Let’s be honest for a quick second, there are a lot of adjectives that could still be applied to describe Hempfield’s spectacular postseason run from just one short year ago. Not the least of which include the word “unforgettable.”
No doubt about it, the Black Knights’ journey through the postseason last year was filled with plenty of memorable peaks and valleys along the way….And those only need be limited to just the L-L and District 3 tournaments alone.
Going back to last season’s L-L tournament, Hempfield and Lancaster Catholic battled it out, both literally and figuratively over the course of 32 minutes, with the Crusaders coming out on top to advance to the league title fight by virtue of a 35-19 blue-collar victory at Penn Manor. And yes, that score is no misprint.
And although the abrupt exit from the league playoffs could have easily derailed their other postseason dreams, the Black Knights were certainly able to right the ship and then some as Hempfield was able to do an about face, advancing all the way to the inaugural District 3 6A championship game where the tenacious squad from Landisville would eventually fall short to arguably the best program in all of Central Pennsylvania as the Harrisburg Cougars were able to topple the Knights, claiming their 12th District 3 title in the process.
However the DNA of last year’s Hempfield team would quickly be defined as one that could and would always bounce right back up off the canvas.
Look no further than Hempfield’s opening round state tournament game against Allentown Allen over at nearby Warwick for further proof of that.
In a game that seemed like it would take the form of the quintessential “Irresistible Force vs Immovable Object” theme, the Black Knights were able to keep the clamps down on the Canaries’ high-flying attack, snatching an upset victory that sent tremors across the state as Allen, one of last season’s favorites to possibly make it all the way to Hershey, was knocked out on the opening night of the tournament.
And all things considered, you must forgive the Black Knights and their fans if they suddenly came down with an undeniable feeling of déjà vu when they took a look at this season’s postseason roadmap as well.
Just as they had in 2017, Hempfield found themselves right back in a familiar spot as the Knights made the short trip over to Penn Manor for a date in the league semifinals, this time against arguably the best team in the entire league in the L-S Pioneers.
And just like one year ago, the Black Knights found themselves on the short end of a hard-fought contest, falling short to the upstart Pioneers by a 47-45 count in what was the most-anticipated L-L playoff game that had taken place for quite some time around these parts.
Fast forward to the 2018 District 3 tournament and Hempfield was once again able to show off their mettle and moxie as the Black Knights threw all caution to the win, advancing all the way to the District semifinals before they would once again fall short of claiming gold medals, falling to Chambersburg 52-35.
And just as they had on opening night of the 2017 state playoffs, Hempfield made the short trip over to Warwick to do battle with an ultra-athletic ballclub hoping for the same type of magic they were able to use in their win over Allentown Allen last year as they prepared to face off with one of the best programs in all the state, that being the Coatesville Red Raiders.
And for a game that had so many eerie undertones to it, Hempfield head coach Danny Walck was sure to remind his troops to draw upon last year’s experiences. Even down to the tiniest of details including dressing the very same locker room.
“Yes, because you’re playing athletic teams and going against really good players, skilled players, and they have a lot of complimentary parts,” Coach Walck said harkening back to last year’s game against Allen in terms of finding similarities to their opposition on Saturday night. “So it’s like, ‘Go back and look at that if you want to have success.”’
Coming out, it quickly became apparent that Hempfield would be looking to their old reliable formula of slowing the pace down to help put the number of Coatesville run-out opportunities to a bare minimum. And right on cue the Black Knights proceeded to melt away over a minute of game action on their opening possession of the contest.
And although Hempfield’s opening trip would come up empty in terms of points, their second attempt would prove to be far more successful as one of Hempfield’s main stars, senior forward David Martin-Robinson, was able to launch and connect from long range, giving the Black Knights the early 3-2 advantage just two minutes into the game.
Yet even though the ultra-quick Red Raiders were able to push the pace here and there at certain points throughout the first quarter. No more was that evidenced than by a ridiculously-athletic put-back registered by Coatesville’s stellar sophomore point guard Jhamir Brickus to put the Red Raiders up by a deuce before a dunk shortly thereafter following a steal was slammed home by 6’3” senior forward Donte Crews. And suddenly right then and there, Coatesville found themselves in possession of the early 11-7 advantage even with Hempfield largely dictating the pace.
