MECHANICSBURG–Loyalsock players filed out of their locker room looking dejected Sunday afternoon. It was a complete 180 from last March when they left the Giant Center, smiling and holding a state championship trophy.
But their heads remained high. As well they should.
A team with four new starters put together another fabulous season, captured league, tournament and district championships and reached the Class AAA state tournament’s second round. The Lancers defended their state crown with a lot of heart, but the memorable ride ended Sunday at Cumberland Valley High School.
Loyalsock fought hard again, but West Catholic played a tremendous game, opened a 24-point halftime lead and ended the Lancers’ state title reign, winning, 63-39. The Burrs (21-5) advanced to Wednesday’s state quarterfinals and will play either Devon Prep or Columbia.
Loyalsock closed its season 24-5 after winning HAC-II and Heartland Conference titles, as well as a fourth straight district championship. What a run it was.
“I thought the kids overachieved,” Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. “To win 24 games is a phenomenal season, especially with the rigorous schedule we have. I could not be prouder of them.”
Saraj Ali scored nine points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dealt three assists despite constant double teaming in the final game of his spectacular high school career. Brendan Clark capped a super season with eight points, four rebounds and three assists. Jaiden Ross added seven points and three blocks.
All those players are part of the most decorated senior class in program history. Those seniors concluded their scholastic careers with a 105-9 record, four league crowns, four district titles and a state championship. The underclassmen grew up quick with the seniors leading the way and, together, Loyalsock won 20 of its last 22 games, running the program’s postseason winning streak to 15 games before Sunday’s contest.
“We battled. They were gritty. They were courageous,” Insinger said. “For our kids to come together and win the PHAC division championship and overall PHAC and District 4 for a fourth straight time, they have a lot of great things to hang their hats on. I don’t want them to walk with their heads down because they have no reason to.”
All the quality attributes that helped Loyalsock scale such lofty heights were on display Sunday. This was not a case of what it did wrong, but everything West Catholic did right. The Burrs have made huge strides the last four seasons with a group that has grown up together and put the program on the map. That growth continued against Loyalsock as six players scored at least six points and three produced double figures.
West Catholic lost to state semifinalist Math, Civics and Science in last year’s District 12 final, being denied its first state tournament berth in more than a decade. It is making the most of this opportunity and, like it did against Tulpehocken in the first round, West Catholic attacked early and often, leading 20-8 after one quarter and 43-19 at halftime
“We knew they were the defending state champions, and we want to be state champions, so for us to get this test early was good for us,” West Catholic coach Miguel Bocachica said. “I think with where we are with the evolution of our program we want to be able to come in and win games like this against programs like that and have a state championship as a program.”
If West Catholic plays like it did Sunday, that might just happen. Four starters are 6-foot-6 or taller, several having growth spurts two summers ago. That length, that speed, combined with balance and unselfishness, had West Catholic immediately rolling as it used a 14-0 run to take a 16-2 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Burrs were as potent offensively as they were stingy defensively, making 19 of 32 first-half shots while forcing 17 turnovers. Zion Stanford scored 18 points, made five steals and dealt four assists. Dynamic point guard Adam Clark produced 13 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. Kaseem Watson added 10 points and five rebounds as all parts of West Catholic’s arsenal came together at the right time.
West Catholic was as tough in the half-court as it was in transition. The Burrs capitalized on Loyalsock turnovers, but also spaced the floor well, worked the ball inside and outside and did an excellent job finding each other.
“We have five guys that average in double digits. That’s hard to do at the college level and even harder to do at this level where you have egos, but our camaraderie is great,” Bocachica said. “It doesn’t matter who scores, it matters that we score. It doesn’t matter who gets the steal, it matters that we get the steal. At the end of it, the only thing that matters is that West Catholic wins, not that I scored 20 or I scored 30. They’ve bought into that and on any day it can be any given guy and that’s hard to prepare for. ”
Loyalsock did its best preparing for West Catholic, but there was no way it could simulate West Catholic’s speed and length. The Burrs started the second half as strong as they did the first and scored 10 straight points to go up 53-19 while imposing the mercy rule.
The Lancers were down, but not out. They went downing swinging, producing a championship effort. Loyalsock mounted a 14-2 run between quarters and pulled within 22 with three minutes left.
A team which overcame injuries and issues this season, showed its tenacity one last time but the hole proved too deep to escape.
“The major thing is they overcame a lot of adversity which provides lifelong lessons. If they can fight back in life the way they fought back in basketball they’re all going to be highly successful,” Insinger said. “The thing is we had some glitches, but we had a heck of a lot more peaks than valleys. I’m happy for all of them.”
While Loyalsock graduates some tremendous seniors, it returns a strong core as well next season. Sophomore Tyler Gee was outstanding off the bench against West Catholic and pulled down five rebounds. Fellow sophomores Jaylen Andrews, Nate Bauman and Gage Patterson all had excellent seasons as well and the future appears bright.
This season is over, but a new one begins soon.
“I said in my post game talk for the underclassmen we have some work to do,” Insinger said. “We know what we have to do, we know the homework ahead but it’s what you do between March and November that is going to make the difference.”
WEST CATHOLIC (63)
Zion Stanford 8 1-2 18, Adam Clark 6 1-2 13, Kareem Watson 2 0-0 6, Nasir Griffin 2 2-4 6, Kaseem Watson 5 0-1 10, Marcus Branker 2 2-2 6, Micah Walters 1 0-1 2, Naseem Perez 0 0-2 0, Azeem Murphy 1 0-0 2. Totals 27 6-14 63.
Saraj Ali 2 5-7 9, Brendan Clark 4 0-0 8, Jaiden Ross 3 0-0 7, Jaylen Andrews 0 0-1 0, Nate Bauman 2 0-0 5, Gage Patterson 0 0-0 0, Tyler Gee 1 1-2 3, Braydon Miller 1 0-0 3, Will Burdett 1 0-0 2. Totals 14 6-10 37.
West Catholic 20 23 10 10–63
Loyalsock 8 11 4 14–37
3-pointers: West Catholic 3 (Kas. Watson 2, Stanford); Loyalsock 3 (Ross, Bauman, Miller).
Records: West Catholic 22-5. Loyalsock 24-5.