The good thing about playoff basketball is that it can you give matchups like L-S and Hempfield as was the case last Wednesday when the Pioneers and Black Knights squared off in the most-anticipated game of the season for the right to advance to the L-L title game opposite of Lancaster Catholic.
The bad thing about playoff basketball is that it can give you matchups like L-S and Hempfield. Why the change in tone in just one small paragraph? Easy. One team would emerge victorious while another remarkable team would be left standing along the side of the road after an unfortunate and immediate exit from the league playoffs at the conclusion of 32 minutes with both teams emptying the tank, giving it everything they possibly could.
As it relates to this specific example, the team that just so happened to come up on the short end of the stick last week would be Hempfield as the Black Knights battled tooth and nail before eventually running out of time against the eventual league champion Pioneers, 47-45 after fighting back from an early 19 point hole.
It would prove to be a loss that the Black Knights would want to make amends for sooner rather than later.
“Matter of fact coming back, there was a big conversation amongst the staff of ‘Should we bring them back into the gym?”’ Hempfield head coach Danny Walck said when describing the bus ride home from Millersville last Wednesday night. “We decided that on Thursday we needed to get back in the gym and we needed to talk about ‘What have we learned?’ If you learn from an experience like that, as hard as it is and as emotional as it is, then you haven’t failed,” Coach Walck went on to illuminate. “But if we hadn’t learned anything, then we would have failed.”
And so, with a nine day cram session in front of them, Hempfield was eager to prove that they had studied properly from the lessons that the setback to L-S taught them as they set forth on their journey to make a return trip to District 3 6A championship as the Black Knights welcomed Wilson to Landisville for a quarterfinal matchup between two heavyweights. A matchup between two programs that ooze toughness and define the word “gritty” to the nth degree.
Although the excitement that preceded the game was tempered somewhat by a frigid start that besmirched both teams shooting the rock at the beginning of the contest, Hempfield’s Ryan Moffatt would be the first to break the scoring seal on Friday evening as the 6’5” all-star senior forward stuck a 3 ball to give the home-standing Black Knights the 3-0 advantage just two minutes into the contest.
And with the Black Knights’ backline D resembling that of an impenetrable brick wall, the visitors from West Lawn were simply unable to find the living easy against the stingy Black Knight defense from point blank range, coming away with nothing but one and done opportunities with Hempfield being able to build upon their lead as a result as was evidenced by an Anthony Alston layup in transition which made it a touchdown advantage for Hempfield as Wilson was forced to call a timeout and regroup, still scoreless to that point, trailing 7-0 with 3:34 left in the opening stanza.
But fortunately for those that had made the trip down from Berks County, the Bulldogs were able to find their man with the plan as sensational freshman guard Stevie Mitchell proceeded to bring the Dawgs back within a deuce following his own personal 5-0 run out of the timeout as Mitchell was able to single-handedly cut into Hempfield’s cushion at 7-5 with three minutes still left in the first.
However with momentum start to tilt in the direction of the visitors, Hempfield’s bruising senior forward, David Martin-Robinson, was able to put a stop to that as the incoming Temple Owl football signee was able to smash home his first of the three dunks on the night with an emphatic tomahawk flush which made it a 10-6 Black Knight lead nearing the final minute of the opening period.
Yet Mr. Mitchell would prove to have other ideas regarding Hempfield being able to run away and hide as the freshman played well beyond his years throughout his first eight minutes of a District 3 playoff road game as the Bulldogs’ special 6’1” freshman guard was able to put up nine points, helping narrow Hempfield’s lead down to 12-10 at the conclusion of the quarter with a late jumper popped in the lane.
Once the second frame got underway however, Hempfield was not only able to play with the lead, they were able to build upon it.
Aided by a sweet baseline J stroked home by David Martin-Robinson which put the Black Knights up by a half dozen at 16-10 just 1:20 into the quarter, Martin-Robinson was able to take his game out from beyond the 3 point arc by burying a trifecta which made it a 19-10 Black Knight lead, effectively serving as the exclamation point of Hempfield’s initial second quarter punch.
Yet even though Wilson was able to cut back into the Hempfield lead after a pair of Stevie Mitchell freebies from the charity stripe made it a 19-14 ballgame, the Black Knights would have an answer for that as a trademark, patient, Hempfield offensive possession ended with success as a sweet David Martin-Robinson dish to Ryan Moffatt standing alone in the corner upped the Black Knight lead to eight as Moffatt sunk a 3 ball from the corner pocket.
From there, Hempfield would see their lead swell to double digit proportions as an Adam Wernoch layup in transition gave the Knights a 24-14 lead with Wilson having to call another timeout, in the midst of yet another scoring drought at the 3:38 mark of the opening half.
And just like they were able to do following their first timeout of the ballgame, Wilson was able to author another rebuttal to the early Hempfield salvo.
Aided by solid contributions put forth by 6’4” senior forward Josh Figura, the Bulldogs were able to close the gap down to five at 24-19, only to see Hempfield’s dynamic two-headed monster switch roles at the conclusion of the first half as a Ryan Moffatt laser to David Martin-Robinson inside just before the second quarter horn sent Hempfield into the intermission with the 26-19 advantage.
