There’s simply no denying it. There’s just something different in the air when rivals get together that can make things a little more shall we say, “hectic.” If you need validation, look no further than the first Warwick and Manheim Township game contested this year for proof of that.
Yes indeed. The last time that Warriors and Streaks met on the hardwood just four weeks ago, the two backyard neighbors played an all-time classic, trading haymakers with one another until the Township prevailed as the last one standing in the ring as the Blue Streaks went on to claim the first battle in The 501 War with a dramatic 89-85 four overtime battle royale. And while both the Warriors and Blue Streaks had their work cut out for them as far as replicating anything close to the duel that the two waged back on January 12th, they both would be up for the challenge one more time as Township loaded the bus for their shortest ride of the season, venturing into Lititz for the Warriors’ final game of the season. A final game which the Warriors knew full well would likely be their sweetest of all victories during the 2017-18 campaign should they be able to hand Township a loss before riding off into the offseason sunset.
While Warwick was prepping for their final performance of the season, the same could not be said for Manheim Township. Not by a long shot.
You see, the Streaks on the other hand were just entering the formative stages of a busy week set to kick off with Township slated to play three games in a four day span, the last of which will be Friday’s LL League playoff play-in game against a team still yet to determined hailing from the Section 2 ranks.
And while these next door neighbors didn’t quite play over the span of four overtimes on Tuesday night, they were still able to deliver one more instant classic.
For Warwick, much of their success this season has been driven by their propensity to light it up from bonus distance. After just five seconds into the contest on Tuesday, Warwick was up to their usual tricks yet again. Clayton Mohler, the Warriors’ 5’11” senior guard was the one who got the party started as Mohler buried a trifecta before the patrons even had a chance to get into their seats, putting Warwick up 3-0 after the early strike.
But Township would be undeterred in the face of Warwick’s early swing as the Blue Streaks answered right back by going on an 8-0 flurry which was capped off by a pair of Tyler Crespo freebies from the charity stripe which put the visitors from Neffsville back in front 8-3 right around the 6 minute mark of the opening period.
Despite the fact that Warwick found themselves in an early game hole, they knew the remedy to cure their ills. And lo and behold, their trusty 3 point barrage helped them survive the early Township salvo.
This time, it was another senior, 5’11” senior guard Dylan Zoccolo who mixed himself in the fray as the crowd-favorite donning #0 drilled a straight-on trifecta to cut the MT lead down to just a deuce at 8-6 with the home crowd now fully electrified.
Even though Township now found themselves with an unrelenting Warwick team now right on their heels, the Streaks stuck to the gameplan and were rewarded for doing so as a corner 3 knocked down by junior guard Brendan Mellott allowed the Streaks to then double up Warwick 12-6 at the 4:35 mark of the opening stanza.
But yet again, Mr. Zoccolo would have something to say about that. In fact, it would prove to be a little dose of déjà vu as Zoccolo fired in another trifecta which again cut the deficit down to just two at 16-14 with the opening quarter now quickly winding down, just outside of one minute remaining.
When the first quarter finally did expire, it showed the visiting Blue Streaks in front by a half dozen, 20-14.
If the Warriors were to pull off the upset on this Tuesday night, the 3 point game needed to remain an ally all the way throughout. Check and mate as far as the first quarter was concerned and while you’re at it, just go ahead and tally another check mark next to the second quarter box as well. Need proof? How about Colby Martin’s corner trey which got Warwick back within four at 22-18 just 45 seconds into the second period.
From there, the 3 ball remained soaking-wet for Warwick as Dylan Zoccolo was able to knock down his third triple of the half to slice the MT lead down to four before going on to have a sweet dish to freshman Joey McCracken on a later offensive trip in transition to get the home-standing Warriors within a bucket at 27-25 near the midway point of the quarter.
But from that point on, Township was able to seize control. Playing behind a physical, dominating, and just plain bruising front line, the Blue Streaks were able to not only increase their lead, but also push Warwick back to arm’s length as well. In fact, the MT cushion grew to as many as eight following a Cameron Mulcavage bucket, his first of the contest to that point, as MT’s 6’4” senior forward put the Streaks in front 33-25 with the second quarter now under the 3 minute checkpoint.
From there, the Township advantage would swell to double digit proportions as a theft and subsequent lay in by MT’s Hilton Ridley put the Blue Streaks in command 35-25 with the game now fast approaching intermission. When the game did reach that halftime break, the newly installed WHS scoreboards showed Township on top of Warwick 37-27 as the Streaks were able to put the finishing touches on a 10-2 blitz to close the opening half.
Yet even though Warwick was able to get the game back inside single figures in the early going of the second half, Township’s Tyler Crespo was there to say “not so fast” as the 5’9” junior guard splashed a corner 3 in front of the Warwick student section to push the MT lead back up to ten at 41-31.
From that point on however, the third quarter was dominated by one figure in particular. Warwick’s 6’5” senior big man Nate Martin.
On the ensuing possession following the Greiner triple, Martin showed off his offensive repertoire by promptly stepping out from behind the 3 point arc to bury the triple which gave the Warwick fans a new and refreshed jolt of energy. But Martin simply wasn’t simply done there. In fact, the outgoing senior donning #32 continued on a torrid pace in his final high school game by going on to author the last six Warrior third quarter points to set the mood and create the tension for the final eight minutes with Township holding on to the slim 44-41 advantage.
