Although this year’s high school basketball season is still in its infancy, it’s safe to say that the Cocalico Eagles did not get off to the type of start they were hoping for thus far. Although the Eagles entered their home opener on Tuesday still winless, a closer look at Cocalico’s early season slate helps to tell the story of the gauntlet that was the Hershey Tip Off Tournament right out of the starting blocks. Although the Eagles came up short in both contests, losses to Hershey and Allentown Allen are certainly nothing to sneeze at. If Allen sounds like a familiar name, it should. Remember for a moment that the Canaries were knocked off in the opening round of states last year. A victory that helped propel the Black Knights to their memorable run through the state tournament. But with lessons learned from the opening week of the season with an added bolt of energy from playing on their home floor, Cocalico welcomed the Exeter Eagles down from Berks County for a midweek tussle. An Exeter squad that has already earned the right to be called a champion this young season as the Eagles laid claim to their own tip off tournament this past weekend.
Early on, it was apparent that this was a Cocalico outfit that was out to make amends for last weekend. The Eagles quickly jumped on top of their guests early on by running out to a 7-0 lead after a Connor Mack putback, his second bucket of the early going, as Exeter was forced to burn a timeout with 4:48 left in the opening quarter. Exeter was finally able to get on the board following the timeout as a Wes Murray lay in off the fast break gave the Eagles their first points of the ballgame. The junior forward for Exeter continued to have the hot hand over the few minutes as Murray went on to tally Exeter’s first six points of the ballgame, the last of which made it a 9-6 Cocalico lead with 2:20 to go in the opening frame.
From that point on however, the first quarter was dominated by the hometown Eagles. Inspired by a charge taken on the defensive end by senior forward Tyler Keppley, Cocalico saw their lead swell to 14-6, with three free throws from Nick Lucky being critical during that stretch. But the highlight of the quarter, and really the game for that matter, came in the last few seconds of the opening frame a ¾ court shot by sophomore guard Alex Javier found the bottom of the cup which brought Exeter within five at 14-9 once the first quarter expired.
The Cocalico lead was then cut down to four in the opening stages of the second stanza as freshman guard Anthony Wise was able to splash home a triple for Exeter with just 1:30 gone by with the score now reading 16-12. After a nice spin move in the paint by Cocalico big man Trey Griffin, Cocalico was able to get some breathing room on the scoreboard with the score now 18-12 in favor of the home team.
But Exeter was not about to let Cocalico run away and hide on this frigid night. Much in the same way that the Tyler Keppley charge taken in the first quarter seemed to inspire the Cocalico troops, a charge taken by Exeter’s junior center Anthony Zabala seemed to do the same for the visitors from Reiffton midway through the second quarter as well. Following the Zabala charge, Alex Javier went on to score five of the next seven Exeter points to make it a two point ballgame with Cocalico in front 23-21. Javier would continue on his remarkable first half performance as a jumper by the heady Exeter guard kept it at a two point margin when the opening half came to a close with Cocalico hanging on to the narrow 25-23 advantage.
Coming out of the break, Cocalico turned to their ace in the hole, Aidan Trynosky, as the sensational senior guard delivered with a trademark triple to get the second half scoring underway for Cocalico. From there, Cocalico’s lead only continued to grow as a ferocious battle inside won by Cocalico saw the possession ultimately end in a Connor Mack bucket which increased Cocalico’s lead to 34-27. The Eagle lead would then grow to double digits as a Nick Lucky trifecta made the scoreboard read 37-27 in favor of Cocalico with 4:30 left in the third, forcing Exeter to call a timeout.
As time would go on to show, the timeout called by Exeter did its job and promptly slowed down the Cocalico onslaught. After an Alex Javier 3 ball and a beautiful display of running the floor by Exeter big man Anthony Zabala, the Eagles of Exeter found themselves within seven at 39-32 with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Cocalico lead would end up being sliced down to as few as three later on as a nifty reverse finish at the tin by Exeter’s Joe Rohrbach made it a 39-36 contest in favor of Cocalico as the fourth quarter was set to begin.
After a somewhat slow start to get the fourth and final quarter underway, Cocalico’s Brad Heck was finally able to break the scoring seal as a turnaround jumper with a kiss off the glass put Cocalico back up by five with 5:30 left to go at 41-36. Once again however, Exeter was not about raise the white flag as two buckets back to back by the Eagles’ Riley Dobraniecki, his first points of the contest, trimmed Cocalico’s lead down to the slimmest of margins as 41-40 with four minutes left to go.
But Dobraniecki was not finished. Although the senior center brought Exeter back into the thick of it with a handful of buckets from the field, it was a free throw just after that that knotted things up at 41-41 with 3:07 left in the ballgame.
Now playing on a level playing field in terms of the scoreboard for the first time since the opening tip, Exeter was determined to play from the head pilot’s chair. And they were able to do just that shortly thereafter as a steal by Alex Javier ended in a trip to the foul line down on the other end as the sophomore guard proceeded to calmly knock down the pair, giving Exeter their first lead of the contest at 43-41 with just 1:49 left to go.
Luckily for the hometown patrons from Denver, their Eagle squad wasn’t through fighting on this night. With momentum clearly on Exeter’s side following the clutch free throws from Javier, Cocalico did not flinch as a Connor Mack jumper was not only good for 2 of his team high 12 points, it knotted the score back up at 43-43 with time ticking away.
With Exeter unable to manufacture anything on their ensuing possession, Cocalico had the ball back in their hands with the chance for a walkoff victory. Although it wasn’t necessarily a picture-perfect walkoff, it proved to be dramatic nonetheless as Nick Lucky drove to the cup with great determination, getting fouled in the act where the senior guard saw the first freebie crawl through the net before a timeout was called with one more remaining coming out of the break. Although Lucky’s second free throw would not have the same similar fate as the first, Connor Mack was there to save the day for Cocalico as the junior guard ran down the loose ball, securing the offensive rebound, where he would receive his turn to go to the line after getting fouled by the pursuing Exeter troops. And although this free throw would not find the bottom of the cup either, a deflection by freshman Carter Nuneville saw the ball find its way back into the hands of senior Nick Lucky. This trip to the charity stripe would prove to be more successful than the previous excursions for Cocalico as Lucky was able to knock down the pair, giving the homestanding Eagles the 46-43 cushion with .4 seconds remaining.
Exeter would have one last gasp, however the long baseball pass down the floor would be tipped away, giving Cocalico their first victory of the season 46-43 over Exeter.
Although any victory is appreciated during the rigors of the nightly grind of high school hoops, few come much sweeter than the first one of the season. Particularly after a tough pair of games to start off the season. And despite Cocalico’s 0-2 start, it’s clear that Cocalico head coach Seth Sigman enjoys this year’s team and what they can bring to the table. “We’re scrappy, which I love, and we play hard,” Sigman offered after the game. “Our scoring was spread out tonight which is a good thing for us too. Nick (Lucky) and Connor (Mack) scored for us and we got some timely baskets from other guys too,” the head man went on to add before stating matter of factly, “That is a big step we have to take this year in order to be where we want to be come February.”
NEXT UP: Cocalico will try to turn one win into two on Wednesday night as the Eagles make the trek up 222 to pay a visit to the Wilson Bulldogs before opening up Section 2 play against Garden Spot on Friday night back home in the Eagles Nest.
Exeter will have off for the rest of the week before the Eagles get their next chance to regroup against their fourth Lancaster Lebanon League team in as many games as the Eagles will play host to Warwick in a Saturday afternoon matinee.