LEWISBURG-Alone with only his thoughts and a basketball, Mike Pastore spent many late nights at Loyalsock's gym last summer. Surrounded by championship banners that are spilling off the walls, Pastore worked while dreaming about one day becoming a part of the program's rich tradition.
That moment came Saturday night and he embraced it. All the hard work paid off and a sophomore who did not play any varsity minutes last year has added to Loyalsock's lore. Pastore scored 13 second-half points, including seven straight during a critical fourth-quarter stretch in which he put Loyalsock ahead to stay. Pastore made all five of his second-half shots and his fourth-quarter performance helped lift Loyalsock to a thrilling 61-55 win over Lewisburg and a second straight HAC-II championship.
"I got a chance to watch and cut down the net last year but it wasn't anything like this. It wasn't as exciting," Pastore said. "My teammates gave me opportunities and I came up with big plays, but I couldn't do it without them."
"Mike hit the shots when he had to," Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. "He lives in the gym. He's a gym rat. He has paid his dues and I couldn't be happier for him."
Loyalsock captured its fourth league title in five years and won it at Lewisburg for a second straight year. The Lancers (18-3, 13-0) are a game from capping the first undefeated league campaign in HAC-II history and are the only team that has beaten the Dragons (19-2, 11-2) this season. Loyalsock earned the title the hard way, fighting back after Lewisburg had erased a nine-point halftime deficit and taken a three-point fourth-quarter lead.
It was Pastore who changed everything.
After Travis Conrad put Lewisburg up 47-44 early in the fourth quarter, Pastore made a steal and a layup on the ensuing Lewisburg possession. Less than a minute later, Pastore swished a long 3-pointer to give Loyalsock a lead it did not relinquish. Seconds later, he made another steal and converted another layup. Just like that, Loyalsock had turned a 3-point deficit into a four-point lead and calmed a huge crowd that filled the gym well before tip and that roared when Lewisburg took its first lead.
It was the latest in a string of big-game performances by the smallest player on the court. Pastore scored 14 second-half points in the first Lewisburg win and also shined against Williamsport last month.
"I love these games. It's a little nervewracking, but once you get into the game it's just exciting," Pastore said. "I've been in a little slump lately but this was a big confidence booster. My teammates never gave up on me. They just kept giving me the ball and telling me to shoot and I got the spark back."
Lewisburg discovered its in the second half and turned what looked like might be a convincing Loyalsock win into a nailbiter that lived up to the hype, featuring the district's best two teams throughout the regular season. The Dragons scored 23 second-half points and tied it late in the third quarter when Erich Kline (15 points) hit a jumper.
Conrad then drained a NBA-range 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter and Lewisburg took its first lead. Following Pastore's seven-point flurry, Lewisburg cut the deficit to two twice but Loyalsock answered each time. Roger Wilson (16 points, 11 rebounds, 7 blocks) made a huge block in the final minute, preserving a four-point lead and Ben Sosa (12 points and 7 rebounds) clinched the win and championship with two free throws in the final seconds.
"I told the guys beforehand this gym has been good to us over the years. We have won a lot of big games here but not one of them has been easy," Insinger said. "It's always a dogfight here and it was no different tonight. Lewisburg is a quality team and it was appropriate to win it here."
"I'm sure I'm going to get up tomorrow and say that was fun to be a part of. Both teams played their hearts out and I couldn't be more proud of our guys for coming back from down nine at halftime," Lewisburg coach John Vaji said. "Our guys did a solid job in the second half to get back in the game. They didn't try to make a nine-point play. They executed offensively and bucked down defensively and it allowed us to get back in the game."
Loyalsock stormed out to a 14-4 first-quarter lead and Wilson was unstoppable at times early. Despite picking up his second foul midway through the first quarter, Wilson played nearly the rest of the game and continued being a force while Kyle Datres was outstanding defensively and added 12 points to go along with seven assists. Omar Little dealt five first-half assists and helped Loyalsock push its lead to 11 in the second quarter.
Roger Wilson 8 0-2 16, Kyle Datres 5 1-1 12, Omar Little 3 2-2 8, Ben Sosa 5 2-2 12, Mike Pastore 5 0-2 13, Ryan Bogaczyk 0 0-0 0, Luke Glavin 0 0-0 0, Tommy Baggett 0 0-0 0. Totals 26 5-9 61.
Travis Conrad 3 0-0 8, Erich Kline 7 0-0 15, Sam Allen 7 1-4 15, Mike Driscoll 4 0-0 9, Jesse Flannery 2 0-0 4, Nick Costigliola 2 0-0 4, Dan Cole 0 0-0 0. Totals 25 1-4 55.
Loyalsock14 14 14 19-61
Lewisburg8 11 23 13-55
3-pointers: Loyalsock 4 (Pastore 3, Datres); Lewisburg 4 (Conrad 2, Kline, Driscoll).
Records: Loyalsock 18-3, 13-0 HAC-II. Lewisburg 19-2, 11-2.