When trying to assess the enormity of a conference that is as large in scope such as the Lancaster-Lebanon League is, sometimes it’s quite possible to miss some of the better storylines that are constantly developing. After all, it’s very easy and downright understandable to get caught up in all the glitz and glamour that envelops teams such as Lampeter-Strasburg and Cedar Crest. And while squads such as the Pioneers and Falcons may steal most of the thunder, for good reason mind you, you can bet that there are plenty of other teams located throughout various pockets of the L-L that are currently writing their own remarkable stories. Case in point, Columbia and Annville-Cleona.
Coming into the season, Section 5 of the Lancaster-Lebanon League season, at least on the surface, appeared to be a runaway of sorts for Lancaster Mennonite. And the Blazers are still hovering near the top of standings heading into this week, Mennonite has admittedly sputtered somewhat in their encore from a state semifinal run of a year ago, opening the door for Lancaster Country Day, Columbia and yes, Annville-Cleona.
For the Dutchmen, the 2018-19 campaign is one that is the start of a new era for a proud program of championship-level pedigree. This season, Lebanon County native Jason Coletti returned home, taking his shot at turning the A-C program back around in hopes of once again having it compete for section titles, a feat that was last seen not all that long ago. And while the road that began this season was filled with plenty of twists and turns along the way, the Dutchmen have been able to right the ship nicely, coming into their Tuesday night battle with Columbia as winners of three of their last four.
Standing on the other side, Columbia also entered Tuesday night’s affair while playing their best ball of the season yet to date as the Crimson Tide came in as winners of three of their last four in their own right, including an impressive takedown of aforementioned Lancaster Mennonite their last time out.
So, with two of the hottest teams in the entire league entering the ring to square off against one another, a key game within the Section 5 standings was afoot when Columbia trekked north to do battle with Annville-Cleona.
Right from the start, it didn’t take very long to see how exactly how the narrative of this one would play out.
After a 3-ball was bombed in Columbia junior guard Matt McCleary to get the scoring started on Tuesday night, Annville-Cleona would quickly answer right back with back-to-back triples cashed in 5’8 junior guard Adam Long, giving the home-standing Dutchmen the early 6-3 advantage with just three minutes gone by.
From there, Annville-Cleona would continue to keep on launching and continue to keep on hitting.
In fact, the Dutchmen were eventually able to increase their lead to half a dozen shortly thereafter, all of which came by way of the lone senior playing in the contest, Annville-Cleona 6’3 guard Deshaun Archer, as the A-C senior guard put the Dutchmen up 12-6 after a Michael Poole Jr trifecta was sandwiched in between for the Tide. And even when Annville-Cleona took their act inside the three-point arc, they proved to be just as effective in mastering the Columbia zone attack, as evidenced by an Archer take to the cup, allowing the Dutchmen to double-up their guests at the end of the first quarter, 16-8.
But not even the brief respite in between quarters would help to slow down Annville-Cleona and their ability to fill it up from deep on Tuesday night.
Picking up right where his teammates had left off just moments earlier, 5’11 junior guard Andrew Long was able to pump in yet another Annville-Cleona triple to start the second stanza, clearly forcing the Crimson Tide to play a game a catchup for the rest of the evening.
However, catch up they would in the ensuing few minutes as a 6-0 Columbia salvo immediately followed suit, closing the Dutchmen advantage to five at 19-14 with the second quarter nearing its midway point.
Yet when the going got tough, Annville-Cleona called upon an old, familiar friend to help bail them out of danger: The 3-ball.
With momentum ever so slightly starting to turn in the direction of the Crimson Tide, Annville-Cleona promptly answered back with a 5-0 blitz of their own, increasing their lead to double digits at 24-14 following yes, another trifecta, with the honors this time going to backcourt ace Andrew Long, as the second quarter was quickly closing in on the three-minute mark.
As fate would have it, that would prove to be all the closer Columbia would get the rest of the night.
While clearly ignited their late-half separation, Annville-Cleona proceeded to play with an extra bounce in their step as evidenced by four more points tallied in succession by Andrew Long, allowing Annville-Cleona to double-up their hosts at 28-14. And if you are already thinking that a trifecta would be the perfect way to close out Annville-Cleona’s already dominant first half, you certainly would be in agreement with Yadiel Cruz of Annville-Cleona as the A-C 5’7 sophomore guard proceed to rattle in yet another bomb for the Dutchmen in the closing minute, sending Annville-Cleona into the locker room with the commanding 31-16 advantage.
