Loyalsock headed to state championship after defeating Math, Civics and Sciences
WARMINSTER–Some players ran, others jumped but they all ended up together as one while Hershey Kisses rained down upon them near center court.
It was a moment which will be frozen in time as the 2021 Loyalsock Lancers look back at their season. Their business remains unfinished but what they achieved Tuesday night at Archbishop Wood felt pretty sweet.
For so long, Hershey seemed only a destination which other basketball teams reached. For so long, playing at the Giant Center could only be reached in area players’ dreams.
Well, Loyalsock is living that dream now and the Lancers are Hershey-bound. They broke down those walls which stopped so many before them and are now the best Class AAA team in Eastern Pennsylvania.
Every player coach Ron Insinger used made a strong impact and Loyalsock led from the first quarter on Tuesday as it defeated perennial Philadelphia power Math, Civics and Sciences, 83-70, captured the Eastern Region championship. The Lancers earned a spot in Saturday’s state final against West champion Brookville, a 46-44 winner over Bishop Guilfoyle, and finally will get to experience playing at the Giant Center.
“It’s really amazing. It’ so surreal,” point guard Idris Ali said. “We’ve been talking about this forever, so when the buzzer hit , I just looked at all my teammates and we all jumped up and it was just the best feeling in the world.”
“It’s breathtaking,” guard Dom Jennings said. “It’s the best basketball experience I’ve ever had.”
Loyalsock (24-1) is now going where no area boys team has in the 2000s. Williamsport is the last boys team to reach a state final, capturing the 1999 Class AAAA championship. The Montoursville girls reached the 2000 AAA state final, but no area team had been back since and Math, Civics and Sciences often stood in teams’ ways, going 4-0 against this area.
Loyalsock did not care about that past. It didn’t care that MCS had three Division I recruits either, including Miami-bound Nisine Poplar. It was the same story against Executive Education last Saturday. Again, Loyalsock proved it was the better team. The Lancers led from late in the first quarter on and became the second Loyalsock team to reach a state final, joining the 1993 team. This team’s motto is “Unfinished business,” so the work continues but what a night this was.
“It feels so good. I’m at a loss for words,” Eli Gair said. “All the extra time in the offseason, all that extra time in the gym, all the tournaments we and our families went to together since seventh grade, it feels amazing. We’ve all wanted this since we were little and now, we get to go and try and win.”
“I’m going to dream big dreams. I can’t wait,” long-time Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. “When my head hits the pillow, I’m going to start dreaming about Hershey.”
Insinger has achieved just about everything one can in coaching except winning a state championship. The Lancers gave him an opportunity Saturday at changing that by playing an outstanding all-around game in which each player delivered at crucial times all night.
Jennings set the early tone and scored a game-high 24 points, while adding 5 steals. Saraj Ali recorded another double-double, going for 19 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. Idris Ali brilliantly ran the offense and scored 16 points and Gair stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds. Julian Wilson provided a boost inside and Sean Jensen grabbed some key late rebounds with those two combining for 12 boards.
MCS has been a state giant over the years, capturing two state championships and playing in four state finals since 2011. But this was not David vs. Goliath. Loyalsock reached the state quarterfinals last year and believed it could have gone deeper had COVID-19 not ended the season.
Given another chance, Loyalsock again is asserting itself on a statewide stage.
“No one was scared. We were nervous because it’s the Final 4 but we weren’t scared nervous, we were confident nervous,” Gair said. “We knew we could play with them. We watched them all week and we knew if we did our jobs and played how we play we’d have a good chance to win.”
Loyalsock started showing that in the first quarter when it erased a five-point deficit, closed on an 11-2 run and took a lead it never relinquished. Jennings set the tone with three 3-pointers in the game’s 10 minutes. Gair added another 3-pointer to stretch the lead to nine and Loyalsock eventually went up 10 in the second quarter before settling or a 36-30 halftime lead. The third quarter followed a similar pattern with Loyalsock extending its lead and then MCS fighting back.
MCS often had delivered haymakers against area teams during state tournaments from which they could never recover. And when the Mighty Elephants cut an 11-point deficit to 48-43 entering the fourth they appeared to have the momentum.
That turned out to be a mirage. All five starters scored as Loyalsock frustrated MCS with its zone defense and put it in serious foul trouble. The Lancers went 8 for 11 from the field in the fourth and were in the double bonus most of the time, putting MCS in a vise-like grip from which it could not escape.
“I knew I had to step it up to beat this team,” Jennings said. “MCS is a great team and we all had to play with our all, play like it was our last 32 minutes of basketball ever and we came out and we performed. That’s how we got the win.”
A Gair putback gave Loyalsock a 13-point lead and Idris Ali delivered a dagger-like blow a possession later, hitting a 3-pointer and putting Loyalsock up, 70-54 with 3 minutes, 30 seconds remaining. Ali added two more free throws to cap an explosive 14-2, two-minute run and MCS never pulled within single digits again.
As the fourth quarter progressed the Loyalsock fans who drove three hours and made it feel like a Lancer home game grew as excited as the team. Many have followed these players since they first started playing basketball. This was a moment to savor, one to embrace.
Some were nearly jumping as high as the players when time expired. Sports bring out the kid in adults everywhere and the big kids sure loved watching their kids achieve something mighty special.
“It started to wind down to the last few seconds and I looked up and knew there was no possible way they could come back, and I started smiling,” Idris Ali said. “When I see these guys in the future, we’re always going to remember this moment.”
Idris Ali 4 9-11 18, Saraj Ali 6 7-14 19, Eli Gair 5 1-3 12, Dom Jennings 7 5-5 24, Sean Jensen 2 2-3 6, Julian Wilson 2 1-1 5. Totals 26 25-37 83.
Nisine Poplar 7 3-4 19, Trent Middleton 4 3-3 12, Chauncey Presley 0 1-2 1, Jaheim Bethea 8 0-0 17, Darryn Prescott 0 0-0 0, Tayshon Nixon 0 1-2 1, Aasim Burton 1 0-0 2, Hymid Snead 4 2-2 11, Nayeem Johnson 2 1-1 5, Jeff King 1 0-0 2. Totals 27 11-14 70.
Loyalsock 20 16 12 35–83
MCS 16 14 13 27–70
3-pointers: Loyalsock 7 (Jennings 5, I. Ali, Gair); MCS 5 (Poplar 2, Middleton, Bethea, Snead).
Records: Loyalsock 24-1. MCS 15-8.