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Chris Masse on girls basketball: Sock’s Baylor, Jessell, French have been important keys

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Loyalsock’s Grace Baylor (14) and Mount Carmel’s Mia Chapman (5) battle for possession of a rebound during a game last year. Baylor, Rhandie Jessell and Rylie French have been important for the development of Loyalsock’s younger players on the court.

Rhandie Jessell and Grace Baylor are first-time starters, but also are seniors. So labeling Loyalsock young this season probably was not the proper term. Inexperienced is better.

Whatever the case, Loyalsock has grown up fast and Jessell, Baylor and top reserve, senior Rylie French, are major reasons why. They joined returning starters, seniors Mia Patterson and Allyia Kennedy this season and have helped Loyalsock (12-3) win eight straight games. Those three could always play, but were stuck behind experienced older players who helped Loyalsock capture two district championships and win state tournament games each season over the past three years.

Now this trio is helping keep the tradition going.

“They waited their turn. They’re trying to make the most of their year here,” Loyalsock coach Curtis Jacobson said after last Wednesday’s 63-50 win at Williamsport. “There’s not a group that wants to win more than this group does. They’re after it.”

Kennedy and Patterson each are having big seasons, but the emergence of Jessell, Baylor and French has been equally important, as has been the development of the team’s younger players. Jessell has become a reliable on the court leader who runs the offense well. Baylor is one of the area’s premier defenders who fills up a stat sheet and French gives Loyalsock a perimeter threat, often stretching the defense.

As those three and the younger players have meshed with Kennedy and Patterson, Loyalsock has taken off. The Lancers play a grueling non-conference schedule. The HAC-II is, arguably, the state’s best small-school conference, including a defending state champion, three defending district champions, a defending league champion and a top five in the standings who have lost a combined nine games. Despite all that, Loyalsock is flourishing and looks like a much different team than a month ago.

“It’s really great. This year is a lot different than in other years,” Baylor said. “Curtis is really getting the younger girls some experience because next year four of our starters are gone. They’re all adding a lot and playing their roles.”

The Lancers dropped three close games last month by 13 combined points, but avenged one of those with a 54-39 victory against defending District 4 Class AAAA champion Central Columbia last Friday. The other two rematches come Tuesday and Friday against Bloomsburg and defending Class AA state champion Mount Carmel. Those games will offer another barometer to gauge how far Loyalsock has come while helping it prepare for the playoffs.

Loyalsock earned its seventh straight district playoff berth when it defeated Williamsport. Considering how demanding Loyalsock’s schedule is and how much experience was lost from last year, earning that spot so early is a nice achievement.

“Any time you can win in the Magic Dome it’s exciting. We’re in the old-fashioned way. We celebrate that,” Jacobson said after Loyalsock held off repeated Williamsport rallies. “We told them you don’t take that stuff for granted. There’s a lot of schools a lot of girls who go four years and don’t make playoffs.”

The incoming seniors who never sulked and kept improving while waiting for their opportunity made sure Loyalsock did not become one of those teams. Still, Loyalsock did not qualify just to qualify. Several players are different, but the goals remain the same for a team which reached last year’s state quarterfinals.

“(Assistant coach) Kerri (Jacobson) always tells us that we don’t need to be coaching our teammates on the floor, we have to be their biggest fans,” Baylor said. “If we do that, it will take care of things on and off the floor.”

The fan support is growing and so is the confidence. Things are falling into place and now the 2022 Lancers are eager to leave their mark.

HIDDEN PROGRESS: Because the HAC-II is so loaded, some may overlook Warrior Run and the progress being made there. The Defenders (2-12) lost four starters from last year’s District 4 Class AAA semifinalist and have just two players back with significant varsity experience. Throw in this gauntlet of a schedule and wins have been hard to come by, but this team has come a long way.

That really came shining through last Friday as Warrior Run gave Mount Carmel all it could handle before losing, 38-31. The Defenders shook off a slow start, limited a potent offense and had visions of an upset until the closing minute. Two weeks ago, Warrior Run upset Hughesville on the road and then was a few baskets from winning at South Williamsport (11-1).

Eight teams qualify for districts and Warrior Run is No. 8. If the Defenders qualify and draw the right matchup they could be a dangerous opponent. Forward Emily McKee is having a super senior season and went for a triple-double (17 points, 10 rebounds, 13 blocks) against Mount Carmel. As the younger teammates jell around McKee, Warrior Run keeps improving. That says a lot about this team’s character and commitment.

