(Hempfield Head Coach Danny Walck Embraces Ryan Moffatt Following Moffatt’s 5th Foul Wednesday Night Against Lincoln)
Last season was without question a memorable one for the Hempfield Black Knights Boys’ Basketball squad. A trip to the league playoffs, a trip the District 3 finals, and yeah oh by the way, a trip to Elite Elite of the PIAA state tournament. Needless to say, it’s a laundry list of achievements that need no further validation as a means to prove just how special these last two editions of Black Knight basketball have been. Not just on the court either, but off the court as well.
If need be, one only needs to spend just a few minutes chatting with Hempfield head coach Danny Walck to extinguish any shred of doubt regarding that.
And as mentioned, they haven’t exactly been too shabby on the hardwood this year either. A Section 1 championship, a trip to the league playoffs, a trip to the district playoffs, and you guessed it, yet another trip to the 6A state playoffs.
If it all seems familiar, don’t second guess yourself. Yes, they’ve truly maintained that same level of excellence.
They’ve been so good in fact that the Knights were able to slay yet another giant in the opening round of states this past Saturday night when Hempfield was able to take down an ultra-athletic Coatesville bunch in front of a capacity crowd at Warwick in a game that felt eerily similar to the Black Knights’ triumph at the same locale in the same scenario just one year ago against Allentown Allen.
And lo and behold, here they were again. With a trip to the round of eight hanging in the balance, Hempfield was just 32 minutes away from making good on that same feat that they were able to accomplish just one year ago when they met up with anything but a cupcake in Philadelphia Public League power Abraham Lincoln on Wednesday night at Pottstown.
Once the game at hand had finally commenced, Hempfield wasted little time in terms of throwing the first punch. In fact, the Black Knights were able to start things off with a bang as a David Martin-Robinson lay in made it a 5-0 Hempfield advantage in the early stages of the contest, helping send the message that Hempfield had arrived with bad intentions.
Yet even though things could not have possibly started out much better for Hempfield, Lincoln would eventually find their footing thanks a powerful one-handed tomahawk jam which was slammed home by Khalif Meares that got the Railsplitters on the board making it a 5-2 game in favor of the troops from Landisville.
As it turned out, Meares’ dunk would help give himself a burst of energy from there on out for the remainder of the first period as Lincoln’s lanky point guard was able to cash in on back to back jumpers later on in the quarter which cut the Black Knight lead down to 10-8 with just 30 seconds left to play before the first quarter buzzer would later ring out with Hempfield in possession of the lead by virtue of the 12-10 count.
For much of the second quarter, Hempfield would be able to keep the Railsplitters at arm’s length, keeping the game largely within a four point window, before a Donovan Green pullup jumper gave the Black Knights the 18-12 advantage midway through the second stanza.
Yet even though Green’s J put Hempfield up by half a dozen, Lincoln was able to answer back with a vengeance as a sweet dish from Pat Obogo to Sahnei Day led to a three point play which got the Railsplitters back within a deuce at 20-18 with just 1:25 left to play in the first half. A score which just so happened to remain identical once both squads jogged off the floor and into the halftime break.
Without question, the pace of the game was far more to Hempfield’s liking than that of their counterparts from the City of Brotherly Love throughout the first 16 minutes of play. And with the game on track to see the winning team prevail by scoring just 40 points, the Black Knights continued to keep their nose to the grindstone once the second half got underway as a pair of Eli Washington freebies at the charity stripe helped keep Hempfield in front 24-21.
But just then, the Railsplitters came alive.
Sparked by a 4-0 run all authored by Lincoln’s Jahi Randall, the Public League Champs ascended to their first lead of the contest at 25-24 near the five minute mark of the third period.
However just as he had done all season long, Hempfield’s Ryan Moffatt would have an answer for that.
With his team facing their first true test of adversity all night long, the 6’5” senior wing was able to counter back with a triple on the ensuing offensive trip which promptly gave the lead back to Hempfield at 27-25.