Coming out of the halftime break, one thing quickly became apparent–Hempfield had discussed that a return trip to Hershey’ Giant Center was just sixteen minutes away. And with an added jolt of enthusiasm in their step, the Black Knights were able to push Wilson down an even greater hole to climb out of.
You things were bound to get off to a good start when 6’1” senior guard Anthony Alston was able to drain a floater in the lane on the Black Knights’ opening possession of the half which helped set the tone over the ensuing few minutes.
It all would eventually culminate with a strong take to the rack by David Martin-Robinson who would go on to finish with team-high scoring honors by posting a yeoman’s 20 point night of work, putting the final punctuation on Hempfield’s 6-0 sprint out of the gates, as the Black Knights saw their lead grow to 32-19 at the 5:10 checkpoint of the third frame.
From there however, Wilson’s Logan Horst was able to counter that with a blitzkreig of his own as the 6’1” senior forward rattled off the game’s next five points, trimming the Hempfield lead down to eight at 32-24 with just over three minutes left remaining on the third quarter clock.
But Hempfield would go on to play the role of unaccommodating hosts from there as the Black Knights would not let the ‘Dawgs get any closer over the next few minutes, as evidenced by a 4-0 Black Knight march which was sparked by an Elijah Washington take to the tin before being capped off in the most dramatic of fashion thanks to a steal and subsequent thunderous dunk by David Martin-Robinson as the Black Knights went back up by a dozen at 36-24.
And although Wilson would scrape and claw their way back into things by scoring the next three, Hempfield’s Teagan Hazel was there for the offensive board and stick-back, pushing the Black Knights back up over the double digit hill, making it a 38-27 lead with just 1:20 left in the third.
As it would turn out, Hazel’s bucket would help write the preface for the final few minutes of the quarter as Hempfield proceeded to push Wilson away even further as the third quarter continued to wind down.
In amongst that very stretch included a steal and nifty Euro-step finish by Elijah Washington before a Ryan Moffatt tip in, coming just before the third quarter horn, would increase the Hempfield lead to a dozen at 42-30 heading into the final eight minutes.
However with the chocolate so close they could almost taste it, Hempfield wasn’t about to show any signs of stopping.
Never was that more apparent than with Elijah Washington’s back door cut within the flow of the Hempfield offense as the 5’11” junior guard’s bucket from close range put the Knights up by a baker’s dozen at 45-32 with Hempfield just six minutes away from formally booking that trip back to Hershey.
But that would prove to be more than enough time for Hempfield, in particular David Martin-Robinson, to offer one last signature moment in his final career game at Buchannan Gymnasium as the do-it-all Black Knight senior threw down one last highlight-reel dunk of the night, dramatically making it a 50-38 Hempfield lead with just 2:20 left to go.
And although Wilson’s superb freshman phenom Stevie Mitchell would go on sink two more free throws from the foul line which got the Bulldogs back within ten at 50-40, his 23 point effort would prove not to be enough on this night as a Drew Groft free throw down the final stretch proved to be a fitting conclusion as the 6’ senior forward helped send Hempfield back to Giant Center with a 59-49 wire to wire victory over the always-scrappy Bulldogs from Wilson.
A Wilson team that would make even the most-seasoned of coaches a little timid to see in their bracket.
“They’re so well-coached,” Coach Walck said praising his team’s opposition on Friday night. “They’re so deliberate that if they get a lead on you, it can be single digits but it feels like double digits because they’re so disciplined on the offensive end,” Hempfield’s head man went on to say of the Bulldogs and their signature offense. “You don’t want to find yourself trailing (Wilson) because then you have major problems. We said that we have to start fast and finish strong and we were able to accomplish that.”
NEXT UP: From here, the dream of playing at the palatial Giant Center becomes a reality once again for Hempfield as the Black Knights made good on snagging their second consecutive trip the District 3 semifinal round with their Friday night triumph over Wilson after effectively regathering themselves following the sharp sting of last week’s L-S defeat.
An achievement certainly not lost on the Hempfield head coach.
“I’m just really thrilled for this group of seniors because they’ve invested so much,” Coach Walck went on to add in the glow following Friday night’s victory. “As a coach, you know what these guys have done… I have no eligibility left but I can still come back and coach another one. They can’t go back and play that again so I’m just really thrilled for them. Very thrilled for them.”
And while Hempfield will eventually have to also put this one aside while making preparations for their semifinal round opponent in Chambersburg, a team that emerged victorious over District 3 blueblood Harrisburg on Friday evening, this group of Black Knights have shown their ability to be quick and studious learners—an invaluable trait that makes up only the best of teams this time of year. So it really should be no coincidence that here the Black Knights stand once again on the precipice of making it back to back appearances in the district finals as Hempfield readies for a 7pm tipoff on Tuesday against the Trojans of Chambersburg inside Giant Center. A task that is certainly holding serve at the very top of the Black Knights’ To Do list.
Although Wilson fell short of making their goal of playing in the Giant Center this season, make no mistake about it, there is still plenty of meat on the bone for the Bulldogs left to chew this year. On Tuesday night, Wilson will get right back at it when they meet the aforementioned Cougars of Harrisburg in a consolation semifinal game with state playoff ramifications with a tip time set for 5pm inside Milton Hershey’s beautiful Spartan Center.