Demarr Wright knows how dangerous and tough forward Sam Pagana can be.
The Loyalsock coach has the bumps and bruises to prove it. Nearly every practice, Wright goes against Pagana and often Pagana performs well against him. So really, Wright figures the best thing to do these days is tell Pagana to envision going against him during games.
Monday night it worked.
Loyalsock's Sam Pagana looks for room to move around St. John Neumann's Emily Sheleman Monday night at the Catholic Community Center. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
Pagana scored on two straight putbacks late in the third quarter that gave Loyalsock its first lead since early in the second quarter and propelled a huge game-ending run. She finished with seven points and a game-high 12 rebounds as Loyalsock defeated St. John Neumann, 40-28 at the Catholic Community Center. The Lancers (5-6) won for the fourth time in five games and Pagana's putbacks ignited an 18-5 run.
"When we're in practice and she's standing next to me she goes after me hard and scores and I tell her to play that way in the game," Wright said. "I tell her to go really hard and if she does that she can score in the post whoever she goes against. She came up big for us."
That was crucial on a night that Pagana's sister Allie, Taylor Daskivich and Cellina Salvatori all were playing despite having the flu. Neumann led from early in the second quarter until Sam scored off her first putback with 35 seconds remaining in the third. She added another right before the buzzer and just like that, Loyalsock had life and energy on a night when little seemed to be going right.
Then in the fourth quarter just about everything went right as Loyalsock excelled in all facets, ran the court well, pounded the ball inside and played stifling defense. The result was a solid win against a rival that started 8-2.
"We didn't start out great but as the season has went on we're getting better and better. We're becoming one as a team," Sam said. "Once one person gets going the rest of us keep going and doing well."
"Those putbacks were big," Wright said. "It gave us momentum and got us going."
Loyalsock scored the fourth quarter's first six points and never led by fewer than seven again. Freshmen Kayla Gee, Kendall Watkins and Salvatori all played well during that span and Gee scored two points and had two assists in the quarter's first four minutes. Allie Pagana was outstanding as well, scoring a game-high 12 points, grabbing seven rebounds, dealing six assists and blocking three shots.
Put it all together and it was not just a good night for the Pagana family, but also a big night for the Lancers.
"The reason we did so well was because we had each other's backs," Sam Pagana said. "We just have to stay positive and stay confident in ourselves."
Neumann (8-4) opened the game with a 6-0 run and executed well throughout the first half while taking a 20-16 lead early in the second quarter. Loyalsock switched to a zone defense, though, and the Knights were never the same. They missed some makeable shots, but also struggled to get quality looks against an active defense that made it especially difficult to get the ball inside.
After scoring 20 points in the game's first 11 minutes, Neumann managed just eight over the final 21 and made only 4 of 30 attempts. Emily Sholder (10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals) scored at the 4:45 mark in the fourth quarter, ending Loyalsock's 12-0 run and snapping an eight-minute scoring drought but the Knights managed just one more field goal. Meghan Trenholm, who scored her 1,000th point last Saturday, was held to a season-low eight points as the Lancers focused on stopping her and Sholder.
"We basically kind of reverted back to last year in the second half of the game where we basically look to those two (Trenholm and Sholder) to do everything. Those two will find them if they are there but girls were just standing there and not moving," Neumann coach Steve Sholder said. "We have to get back on the ball because we've gotten into a funk the last two games."
Salvatori was a big reason the zone was so successful. Playing in the back of the 2-3, Salvatori made five steals and deflected many more passes. Often it looked like there were openings inside, but Salvatori closed those gaps and used her speed and length to wreak havoc. That played a big role in Loyalsock forcing numerous second-half turnovers and getting 12 steals as a team.
"You're going to find out in the next four years that Cellina is an absolute standout on defense," Wright said. "People probably think they can pass inside but she has that wing span and gets her hand on a lot of balls. She can use her defense to score and she's going to be a heck of a player."
Emily Sheleman had five rebounds and five steals for Neumann while freshman Baylie Gerrity continued showing promise inside. Loyalsock did not pick up any second-half fouls while Neumann had 10.
Allie Pagana 4 3-7 12, Taylor Daskivich 1 1-2 3, Sam Pagana 2 3-6 7, Megan McKernan 3 0-0 6, Katy Burdett 1 0-0 2, Cellina Salvatori 2 0-2 4, Kayla Gee 1 0-0 2, Kendall Watkins 2 0-2 4, Giana Ginobile 0 0-2 0. Totals 14 7-22 40.
Meghan Trenholm 3 2-3 9, Emily Sholder 4 2-4 10, Rachel Danneker 2 0-0 5, Emily Sheleman 1 0-0 2, Katherine Mertes 0 0-0 0, Baylie Gerrity 1 0-2 2, Megan Helminiak 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 4-9 28.
Loyalsock13 5 8 14-40
Neumann10 10 3 5-28
3-pointers: Loyalsock 3 (McKernan 2, A. Pagana); Neumann 2 (Trenholm, Sholder).
Records: Loyalsock 5-6, Neumann 8-4.
JV Score: Loyalsock 48-14.