And even though Hempfield would continue to play tough throughout the remainder of the third quarter as evidenced by a strong David Martin-Robinson drive inside which gave the Black Knights the 31-30 lead, Lincoln would have an answer of their own as a 4-0 Railsplitter rally would close the books on the third quarter of play as a timely put-back by Shikier Morrison gave the Lincoln the 34-31 lead as the game headed into it’s final eight minutes….Or so everyone thought.
No doubt about it, the action inside the Pottstown High gymnasium was certainly ratcheted up and then some once the fourth and final quarter began.
It certainly appeared that things were heading in that direction when Hempfield’s Anthony Alston proceeded to open the final frame with a pair of gigantic triples which saw the Black Knights charge back in front 39-37 with four minutes and change left to determine who would earn the right to survive and advance.
And right on cue, Donovan Green was able to snatch up some of the momentum that was created by Alston’s long range marksmanship as the bullish 6’2” senior forward was able to convert an old-fashioned three point play which created a deafening roar from the Hempfield side of the gym as the Black Knights now held a 42-37 lead with 3:20 left to go.
But as is the case so often in tournament games of the highest magnitude, Hempfield knew full well that the Railsplitters would do anything other than simply roll over.
Sure enough, Lincoln came out firing with their backs against the ropes as a 6-0 Railsplitter run quickly ensued which was capped off with a key offensive board and stick-back by Lincoln’s Tyree Corbett that gave Lincoln the 43-42 with Hempfield having to call a timeout with 1:21 left to go.
Yet just as nearly everyone in the gym was sure that Lincoln would be able to answer Hempfield back in the face of adversity, the Black Knights were up to the task in their own right as a beautiful dish from Eli Washington to Ryan Moffatt led to the hoop plus the harm as the Knights had raced back in front 45-43 immediately following the late-game timeout.
From there, Washington was able to display the moxie of a grizzled veteran as the 5’11” junior guard would go on to take a charge on the Black Knights’ ensuing defensive possession, giving the ball back to Hempfield with the chance to put an even bigger dent in their lead.
And fortunately for those that had made the Wednesday night excursion down Route 422 into Pottstown, the Black Knights were able to do precisely that as a pair of Ryan Moffatt free throws gave Hempfield what at the time could have felt like an insurmountable lead with just 32.8 left to play.
However just as most everyone who has seen their fair share of zany playoff battles over the course of time would be sure to tell you, the game is never truly over until the clock reads nothing but zeroes.
And as it turned out, 32.8 proved to be just enough time for Lincoln.
Aided by an unfortunate hustle-play type foul that was charged against the Black Knights on the next Railsplitter possession, a 1-2 trip to the line by Lincoln’s Emeuel Charleston made it a 47-44 contest with time running out.
Unfortunately for Hempfield however, the Black Knights’ next trip up the floor would end in a turnover, creating an impromptu scramble situation on defense which would eventually end in a Charleston trifecta, knotting the score up at 47-47 with now just 10.8 left to play.
And even though Hempfield would a call a timeout on the side out of bounds play with just a shade over 10 seconds remaining, the Railsplitter defense would fail to yield late-game magic to the Black Knights, sending the game into overtime.
Lincoln would waste little time once the extra session got underway as a pair of freebies converted at the charity stripe by the Sahnei Day gave the Railsplitters the 49-47 advantage immediately into extra time.
Yet Hempfield would continue to keep plugging away at things as a steal and foul down at the other end led to a pair of Anthony Alston free throws which would give the lead back to the Knights at 50-49 with 1:30 left to tick off the clock as the 6’1” senior guard continued his spectacular playmaking down the final stretch.
From there, Lincoln would offer a rebuttal to the Alston pair as stick-back by Aseem Luckey gave the Railsplitters the lead right back at 51-50 before an Emeuel Charleston free throw made it a 52-50 affair with 35 seconds left to go in OT.
Even still, things would continue to grow more precarious from there for the Black Knights as a tie up had the possession arrow pointing in the Railsplitters’ direction. And right at the conclusion of said offensive possession, a Khalif Meares sunken free throw would add to Lincoln’s lead, making it a 53-50 contest with just 10.5 left.
