By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
Travis Conrad hit a nice jumper from just inside the 3-point arc and gave Lewisburg a three-point lead against HAC-II rival Loyalsock for the second time in the fourth quarter. It also happened to be the second time all game Lewisburg held a lead.
All the momentum of battling back from a nine-point second-half deficit against a strong Lancer squad suddenly started slipping away.
Loyalsock’s Mike Pastore buried a trey and then stayed back and stole Lewisburg’s inbound pass and quickly turned it into an easy layup.
The series capped a seven-point Loyalsock rally and shifted every bit of momentum inside of Eichorn Middle School back to the Lancers. They held the lead for the final 5 minutes en route to a 61-55 win and their second straight HAC-II crown.
“That was huge for them. (We) get the lead and get right back in it and (then) get them their momentum,” Lewisburg coach John Vaji said. “We were trying to be conscious of Roger (Wilson) inside, so we were trying to help inside a little bit, but to the kid’s credit, he (Pastore) knocked them down. He didn’t knock them down in the first half, but he knocked them down in crunch time when he had to.”
The Green Dragons (19-2, 11-2 HAC-II) battled back the entire game, not holding a lead until 7:40 to play in the fourth quarter when Conrad (eight points, five assists) buried a deep 3-pointer from a few feet behind the line to break a tie.
After Pastore’s steal and layup, Loyalsock (18-3, 13-0 HAC-II) went on to lead by as many as six late, only letting Lewisburg cut it to two with 1:50 to play before a Wilson basket and some clutch free throws sealed the game.
“We told them just to maintain your composure and we have to pick it up on defense,” Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. “The pressure’s what wore them down eventually. Conrad was on fire and we said if he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, then he’s not going to score. I thought Kyle (Datres) did a pretty good job down the stretch. (Conrad) had to work for every shot; he didn’t get a good look in the last quarter.”
After Conrad’s go-ahead jumper made it 47-44, the senior didn’t score another basket the remaining 6:56 of the game and only attempted one shot from that point on.
Sam Allen played solid in the second half for Lewisburg, scoring 10 of his team-high 15 points, while recording three blocks. Erich Kline added 11 points for Lewisburg, ending the third quarter with a 5-0 run to tie the game at 42. Jesse Flannery led the Green Dragons with six boards.
Wilson proved to be a force as usual and proved problematic for the Green Dragons inside. The senior recorded a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds and also added seven blocks. Meanwhile, Datres shelled out seven assists while scoring 12.
By night’s end, the Lancers had four different players in double-figures as Pastore had 13 points (all in the second half) and Ben Sosa added 10.
“I thought Sam Allen did a wonderful job on Roger. He was very aggressive offensively, was attacking, it’s just tough,” Vaji said of all of Loyalsock’s weapons. “When we close out on him hard, then you’ve got Datres with his quickness. He’s going to go around you and pull up and shoot the jumper. They’re a tough matchup. I thought our guys did a very solid job in the second half to get right back in the game.”
The Lancers led by as many as 11 late in the second quarter and used 7-0 and 8-0 runs to build their lead against Lewisburg in the first half. In the final 1:20 of the first quarter, Loyalsock held onto the ball, too, passing it around to drain the clock with a 14-4 lead.
Despite the deficit and a Lancer squad that has numerous weapons, Lewisburg remained calm and played patient to cut the deficit and get back into the game late.
“We didn’t try to make a nine-point play,” Vaji said. “We just came out, we executed, did what we wanted (and) buckled down defensively the whole second half (which) allowed us to get back in the game.”
With four of Lewisburg’s starters averaging at least 10 points per game going in, Insinger knew that his Lancers would be in for a tough game regardless of what type of lead they may have had.
“They’re going to bounce back and they bounced back in a hurry and with authority and that’s the sign of a really good ball team,” Insinger said.
The win marked a regular-season sweep of Lewisburg for the Lancers as they remained undefeated in the HAC-II.
“This gym’s been good to us over the years. We’ve won a lot of games here, a lot of big games, but not one of them has been easy,” Insinger said. “We’ve always been in for a dog fight here and it wasn’t any different (Saturday).
“Lewisburg’s just a quality ball team. It was appropriate to win it here.”