PUTBACKS: Jersey Shore (7-5) is one of the area’s most improved teams this season and already has won four more games than in 2021. The Bulldogs have won four of their last five games and routed Sullivan County and Midd-West in consecutive games last week. Eleven players scored against Midd-West and Jersey Shore produced 17 assists on 21 field goals … Before running into Jersey Shore, Sullivan County broke out in a big way, defeating Montgomery, 43-25. The Griffins scored 34 first-half points and Kassidy Beinlich (22) and Stella Harney (17) each reached career-highs … Sheiana Tutler was two rebounds shy of producing her seventh double-double, going for 14 points and eight rebounds last Thursday at Hughesville. Tutler continued her big junior season two nights earlier, scoring 17 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking six shots in a 49-16 win at CMVT. Gigi Parlante (10 points, 14 rebounds, 6 steals) also collected a double-double, her fourth … Maddie Still’s return has given an already stingy Lewisburg defense an added boost and the Green Dragons surrendered just 41 points in victories against Central Mountain and Mifflinburg. Lewisburg (6-7) has won six of its last eight games and Keeley Baker scored a career-high 15 points while adding 10 rebounds against Mifflinburg. Sophie Kilbride made 13 steals in Lewisburg’s two wins … Canton improved to 8-6, allowing just nine points over the final three quarters and defeating Montgomery, 36-17. Kendall Kitchen scored a game-high 13 points.

Chris Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.

DR. MASSE’S TOP 5 RANKINGS

1. Loyalsock (12-3): Few teams have played as well in the second half the last two years as Loyalsock. The Lancers again broke open a close game in the third quarter against Central and pulled away for a 15-point win after leading by one at halftime. It was a similar story in wins against potential playoff opponents Towanda and Hughesville. Loyalsock hosts Mount Carmel Friday, a matchup between teams who have captured five district championships and won nine state tournament games the past three years.

2. South Williamsport (11-1): Coach Justin Marnon, as well as assistants Ryan Brown and Tom Marnon, have done quite a job since arriving at South. The Mounties were hit hard by graduation upon their arrival and South won just four games those first two years, but kept moving forward. Now they are playoff-bound for a fifth straight year. During this run, South has twice reached the District 4 Class AA final and captured a league championship. The present and future look bright and a team with four returning starters has performed well in close games, including a hard-fought 42-32 win against surging Millville last Tuesday.

“We brought everyone back except Rachel (Stahl) and those game experiences from last year are starting to show. We had players who played a lot as sophomores and now we’re playing three freshmen a lot. Over time that pays off,” Marnon said. “You kind of get to see a lot of different things transpire in a game that you learn how to react. That includes falling behind and not giving up and we’ve been able to put together some pretty decent second halves recently.”

3. Muncy (11-2): So much for being rusty. Muncy played its first game in nine nights Friday at Sullivan County and produced its best offensive performance. The Indians scored 48 first-half points and won, 64-31. Muncy hit a season-high eight 3-pointers with Ariana Copeland draining four. Avery Bigelow scored a season-high 20 points and it was a good springboard for a team that had lost its previous game. Like Loyalsock and South, Muncy also clinched a playoff berth. The Indians are playoff-bound for a sixth straight year and their 11-2 start is the program’s best in nearly a decade.

4. Williamsport (6-6): The Millionaires are showing heart and battling back from big deficits but those holes have been too steep against strong Loyalsock and Harrisburg teams. Williamsport cut a 20-point third-quarter deficit to four in the fourth at Harrisburg before losing, 53-43. Kailee Helmrich is having an excellent senior season and scored 22 points against the Cougars, including nine in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Payton Baney showed how dangerous she can be against Loyalsock, pulling down a career-high 16 rebounds and blocking eight shots while adding three assists.

5. Hughesville (6-7): The Spartans were another team that went more than a week without playing and did not practice for much of that time either. Still, they dominated the third quarter against upset-minded Neumann in its return Thursday, pulling away for a 61-36 victory. A night later, Hughesville built a 10-point lead without second-leading scorer Breanna Bobak and held Southern Columbia (11-1) to a season-low in points in a 33-21 defeat. If there is such a thing as a good loss that may have been it, with it being a four-point game late until Southern clinched it at the foul line. The Spartans start no seniors, two freshmen and a sophomore. All seven losses have come against the HAC-II’s top teams and most have been close. Like Warrior Run, this is a team with a deceiving record and Hughesville could be dangerous come playoff time.

Players of the Week

Peyton Dincher, Jersey Shore and Aleigha Rieppel, S.W.

Dincher is a big part of this area’s deep and exciting freshmen class. The versatile guard scored 43 points and made 11 3-pointers in Jersey Shore’s two victories, including a program record eight at Sullivan County. Dincher also produced five assists in those two games, matched teammate Jocelyn McCracken for the most points in a game this season (28) and made nine steals against Midd-West. Rieppel did not score against Millville but did everything else, pulling down a game-high nine rebounds, dealing five assists and making three steals. The junior guard is a huge part of South’s area-leading defense which surrendered 62 points in three wins, and Rieppel scored 24 points in two other victories, hitting four first-half 3-pointers at CMVT.

Game of the Week: Loyalsock at Bloomsburg

Tuesday’s clash is the part of an exciting boys-girls doubleheader and is a rematch of the last two district finals. These rivals have split those two games. These games are about as fun as it gets with the last two being decided by one point. Loyalsock edged Bloomsburg, 55-54 in the 2021 final before nearly erasing a 17-point halftime deficit in a 50-49 home loss last month. These squads know each other about as well as two opponents can and it would be surprising if they do not produce another thriller.

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