Once the fourth quarter got underway, an impromptu 3 point shooting contest suddenly broke out. First to the stage was Warwick’s Colby Martin as the junior guard splashed home one of his three triples on the evening to get the Warriors back within a bucket at 46-44 at the 6:51 mark. From there, junior guard Will Greiner was able to offer the rebuttal for Township only to see yet another junior, this time Warwick’s Ryan Shirk, come back with one his own as the back and forth battle only intensified.
And although Township seemed to always have the answer to whatever Warwick could throw at them, things undoubtedly got a little tense as Nate Martin was able to continue his stellar swan song with a nifty hook in the lane to knot things up between the two rivals at 52-52.
From there, things got even a little more hairy for MT as Ryan Shirk got loose from the perimeter once again as the 6’2” junior guard immediately pumped in another 3, this one giving the lead back to Warwick at 56-54. A lead which Warwick had not enjoyed since the opening quarter of play.
If you’re sensing a theme here of juniors perhaps stealing one of the leading roles on senior night, you’d be correct in your assumptions. In fact, it was another junior, Township’s Brendan Mellott, who would counter the late Warwick run with a 4-0 charge of his own to give the lead back to the Streaks with the game most definitely up for grabs with time ticking down.
Ironically, for as much as damage as Ryan Shirk was inflicting on the Streaks from behind the arc, the Warrior junior guard then stepped inside the 3 point arc to offer his next masterpiece as Shirk was rewarded with the hoop plus the harm with the game now inside the 2:00 minute mark as Shirk proceeded to knock down the freebie that comes with it as the Warriors were able to surge back in front 59-58 following Shirk’s old-fashioned three point play at the 1:39 mark of the final quarter.
Another moment, another sensational junior stepping onto center stage.
With all the momentum now sitting firmly on the Warwick bench, Township turned to their heady and battle-tested guard Tyler Crespo to help show them the way. And wouldn’t you know it, Crespo was able to do exactly that.
With his team trailing late, Crespo put his head and drove hard to the tin where he came away with the go-ahead bucket to make it 60-59 Blue Streaks with Warwick needing an answer.
And they nearly got it right away as a nice baseline drive by the Warriors had everything but the finish as the Warwick lay in danced on the rim before ultimately falling victim to gravity before it could go through the nylon net as Township took over once again following the defensive board.
However as fate would have it, Warwick would have a few more chances.
After Township was able to snag the defensive rebound, the Streaks walked down to the other end before coming up empty on the front end of the 1-1, giving the ball back to Warwick. And although Warwick go back and look for their safety blanket to work it’s magic just one more time, the 3 point shot was nothing but unrequited love down the stretch as the late Warrior try on a potential game-winning 3 went begging with MT being able to secure yet another defensive board, walking down to the other end yet again for free throws with just a handful of seconds left to play.
From there, Township junior Tyler Vicidomini was able to close things out in style as the 6’6” big man proceeded to calmly knock down 2-2 from the charity stripe, finishing with a team-high 14 points on the night, to put the Streaks up by 3, 62-59 with Warwick having to travel the length of the floor.
And although they would certainly give it a valiant effort, the last chance heave from Warwick was just off the mark, giving the hard-fought victory to Manheim Township as the Blue Streaks moved to 1-0 to start their busy week, besting the Warriors 62-59.
Sometimes in losses such as the one that Warwick experienced on Tuesday night, the pill can be extremely bitter to swallow. But as far as Warwick third year head coach Chris Christensen is concerned, there were certainly positives that will make this a memorable senior night for quite some time no matter what the outcome. “Even in a loss, I thought it was a pretty special night for some people,” Christensen said after the white-knuckle affair. “Having Nate Martin be able to score like that and for Dylan (Zoccolo) to come in knock down 3 threes in the first half, it was fun.” Just two of the six special seniors that have left their own unique, positive imprint on the Warwick hoops program.
“It’s tough. You’re going to miss people,” Christensen reiterated on Tuesday night. “Obviously it’s not the win you wanted at the end of the year but there’s a bigger picture to it. To see guys and how much they’ve grown for three years, it’s pretty special no matter what happens.”
NEXT UP: For Manheim Township, it’s time for another bus ride. This time the Blue Streaks will head northward again, albeit for a much longer trip as MT is tentatively scheduled to do battle with Lebanon on the Cedars’ senior night on Wednesday night despite a pesky winter storm lurking in the distance. But no matter what day the Streaks ultimately line up against the Cedars, it will only mark the halfway point of a busy week that’s only just beginning as the Streaks have a date in the aforementioned LL play in game tentatively scheduled for Friday evening.
Tuesday night on the other hand marked the end of the line for Warwick. And although the Warriors were only able to come away with just six victories in the 2017-18 campaign, the gang from Lititz without question put fear into their opponents this season, especially with their ability to light it up from deep. Just part of the reason that Coach Christensen is clearly enthusiastic about the next chapter yet to be written in Warwick Boys Basketball.
“We bring back a lot of guys with a lot scoring and a lot of experience,” the head Warrior said listing the positives when evaluating the long-range forecast of his program. “I know they’re excited. We’ve talked a little bit about goals and what needs to be done in the offseason,” Christensen went on to add. “We have big goals for next season with the new section… I think you’re going to see something from the Warwick Warriors next year.”