way on the final sequence, but he was double-teamed and the ball went to Saraj Ali. The sophomore looked to his left and found a wide-open Eli Gair who lofted the game-winning 3-pointer over a sprinting defender’s outstretched hand as Loyalsock went up 66-65 with 1.1 seconds remaining. Aiden knocked away a desperation pass at the buzzer and Loyalsock celebrated one of the more dramatic victories in program history.