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Rivalry Restored

It has been more than a week, and I am still buzzing. Actually, the entire hoops community is. What transpired in the Catholic Community Center last Sunday might never be duplicated. It was an amazing atmosphere, both teams played well, and I had the best seat to witness. The Loyalsock Lancers prevailed as they defeated the St. John Neumann Golden Knights, but it was a win for everyone involved. Both teams were incredible in this 102-86 local showcase. There was never a dull moment, and the great crowds were treated to an unbelievable display. The Lancers moved to 12-0 and gained mad respect. Neumann fell to 9-2. What an environment sports fans.

The doors opened at 12:30. There was already a line of folks outside waiting. The gym was completely packed by 1:15. SJNRA officials closed the doors shortly after. It’s a great thing my friends Paul Bo, Darrick Rizzo, and Jim Webb live streamed. There were several who were turned away. It was standing room only prior to the JV start. It was amazing. The boys and I took the floor in front of a boisterous crowd. We normally play our games in front of a few fans and our parents. The crowd usually files in just a few minutes before the Varsity. Today it was different. People were everywhere. We were so nervous.

“It was exhilarating,” SJNRA freshman Kane Wright said. Great word, kid. I actually called his bluff but looked up the definition and spelling. “It was an amazing atmosphere. Awesome crowd, and it was so loud. Awesome experience. This game was so much fun to be a part of.”

My young Knights held their own. We played a great first half, and I was proud of my boys. Loyalsock’s JV team is also loaded. They are very talented and are out of our league. Jeff Everitt is a good dude. He knows and can coach the game too. The Lancers turned up their intensity in the second half, and we never responded. OK. We got throttled, but seeing my youngsters run up and down the court in front of a capacity crowd was awesome. One of my players made a great play, and I called a time out with 20 seconds remaining. The game was out of hand, but I wanted my guys to relish in the moment. I told them not to worry about the score. I simply instructed them to look around. The gym was packed, and this was one of those opportunities that you will never forget.

“It was unreal,” SJNRA freshman Angelo Rodriguez relived. “I’ve never played in front of so many people. The student sections and fans from both sides were outstanding. There was so much energy in our gym Sunday. Great environment.”

There was no need for a shot clock in this Sunday afternoon matinée. Both teams traded punches early, and Neumann lead 27-18 after one. Loyalsock then rallied and went on an impressive run. They scored an astounding 36 points in the second quarter and took control. The pace was incredible, and neither squad got tired. The two teams combined for 188 points in 32 minutes. That is unheard of.

Aiden Gair scored a career-high 44 points for Sock, including 23 in that second quarter. I knew Aiden had skills, but he was outstanding. Gair hit everything. Inside and out. Many of his shots were contested. It simply didn’t matter. He was sensational. Aiden drilled two deep threes right in front of the Neumann bench. I even tried to defend one. It was one of the best performances I have ever seen in person. I’ve seen a lot of basketball games too.

Loyalsock was well balanced, and they were as good as advertised. Saraj Ali added 18 and grabbed several boards. Rees Watkins is an exceptional athlete, and he scored 16. Idris Ali was in control and tallied 14. Legendary Coach CI Ron Insinger was so hyped for this game that he tried to steal the ball on the very first possession. True story — and it caught the entire gym by surprise. CI actually deflected one of SJNRA’s player’s dribble in the opening seconds. He was assessed a technical foul and had to sit for the rest of the game. Everyone was laughing, and the has to be a first for this Hall of Fame Coach who has won over 1,000 games.

St. John Neumann Regional was led by the brothers Hill. Freshman Davion had 29, and Junior David scored 27 points. Keon Burkholder added 10, and Josiah Reid contributed 9. It was a great test for the Golden Knights, and this game will only help them moving forward.

“This was a great atmosphere, and both teams were great,” Head Coach Joe Clark explained. “Credit to CI and his Lancers. It was an honor to go head to head with him. Gair was outstanding. That young man can certainly play. Our guys did well in front of the ultimate stage. Of course, we wanted to win, but I am proud of the way we competed tonight. The cream rises to the top in these big games.”

This local showcase has been nonexistent of late. The last time these two teams played was back in 2014. Thanks to CI and Frank Luppachino for re-establishing the rivalry. Kudos to them as they have already agreed to play in 2021. Many of these players are good friends. Several of Neumann’s kids play on the Loyalsock football team via a co-op. It’s a beautiful thing. Well done. Cheers.

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