When high school hoops teams look up and see that the calendar has finally flipped to February, odds are that they find themselves in one of two scenarios. The first being optimistic about closing the season out on a high note while hoping to build momentum for the next season, while others are fortunate enough to experience the exact opposite. For a select few, they are able to earn the right to scrap and claw their way into possible postseason berths as the remaining games dwindle down to a very small handful. For the 2017-18 ELCO Raiders, they are fortunate to find themselves in the latter.
In many ways, if one were to look at this season’s schedule dating back to the preseason, chances are that many would have thought that the February 2nd contest which saw ELCO traveling to Columbia would have playoff implications. And while you would have indeed be right, you may expected the roles to have been reversed.
Last season for the Columbia Crimson Tide was certainly one to go down in the annals of the historic 100 year old program. In 2017, the Tide was able to hit for the cycle. They were able to make the L-L playoffs, the District 3 playoffs, and ultimately the PIAA state playoffs. And although the Tide came up short in each one of those tournaments last winter, excitement remained at a fever-pitch just east of the mighty Susquehanna this winter as a bevy of returning talent was poised to come back to the Hill and take the Tide on yet another memorable ride to the postseason and beyond. But unfortunately for Columbia’s rabid and die-hard fanbase, this year would not turn out to have the same type of memorable magic behind it.
Yet even despite the fact that Columbia came into weekend sporting just a 7-11 overall record, the Tide still had plenty left in the tank to play for on Friday evening. First and foremost, Columbia had immediate aspirations of getting one of their signature home wins inside arguably the LL’s toughest gym as the Tide had yet to knockoff a Section 3 team with a .500 record or above so far this year inside the Tide’s venerable loudhouse. And while focused on the immediate here and now, Columbia also held out hope that the remaining games left on their schedule would bode well for next season and beyond as the Tide welcomes a young and talented underclassmen bunch into the fray of a revamped LL League starting next season.
As far as the ELCO Raiders were concerned, Friday night’s game proved that there was no time like the present. Coming into Friday night, the Raiders were dancing on the proverbial razor’s edge as it related to the District 3 playoffs. 10 up and 10 down record wise, ELCO found themselves just on the outside cut line of the 4A playoffs, trailing the #10 seed by a few measly percentage points. So needless to say, every opportunity the rest of the way is of the upmost importance concerning a trip to the playoffs for a crop of young Raiders who have left their mark on Section 3 this year to be sure. And once again on Friday night, ELCO used a tried and true formula to help keep their playoff hopes alive.
It’s no secret by now. These Raiders can fill it up from deep. Look no further than Friday high atop Columbia.
Although Columbia opened up the game by employing a zone defensively against ELCO, the Raiders still found the open holes. And while albeit playing at a surgical-like pace because the Tide’s 2-3 zone, the ball was certainly not “sticky” as the Raiders peppered the ball around the perimeter looking for the open looks. And sure enough, the Raiders had jumped out to a 6-2 lead over their hosts as a corner trey knocked down by Raider freshman Braden Bohannon gave ELCO its second triple of the contest at the 3:40 mark of the opening quarter. But they weren’t done yet. Not by a long shot.
The ELCO would eventually grow to 5 following yet another trifecta, this one from sophomore guard Bryce Colletti, which made it a 9-4 score in favor of the visitors from Myerstown. And even though Columbia’s super freshman Daivon Edmond would answer back with a tough bucket inside for the Tide, ELCO would counter back with another rebuttal from behind the arc as it became Blake Weary’s turn to knock down a trey as the senior guard allowed ELCO to double up Columbia 12-6 at the two minute mark of the opening quarter.
From there, the Raiders only continued to sizzle from bonus distance as yet another Bohannon 3 ball made it a 17-6 ELCO lead before the Raiders eventually put a bow on their dominating opening eight minutes, leading Columbia 19-6 after the first period.
Needing to find some sort of a spark while facing an early game hole that ELCO had thrown them in, Columbia was in need of an answer. And fast. Luckily for the Tide, they were able to find just that as Columbia opened up the second quarter with a quick 4-0 run within the first 50 seconds of the second stanza to get back within single digits at 19-10.