However that ole’ Hempfield “bouncback” DNA was on full display for the remainder of the first quarter on Saturday as the Black Knights rallied back to tie things up at 11-11 following a pair of free throws cashed in by Donovan Green, only to see Coatesville score the final bucket of the opening period as the Red Raiders marched into the second stanza by virtue of the 13-11 cushion.
But just at that very moment, Hempfield suddenly decided that they no longer wished to trade volleys with arguably the best team they had faced yet this season. Instead, the Black Knights proved to everyone in the gymnasium that they had arrived in Lititz with the intention to take this game over once and for all.
The run itself started off fairly innocently with an Elijah Washington take to the cup which made things all square at 13-13 on the Black Knights’ first offensive trip of the second quarter. However it was evident that this would prove to be no ordinary run as 6’0’ junior guard Adam Wernoch proceeded to check into the contest and deliver a Titanic-sized triple which gave the lead back to Hempfield at 16-13 with 5:30 left to go in the opening half with the Red and Black clad partisans from Landisville going bonkers with excitement.
However Hempfield was not done there.
No, the second quarter Black Knight salvo would see itself morph into a 9-0 rally throughout the initial first few minutes of the second stanza before a Jhamir Brickus steal and lay in finally stopped the bleeding for Coatesville with the Red Raiders now trailing by a 20-15 count with 3:40 left in the opening half.
And although Coatesville would cut the gap down to as few as five at 21-16, Hempfield proceeded to answer back in the face of adversity, (surprise surprise) with back to back old-school three point plays authored by Anthony Alston and Donovan Green respectfully as the Black Knight senior pair pushed Hempfield’s advantage back up over the ten point bulge at 27-16 with just 1:49 left to play in the opening half.
Yet once again, a late Coatesville second quarter rally was met with the upmost resistance as an Anthony Alston triple, buried right in front of the Red Raider bench just before the horn, sent the Black Knights into the dressing room with possession of the 32-20 halftime lead.
In a word, Coatesville’s first half was frustrating—for a multitude of reasons. However the frustration would only continue to boil over from the first half into the early stages of the second half as the Red Raiders were whistled for a technical foul, sending Hempfield star senior Ryan Moffatt to the charity stripe where the 6’5” combo guard would go on to convert the pair, upping the Hempfield lead to 36-22 which only added a further dose of salt to the already-gushing Coatesville wound.
But things would only get worse before they got better for the Red Raiders. In fact, four more Black Knights points were added to the scoreboard before Coatesville was forced to burn yet another timeout as C-Ville looked up and saw themselves trailing 40-22 with 5:15 left in the third.
Fortunatley for those that had made the trip westbound on US Route 30 into Lititz on Saturday evening, the Red Raiders found their go-to-guy with the game now residing at it’s most critical juncture as Division 1 recruit Tyrel Bladen went on to score six straight Red Raider points as the 6’9” towering senior forward helped narrow the gap with stellar play under the cup to help make it a 42-28 affair with now 3:15 left to play in the third frame.
However with the precious element of momentum now dangerously close towards tilting in Coatesville’s favor, Hempfield was able to continue reaping the rewards from Adam Wernoch’s monstrous night as the unheralded yet talented junior guard was able to rise up and knock down a clutch jumper to stave off that ever-approaching Red Raider snowball, keeping Coatesville at arm’s length at 44-28 with over two minutes left to go in the third.
It would prove to be a bucket which would help turn momentum back over to Hempfield’s bench as the third quarter clock would eventually expire with the Black Knights carrying the 46-36 lead with them into the game’s final eight minutes although nearly everyone inside the jam-packed gym felt like Coatesville still had yet to take their best shot.
And so, with Coatesville now staring at the harsh reality of having their special season possibly coming to an end after the very first night of the state tournament, the Red Raiders proceeded to turn up the dial to start the final period.
Aided by one of the biggest foul shots you will ever see—one that just so happened to give sensational sophomore guard Jhamir Brickus 1,000 career points, yes that too is not a misprint, the Red Raider deficit was closed down to a manageable nine at 46-37 with 6:45 left to go.
And that’s when the rally started.
From there, Coatesville continued to poke and prod their way back into the thick of things as a traditional three point play by the aforementioned Brickus sliced Hempfield’s lead to eight at 50-42, before a steal and layup by Dapree Bryant keep the margin still at eight with the score now standing at 52-44 with 4:30 still to play.
