Sullivan beats the defending 5-time champs in Neumann.

By: Chris Masse | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | February 21, 2018


LAPORTE – As Sullivan County fans stood and cheered, they produced what sounded like a collective roar. Students, and even some adults, literally jumped for joy, celebrating a moment no District 4 team had experienced since 2012.

The players were more subdued. There were some smiles and handshakes and then they simply ran and lined up before going through the post-game handshake line. Dethroning a five-time district champion was nice, but Sullivan County wants more.

And now they hope that moment was just a start.

John Saxe made a run at a triple-double, Alex Baumunk scored 14 points and every player coach Glenn Vaughan used made a strong impact Tuesday as No. 4 Sullivan County defeated No. 5 St. John Neumann, 54-46, in an exciting District 4 Class A quarterfinal. The Griffins (18-5) ended Neumann's 13-game district playoff winning streak, advanced to the semifinals for the seventh time in eight seasons and earned a spot against fellow Mid-Penn tri-champion Millville in this weekend's district Final Four.

"Something coach preaches is not getting too high or too low," Saxe said. "We came out and did our job and stayed even-keeled the whole time and were able to win."

"We're playing it one game at a time. You go out and try hardest and if you win, it's on to the next one," Baumunk said. "Everybody believes in each other and these guys believe in themselves. You can't ask for much more."

Before late in the season, Sullivan had not beaten Neumann (15-8) since the 2012 district final. The Griffins ended that streak with a 3-point win and had an entire community behind it Tuesday as the gym was overflowing before tip-off. Three times since 2013, Neumann had blocked Sullivan's path to postseason glory, but not this time.

Sullivan played a complete game from start to finish, built a 16-point second-quarter lead and finished strong after Neumann twice made it a four-point game in the fourth quarter. Sullivan wants more, but this still was a fun night against a former nemesis.

"It's a big win for so many reasons. At the end of the game they were excited but I know their thoughts are this isn't the championship," Vaughan said. "But we just beat a very good opponent. I can't say enough about how hard they (the Knights) play and how much skill they have and they are so deep and well-coached, but tonight I just had a bunch of guys who refused to lose."

Saxe scored 12 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dealt seven assists. Baumunk had six rebounds to go along with his 14 points and his second-quarter 3-pointer gave Sullivan its 16-point lead. Those two seniors were the only ones who had significant playoff experience entering the quarterfinal but the younger players owned their first playoff moments.

Different players delivered at crucial times and Sullivan made 20 of 33 shots. Sam Carpenter scored seven points during the 22-point second quarter, Dylan Hottenstein scored three straight and ignited the game-ending run after Neumann rallied in the fourth. Dave Pardoe delivered eight points and five rebounds. Jesse Williams, Jalen Thomas and Justin Metzger shined off the bench. It was going to take a team performance to finally topple the five-time champions and that is exactly what Sullivan produced.

"We've gone from being John Saxe and Alex Baumunk and a bunch of other guys to being a basketball team," Vaughan said. "We have multiple weapons that can hurt you. If you just focus on one or two guys on this team we have a bunch of other guys with attitude that aren't going to let you do that."

Victims of an illogical seeding system that does not consider schedule strength and that punishes those teams who do play demanding schedules, Sullivan and Neumann understood it was do-or-die Tuesday. That created an intense game from tip-off until the end. Neumann trailed by four after the opening quarter but Sullivan heated up in the second as five different players combined to go 8 for 11 from the field while taking a 34-21 halftime lead.

Jaiden Lynch shined in his final scholastic game, scoring 12 points, grabbing seven rebounds and dealing seven assists. He was instrumental to sparking Neumann's comeback and Reid Parrish made it 49-45 midway through the fourth quarter. Hottenstein countered with a free throw and a driving layup, putting Sullivan up seven. Carpenter added two more free throws and Neumann never threatened again.

The curtain dropped on a brilliant five-year program run and a super collective effort from the team's seniors, four who started last night. That group went 94-11 while winning three district championships and four league titles.

"They were a phenomenal group," Neumann coach Mike Kirby said. "The win-loss record is off the charts."

That was a big reason so many people were there so early last night. Both programs have left their mark on this decade and Sullivan is doing its best to leave its mark on 2018. The Griffins opened the year 4-3, but have won 14 of 16 games since and will meet another league rival that it split two games with in the semifinals.

"I'm glad we played here tonight," Saxe said. "The whole county came out for the game tonight and really backed us up. It motivated us even more to get this win."

"Every morning practice you do and things like that you're working toward getting here at the end of the season, playing games like these," Baumunk said. "It makes it all worth it."