South Williamsport captures first league championship since 2010
By CHRIS MASSE
MUNCY–South Williamsport did not talk much halftime strategy Saturday night. Instead, the Mounties discussed unforgettable moments.
Then they went out and created their own. And their captain led the way as South ended an 11-year championship drought.
Senior captain Evan Laudenslager dominated late, scoring 10 straight points as South broke a tie, pulled away and defeated Muncy, 49-43 while capturing a share of the Mid-Penn championship. Laudenslager (13 points, 13 rebounds) collected a double-double and South (17-5, 13-1) a title banner, splitting the championship with St. John Neumann.
This has been a challenging season and it seemed only fitting that South had to grind extra hard for that coveted crown, rallying from a 10-point deficit and allowing just 13 points over the final 13 minutes, 45 seconds.
“It feels amazing,” Laudenslager said. “There was a lot of pressure on us but we definitely pulled through in the second half and we were all pretty excited.”
“The kids just battled,” South coach Rob Houseknecht said. “They wanted this just as much as the coaching staff did, so for them to come from 10 points down and win is huge for the program.”
Houseknecht was a starting forward the last time South won a league championship in 2010. That also was the last time the Mounties won at least 17 games. It has been quite a turnaround season for a team that went 7-16 last year.
Big goals remain and South will open the District 4 Class AAA quarterfinals at Troy this week. Still, Saturday’s title win was one to savor.
“Coach was talking about memories and how we’ll always remember this game if we won it, so we came out and were ready to fight for it,” Laudenslager said. “Not winning a lot of games last year and then coming into this year and winning a lot, especially this (championship), really gets us going and we’re ready for playoffs now.”
“It’s a building block that we wanted. The past couple years it’s been making playoffs and we did that and we finally got a conference championship and can cross that off,” Houseknecht said. “For kids in the younger grades it’s huge for them to see that we’re building and that we’re going in the right direction. That’s great.”
So was Laudenslager at the perfect time.
Muncy’s defense denied Laudenslager any first-half shots and he had three points when the game was tied 38-38 with five minutes remaining. Then the captain took the controls and South started sailing toward that championship.
Laudenslager hit two tie-breaking free throws before going to work in the post. The undersized forward plays like a 7-footer and recorded his sixth double-double. He scored six consecutive points off good entry passes from Lee Habalar (twice) and Secoy Roberts. He then scored off an offensive putback, giving South a 48-38 lead with 1:50 remaining.
“I saw my chance as a senior and being a leader and a captain of the team,” Laudenslager said. “When we were struggling I knew I had to get something going to get their spirits back up.”
Muncy fought back and cut it to 48-43 on a late Connor Sassano 3-pointer but Laudenslager’s flurry proved too much to overcome. Still, this was exactly the kind of game Muncy needed entering the District 4 Class AA playoffs. The Indians (14-4, 10-3) had won six straight games, most in blowout fashion.
Playing a good team in a playoff-type atmosphere was one thing and seeing his team attack the challenge another. Coach Jason Gresh was happy with how his team went after a South squad that had won five straight double-digit decisions in this series. Muncy led from early in the game until early in the fourth quarter, went up 30-20 in the third quarter and played some outstanding defense at times.
“We played very poorly in the first half (Friday) night (against CMVT). We had a good discussion at halftime (Friday), held them to six points in the second half and came out and took care of business,” Gresh said. “I was very curious and pleased to see them come out with the intensity they needed to start the game. Even at halftime I told my coaches, ‘We’re ready for playoffs. Regardless of the outcome we’re ready for the playoffs now,’ and I needed to see that to make sure.”
Max Rymsza continued his strong season, scoring a game-high 15 points while adding 7 rebounds. Branson Eyer ignited the stingy defense while scoring 8 points, dealing 6 assists. Ross Eyer pulled down 7 rebounds and Gio Persun added 5 off the bench.
Muncy secured the top seed for districts and will host Sayre Wednesday. Like South, Muncy has made big strides this season, winning four more games after missing the postseason a year ago. A team with four returning starters also completed the best regular season via winning percentage by a Muncy team since 2004.
“I think we surprised a lot of people. I don’t think going into the season a lot of people expected this out of this group. I think they expected it out of themselves which is what you need,” Gresh said. “The chemistry last year was like every man moving in five different directions with no purpose. This year they’ve come together and are working well together.”
Habalar also was working quite well Saturday. The sophomore moved from the bench to the starting lineup last week and played a vital role in fueling the comeback. In addition to playing good defense, Habalar scored 9 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and dealt 5 assists.
“Lee played a great game. It’s probably one of the best games he’s played in the two years I’ve been coaching him,” Houseknecht said. “Scoring, defense, passing the ball … It’s great for him. He’s a young player and for him to do this in a big game like this is confidence for him.”
Secoy Roberts 2 2-4 6, Evan Laudenslager 5 3-7 13, Grant Bachman 2 3-7 8, Ben Manning 1 0-0 2, Trent Hampton 3 1-3 9, Landon Sanford 1 0-0 2, Lee Habalar 4 0-1 9, Alex Neidig 0 0-0 0, Makai Day 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 9-22 49.
Ross Eyer 1 0-0 2, Max Rymsza 6 2-3 15, Branson Eyer 4 0-2 8, Connor Sassano 2 0-0 5, Gio Persun 3 0-0 6, Loudon Boring 2 0-2 4, Joe Edkin 1 0-0 3. Totals 19 2-7 43.
South 7 13 13 16–49
Muncy 10 14 10 9–43
3-pointers: South 4 (Hampton 2, Bachman, Habalar); Muncy 3 (Rymsza, Sassano, Edkin).
Records: South 17-5, 13-1 Mid-Penn. Muncy 14-4, 10-3.