But from there, ELCO would have yet another answer as the Raiders promptly rattled off a 5-0 run of their own courtesy of the hoop plus the harm put up and in by Asher Kemble which was appropriately followed up with another triple from Braden Bohannon as the Raiders suddenly looked up and saw themselves in front by two touchdowns at 24-10 at the 5:45 mark of the second quarter.
Despite the fact that Columbia would continue to fight and scrap their way back under ten following an offensive rebound and subsequent 3 ball pumped in by Ajor Sawyer of the Tide, ELCO would then fight fire with fire as the Raiders proceeded to rip off a 6-0 run right back, courtesy of two triples splashed in Bryce Colleti and Evan Huey respectively which pushed the Raider lead back up to 14 at 34-20 before the first half would eventually expire with ELCO out in front 34-25.
Once the first half was finally all said and done, the stat sheet would show that the Raiders were able to fire in 8 triples throughout the game’s first 16 minutes. Well, they didn’t exactly show any signs of stopping in the second half either as a Blake Weary triple in the opening minute of the third quarter, good for the Raiders’ 10th of the ballgame, made it a 37-27 ELCO advantage in the early going of the third frame.
But yet again, Columbia was able to come roaring back. Thanks to a 5-0 run authored by 5’10” senior guard Dorian Grimes, the Crimson Tide had climbed back to within 5, seemingly within the blink of an eye as the Raiders were now firmly pushed up against the ropes.
Luckily for ELCO however, the Raiders were able to find the remedy from an old friend in their time of need. That of course being the 3 point shot.
Following the timeout, ELCO was able to dial up two more long balls as the Raiders rattled off a 10-0 emphatic answer, aided by their 10th and 11th triples of the contest as the game moved into the fourth quarter with ELCO in front and firmly in command, 47-32.
But the Raiders weren’t satisfied just yet. No, in fact the Raiders only continued to remain white-hot to start the final stanza as a 5-0 ELCO run opened the floodgates for the final eight minutes. And if you’re keeping track at home by now, ELCO’s 3 point tally had now reached a dozen following a Blake Weary trifecta as the Raiders were off and running down the homeward mile.
From there, ELCO continued to steal the show as a Ryan Woelfling triple later on in the fourth made it a 61-35 contest in favor of the visitors as the 5’10” senior guard gave the Raiders a cool baker’s dozen from behind the arc as ELCO’s only continued to set the nets ablaze.
And although Columbia would continue to show positive flashes of what is yet to come with a determined and hard-nosed effort put forth by ultra-talented freshman big man Daivon Edmond, the damage in this one had already been done as ELCO and Mitchell Gray proceeded to close things out as the 5’10” sophomore guard had a nice take to the cup late in the contest as the Raiders were able to travel home with another win in their pocket, beating Columbia 66-46 high atop The Hill.
NEXT UP: While ELCO has to first and foremost take care of their own business on Tuesday night against Northern Lebanon, forgive them if there may be a wondering eye or two in the crowd next week scouring the Twitter wire for updates on the teams that surround them in the District 3 4A standings. And if ELCO is able to get the nod into the postseason regardless of who they draw in the opening round, it’s a game and seminal moment for years to come for ELCO Raider hoops. If they are able to get into the dance this year, it would be vital as this young group would have the opportunity to gain some valuable postseason experience and all the hype and hoopla that surrounds it. After all, there’s no time like the present as the postseason is a place where ELCO appears destined to go in the next few years to come.
For Columbia, the end of this season is all about finishing things out the right way with a road win over Pequea Valley in their final game of the season coming up on Tuesday evening in Kinzers. And while this season has undoubtedly been disappointing for the Crimson Tide who had arrived to the preseason with so many high hopes, the future still appears to be on solid ground with talent such as Daivon Edmond, Nyeem Taylor, and Matt McCleary eager to take the next step in 2018-19, with countless others working their way up through the Crimson Tide pipeline. And hopefully they are able to turn things around next year because after all, the LL is a heck of a lot more fun when the Columbia Crimson Tide gets the whole town a rockin’, traveling near and far to watch their beloved program battle it out for section supremacy and a District 3 playoff spot in the process.