Well, guess what? Another half, same old torrid shooting for Annville-Cleona.
Almost immediately out the break, the Dutchmen continued their stellar shooting with another triple dialed up by Andrew Long, good for 3 of his 14 points on the evening, as Long’s latest triple helped the Annville-Cleona lead swell to 36-18 in the opening moments of the third frame. From there, his backcourt partner in crime would also get in on the act as an Adam Long take to the rack shortly thereafter put the Dutchmen up by twenty at 38-18 near the midway point of the third quarter. And if you’re already wondering, yes, there would be plenty of time for some more triples splashed in by Annville-Cleona in the third quarter. In fact, after back-to-back trifectas nailed from bonus distance courtesy of Deshaun Archer and Yadiel Cruz respectively, the Dutchmen powered into the final quarter with possession of the 46-29 lead.
Remarkably, if Adam Long wasn’t busy burying treys from long-range on the night, he clearly had no issues whatsoever about taking his game inside the arc such as he did in the opening moments of the final period, earning a traditional three-point play for his efforts, as Long’s hoop plus the harm upped the Annville-Cleona lead to a resounding twenty point difference at 51-31 with still seven minutes left to go. And if he wasn’t doing the scoring, he had no qualms assisting his teammates either as Long’s sweet find to a streaking Jeremy Bours underneath the bucket just minutes later put the Dutchmen up 59-40.
With the outcome of the game already being decided by that point, it only seemed fitting that Deshaun Archer would put the finishing touches on this one as the heady senior guard proceeded to drive hard to the rack, adding two more to his already sensational evening, as Archer would go on to lead all scorers by bucketing a game-high 19 points on the evening.
And once the dust finally had settled after 32 minutes, it revealed without question Annville-Cleona’s best performance of the season. After all, it’s hard to dispute that fact when you pour in 11 triples en route to an emphatic 64-46 triumph over a fellow Section 5 foe. Needless to say, it was not something lost on the head coach either.
“We did a lot of good things,” Annville-Cleona head coach Jason Coletti admitted of his team’s impressive performance authored on Tuesday night. “We shot the ball really well.”
“We’ve been preaching about getting off to better starts because we’ve been fighting uphill battles almost every game that we’ve played,” Coletti added. “Getting better starts helps us calm down and get some confidence. We have one senior and the rest have very limited varsity experience, so they need that early success in a game. We’ve been getting it and this is the end of the process for at least what those first twelve games came down to.
“I’m happy and the kids are happy,” said Coletti. “We’ve had some things that we need to clean up, but I’m happy with the way we’ve played from game 1 to game 12.”
While Coletti may be a new face on the Annville-Cleona sideline this season, rest assured that he has seen his fair share of battles over the years in guiding the Manheim Central and Ephrata programs through stints along the way. And for a seasoned veteran such as he who is now making the third stop on his Lancaster-Lebanon League head coaching tour, Annville-Cleona’s new head man has already seen some of those same promising signs of a bright future that lies ahead for his Dutchmen program in the years to come.
“It’s going really well,” the new A-C boss offered regarding his new surroundings thus far a few months into the job. “The kids have gotten so much better since November 16th. Some of these kids haven’t picked up a basketball since last basketball season, so we knew that first month was going to look a little rough. But, we have some good athletes and they longer they’ve been playing basketball, we’ve just been getting better, and better, and better.”
“This is the best we’ve played all season,” Coletti said summing everything up. “We put it together at the right time.”
NEXT UP: From here, Annville-Cleona will go on a brief hiatus in terms of L-L League play, as the Dutchmen will remain idle until Saturday afternoon before a highly-anticipated matchup Bishop McDevitt at Manheim Central as a feature showcase game in the Mid-Penn vs L-L Showdown. And you can bet that Coach Coletti and his Dutchmen are eager to turn the page on Tuesday night and begin prep work for the highly-powered Crusaders.
“We’ve won three in a row, but we’re just focused on practice tomorrow and getting ready for McDevitt on Saturday. It certainly doesn’t get any easier,” Coletti said with a laugh. “We’ll be prepared for them if we have three good practices and we’ll see what we’ve got.”
For Columbia, the Crimson Tide will undoubtedly be eager to quickly turn the page on Tuesday night’s showing as the Tide too remain dormant over the next few days, not facing an L-L opponent until next Tuesday night with a trip to New Holland to tangle with Garden Spot. However, that certainly does not mean that Columbia will be without a formidable challenge from now until then as the Crimson Tide are set to face off against a Mid-Penn goliath in their own right, Trinity, in a Friday night affair.