As it turned out, 10.5 would not be nearly enough to simply turn Hempfield away on this night.
With their season on the brink, Hempfield’s Anthony Alston had the rock in his hands with the opportunity to make good on sending this already instant classic into a second extra frame, effectively giving the Black Knights 4 more minutes on how to try and figure out a way of solving the Lincoln riddle and advancing past the District 12-6A Philadelphia champions.
Well, given his spectacular fourth quarter and overtime period to that point, one had to think that something special was about to take place. And sure enough, just as he had countless times so far in the ballgame, Alston was able to drain the cold-blooded trifecta, just beating the buzzer, to give the game just an added extra spice of overtime with both teams headed into an additional four minutes with things all square at 53-53.
Yet just as they had in the first overtime, Hempfield would spot Lincoln an opening lead throughout the first few minutes of extra time as a 1-2 trip to the line by Sahnei Day of Lincoln gave the Railsplitters the 57-53 advantage with 2:11 left to play.
And even though Hempfield was able to get it down to just two at 57-55 with 1:54 left following a pair of Donovan Green free throws, Lincoln would be able to put the game away at the foul line through the final minute and change as the Railsplitters advanced on the PIAA-6A quarterfinal round after topping a very determined Hempfield team who had left absolutely everything out on the floor, by a very deceiving 65-55 final score.
Needless to say, gut-wrenching losses such as the one that Hempfield had endured on Wednesday night make the words that much more difficult to muster in the immediate and cruel aftermath.
The pain in their eyes was evident as one by one the Black Knights slowly trudged out of the locker room, slowly coming to grips with the realization that their sensational season had just come to an unfortunate and abrupt ending.
“There’s nothing you can say tonight that’s gonna take away the pain,” Hempfield head coach Danny Walck said following his team out of the dressing room. “We played against a really, really good basketball team with a lot of skilled players with size and quickness,” Walck said praising the Railsplitters. “I’m just really proud of the grit of our kids… The ‘No Quit’ attitude and not just this game, but all year long,” the Black Knight head man said continuing on. “Everyone in that locker room wanted to play another game.”
Even still, the 2017-18 Black Knights can and frankly should hold their heads high given all that they were able to accomplish. And their head coach agrees.
“You have to look at body of work,” Walck said overviewing his team’s successes. “They won 24 games. It’s not going to mean a whole lot going home tonight, but maybe on down the road they’ll have a chance to look back and reflect,” the Hempfield head man proposed before saying simply, “I’m just really proud and privileged to be their coach.”
But as mentioned earlier, this comparisons between this year’s team and last year’s squad are so uniquely similar. And even with all the wins and postseason successes put the side for a moment, perhaps the biggest reason that argument holds so much merit is due to the fact that largely the same core group of Black Knights have taken to the floor each and every night over the past two seasons who have a direct and profound effect on Black Knight hoops. And not just this year mind you, but for years and years to come.
Who’s on that esteemed list you may ask that helped engineer back to back trips to the PIAA-6A Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight rounds? Well, this year’s senior class for one: Drew Groft, Anthony Alston, Ryan Moffatt, Teagan Hazel, David Martin-Robinson, and last but certainly not least, Donovan Green. And lest we not forget some key contributors from last year’s squad who have since departed in Bryan Karl and Tyler Hilton.
All in all, it’s certainly a small but exclusive group that Coach Walck holds in high regard.
“They’re right up there at the top. They set a high standard for us as a program,” Walck added while illuminating his last two ballclubs. “That’s what I’m saying about the body of work. We can talk about last year, we can even talk about two years ago when we went down to Interboro and played Chester in a similar situation.”
And perhaps most importantly, they have defined the word ‘team’ in the truest sense of the word.
“They just love to play and they love to play together. That’s the nice part about it. They share the ball and they aren’t worried about who gets credit for it. That’s why they’ve been successful.”