Last year when the Donegal Indians met the Daniel Boone Blazers on the basketball court, both programs were desperately itching for a win to help close out frustrating seasons in which the wins were hard to come by. Hit the fast forward button to 364 days later and the story is a little bit different. At least as far as Donegal is concerned.
Aided by a veteran group and a new blood transfusion if you will in the form of longtime LL head coach Kevin Dolan who took over the head chair this season after an absence away from the game last year, and the Indians have seen a remarkably dramatic transformation in such a short span of time.
How dramatic you ask? Well, after a year in which Donegal came away victorious just one time, the Indians have done an about face already posting 10 victories this season, with their last being of great importance as Friday night’s win over Solanco saw the Indians climb into the #16 slot. Why is the number 16 so sweet to the Indians? 16 just so happens to be the last ticket into the dance of the District 3 5A field.
And with the season coming down the final furlong, every game is to be treated like precious gold for those specific teams that are right on the edge. It just so happened that Donegal’s next assignment following the crucial Solanco victory would come just a few hours later when the Daniel Boone Blazers came calling from the eastern edge of Berks County for a Saturday afternoon tussle against the home-standing Indians.
It didn’t take long for Donegal to demonstrate that the good vibes they had earned from Friday night’s triumph were still alive and well once again the very next day. Case in point, Donegal’s underrated senior floor leader Elijah Swanigan getting loose and burying a corner 3 within the first 30 seconds to give Donegal the early 3-0 advantage.
But Daniel Boone would come roaring back following the Swanigan trey as the Blazers proceeded to score the game’s next 5 points and after a 3 ball knocked down by Boone’s Carson Zuber, Donegal’s early lead had quickly evaporated as the Blazers had climbed into the lead at 5-3 at the 5:25 mark of the opening quarter.
But if there was a key catalyst behind Donegal’s performance on Saturday afternoon, it was undoubtedly their defense shouldering the load. Midway through the first period, Donegal slapped the press game on the visiting Blazers and a quicker, more frenetic pace was generated as a result. Yet even though Donegal was making Boone play much faster than the Blazers would have liked, Boone stuck to the script and would go on to regain the lead following a take to the tin by Zuber to make it a 9-7 affair in favor of the visitors from Birdsboro.
In fact, the Daniel Boone lead would only grow from there as the Blazer lead would swell to as many as 5 before an Abdalla Ibrahim triple quickly put a stop to that as the 6’3” senior got the Indians back within a pair at 14-12 before the Blazers would go on to close the first quarter with the 16-12 lead.
As mentioned, Donegal’s calling card on Saturday was far and away their defense. And while the Indian D was air-tight for much of the contest, it was particularly stifling in the second quarter. How stifling you ask? Let’s just say it’s pretty rare to pitch a shutout in high school basketball. But it would be an accomplishment that Donegal would be able to claim in the second frame on Saturday afternoon.
And while Donegal was getting it done in spades down on the defensive end, the Indians’ offense was far from pedestrian in it’s own right as evidenced by Avery Walker’s two handed monstrous throwdown which got the home crowd into a frenzy as the wiry 6’ senior guard scored Donegal’s first field goal, albeit very late in the second quarter, to give the lead back to the Indians at 17-16 before the Indians would go on to add one more just before the horn to go into the locker room with the 19-16 advantage.
New half, same Donegal defense. In fact, Daniel Boone was unable to receive any respite from their field goal drought until the 3:15 mark of the third quarter as Dylan Walker was able to finish with a floater in the lane to cut the Donegal lead down to a sizeable 5 points considering the offensive woes that the Blazers had been experiencing against the active Donegal defense for a quarter plus.
But just when it appeared that Daniel Boone might be able to rid themselves of the frustration that beset them to that point in the contest, Avery Walker was on the scene to answer right back as the all-star caliber senior guard had the rebuttal in the form of a 3 ball on the ensuing Donegal offensive trip as the Indian lead had quickly built itself back up to an 8 point advantage.
From there, Donegal would see their lead increase to double digits as a pair of freebies knocked down at the charity stripe by way of senior guard Elijah Swanigan gave Donegal the 30-20 lead before the Blazers would counter that with a 4-0 blitz authored by Dylan Walker as the Blazers had climbed back to within half a dozen at 30-24 with the game set to head into the final eight minutes.
Despite the fact that Donegal’s effort on the defensive end had largely been the difference to that point in the ballgame, things did seem to get somewhat skittish start in the opening stages of the fourth quarter as Chaunce Johnson was able to work himself off a curl cut for a sweet knockdown jumper to get Boone within four at 30-26 within the first minute of the final period.
But from there out, Donegal would be able to weather the storm as the Indians proceeded to finish the game off with a 17-10 run the rest of the way and keep the Blazers at bay, thanks to in large part to their performance from the free throw line as Donegal would go on to finish off Daniel Boone, keeping their playoff hopes alive by virtue of their 47-36 triumph on Saturday afternoon.
NEXT UP: As is the case with most teams in their position this late in the season, the stakes only intensify from here for Donegal. And while the Indians were able to receive a boost to their overall district seed following their win on Saturday, jumping into the #15 slot at the time of posting on Saturday night, everything comes to a head for the Indians on Tuesday evening as they welcome rival E-Town into town for a monster game in both the LL and District playoff races.
For both E-Town and Donegal, Tuesday night means everything. As mentioned, the top 16 teams earn a bid to the District 3 5A postseason tournament. Donegal just so happens to maintain the #15 line, while E-Town is currently holding serve at #17. And just for an added dash of heat, the Bears also have an LL playoff tournament invite hanging in the balance going into Tuesday’s contest as well. Needless to say, if you’re a fan of drama, rivalries, and some good ole’ fashion high stakes high school hoops, Mount Joy is the place to be at 7:30pm on Tuesday evening.
For Daniel Boone, the Blazers will look to regroup as they make plans for their game of the season, finishing off with the Eagles of Exeter.