By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
While his team was passing the ball around in front of him on their side of the court in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, Lewisburg coach John Vaji turned and hugged his assistant coach, Dirk Remensnyder, while boasting a smile that spanned from ear to ear.
As Remensnyder lifted Vaji up off the ground in the embrace, the buzzer sounded inside Milton’s “Jungle” and Vaji saw the Lewisburg student section storm the court and mob around Lewisburg’s players.
It may have taken awhile, but Lewisburg finally got the monkey off its back, in more ways than one.
After losing to the Lancers in eight consecutive games, Lewisburg finally cleared that hurdle by defeating its HAC-II league rivals in convincing fashion, 61-45, in the District 4 Class AA championship game Saturday evening.
What made it even sweeter was it gave Lewisburg its first District 4 championship since the 1999-2000 season, just the second in school history.
Both Loyalsock and Lewisburg advance to the state tournament on Saturday at a time and place to be announced today.
“It feels amazing. We’ve lost to them a lot in the last two years, but to get them here on this stage, it feels great,” Lewisburg’s Jesse Flannery said, holding the District 4 championship plaque.
The Green Dragons (22-3) found themselves staring at an 8-point deficit at the end of the first quarter when Ben Sosa sank a basket with 1:06 to play to put Loyalsock (22-2) up 19-11. Lewisburg kept its composure however, and chipped that lead away.
Nic Costagliola (nine points), Matt Fedorjaka (11) and Will Sigl (13, eight rebounds) were a pivotal piece in that turnaround, as was Nadir Boone, who came off the bench for Lewisburg to score six points and grab seven rebounds. Flannery scored 12 points and led the team with eight assists. Sam Allen also added nine points.
The Green Dragons outscored Loyalsock 16-7 in the second quarter to head into the half with a 27-26 lead. Lewisburg also held Loyalsock to just two baskets from the floor in the second quarter. Over the final three quarters, Lewisburg nearly doubled Loyalsock’s point total, outscoring the Lancers 50-26. Once the Green Dragons took a lead in the second quarter when Boone hit a putback with 3:15 to go, Lewisburg never gave it up. Loyalsock either trailed or tied its HAC-II foes in the second half, but never took a lead, as Lewisburg’s defense played solid.
“We did a great job of forcing them to shoot contested jumpers and (force) bad shots,” Sigl said. “We did a great job of leaning in and taking charges (too).”
Loyalsock was led by Omar Little’s 13 points and Tommy Baggett’s 11. Both Kyle Datres and Sosa scored nine.
Lewisburg and Loyalsock exchanged buckets to start the second half, as Loyalsock tied it up on three straight possessions before Flannery came up with a big trey halfway through the third to make it a 5-point game. Datres would hit a trey of his own with 1:30 to play to cut Loyalsock’s deficit to two points at 38-36. Flannery answered Datres’ 3-pointer with another and put Lewisburg up by five with under a minute to go before Sigl hit a shot inside of 30 seconds to make it a 7-point game.
“(It) went south fast, to say the least. As hot as we were in the early going, we were that cold in the second, third and fourth quarters,” Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. “We have been shooting really well over the last couple of games and, for whatever reason, part of it was tonight we worked so hard on defense and that wore our legs down and everything was falling short.
“It had ill-effects on our game. Instead of our press wearing them down, it wore us down tonight,” Insinger added.
Datres made it interesting with 3:22 to play when he sank his second 3-pointer of the night to cut the deficit down to eight points, 52-44, but Loyalsock’s attempt to make it nine straight wins wouldn’t get any closer as the Green Dragons made clutch free throws late to regain its double-digit lead.
“I think those tough losses earlier this year to them, they felt extremely bad, but when they got a chance to taste that lead tonight, they kept on wanting it more and more and (we were) able to execute and get some easy buckets,” Vaji said with the net dangled around his neck.