However just as they had done all night long, Hempfield continued to have the answer key to whatever questions Coatesville would throw at them.
Perhaps no play was as big in the entire game as Anthony Alston’s putback through contact after securing the loose pill following a scrum as the 6’1” senior guard gave Hempfield the 58-46 lead with three minutes and change left to go with the Black Knight fans giving their ear-shattering roar of approval in response.
But as is the case so often in big time basketball, you had to expect that Coatesville wasn’t about to go down without a fight.
And right on cue, the Red Raiders came roaring back, pushing the Black Knights’ backs up against the ropes as a gigantic 3 ball cashed in by junior guard Aaron Young suddenly closed the gap down to six at 58-52 with just 1:40 left to play.
However Hempfield continued to have the ultimate show-stopper on Saturday night at Warwick as senior guard Ryan Moffatt simply was on another level in terms of his free throw shooting prowess among other things.
On the evening, the all-star senior guard was able to tally an eye-popping 21-24 night from the charity stripe, including one following the Young 3 ball, which helped keep Coatesville at bay as the Black Knights increased their lead to a half dozen at 59-53 with 1:10 still showing on the clock.
Yet with the Red Raiders needing to answer back and pronto, luck was unfortunately not on C-Ville’s side as an empty trip on the offensive end led to even more frustration as Coatesville was dinged with their second technical foul of the evening, this one coming at the absolute worst of times.
From there, even more Ryan Moffatt freebies from the charity stripe helped close things out as Moffatt’s game-high 29 point effort proved to be more than enough to help send Hempfield into the second round as the Black Knights advanced past an ultra-talented Coatesville bunch, 66-53.
“I didn’t think that clock could go fast enough,” Hempfield head coach Danny Walck said with a smile and an exhale following his team’s magnificent performance on Saturday night. “Our guys followed the gameplan to a T. We knew that (Coatesville) was going to bring that pressure. It’s hard to simulate in practice,” Coach Walck added, acknowledging Coatesville’s trademark up-tempo style of play. “It’s different whenever you’re out there and it’s coming at you. There was no lead that was going to be big enough.”
And even though Hempfield was tested time and again on Saturday night, their various leads throughout would indeed prove to be big enough as the Black Knights continued to show the poise and grittiness of a team playing like it has no desires whatsoever of turning their uniforms in any time soon as Hempfield was able to turn away a pesky Coatesville squad at nearly every turn Saturday evening. A feat that no doubt serves the Black Knights well considering they are now one of only 16 teams still with the opportunity to play basketball in the state of Pennsylvania at the 6A level.
NEXT UP: With their win on Saturday night, Hempfield shifts their focus and attention directly towards the Lincoln High Rail Splitters from just outside of Philadelphia with a trip to the PIAA Elite 8 riding on the line Wednesday night at a site and time yet to be determined. And if you think Hempfield is going to revel in the spoils of this victory for any great length of time, think again.
“Will we start working tonight? We possibly could,” Walck said regarding the scout for their midweek affair. “The latest we would start working on them would be tomorrow morning. But this is this ‘madness.’ This is why you work so hard.”
And speaking of working hard, it truly takes a team effort to compete and advance at this stage of the game. A task that simply would not have been possible had it not been for the key contributions put forth by the tandem of Adam Wernoch and Ronnie Swantner on Saturday night. Two unsung heroes who were able to register big time games that were certainly not lost on Coach Walck.
“Can we win that game without them? No,” Walck said without hesitation when speaking on the junior guard duo of Wernoch and Swantner. “That’s why you have to stay prepared and when you’re number is ready, you’ve got to stay connected,” Walck went on to add. “When you’re going through the scouting report, stay connected because when you get put in there you need to know who (Jhamir Brickus) is, you need to know who (Dapree Bryant) is, you need to know our schemes and our plan and they played right on point tonight.”
For Coatesville, although Saturday night’s was without question disappointing to say the least, the Red Raiders can look out to the not too distant future and see big things likely on the horizon given the return of perhaps the two best players in all of the Chest-Mont League in Jhamir Brickus and Dapree Bryant respectively. Both of whom will enter next season in just their junior campaigns with plenty of miserable nights left to disperse on those that have the unfortunate task of lining up against them.