The playoffs. One simple phrase that can pack quite the punch. For some, offseason aspirations of playing in the postseason have already been squelched, if not already in serious jeopardy for others. And while we have to wait until mid-February to formally kickoff the postseason in L-L Boys Basketball, Wednesday night at Lancaster Mennonite promised to be more than a bountiful appetizer of what was to come when the Blazers welcomed the neighboring L-S Pioneers into their loud house for a matchup between the two section title hopefuls.
For the mighty Pioneers who hail from Lampeter, the 2017-18 season has seen pretty much nothing but smooth sailing amid the white-capped choppy waters of Section 2. Coming into the midweek, L-S had rightful ownership of a 7-1 overall record, posting an average margin of 24 points in their victories. A list of victories which included impressive triumphs over Lancaster Catholic, Garden Spot, in addition to capturing the Middletown Holiday Tournament to boot. But even with all of their successes this season thus far to date, the Pioneers did have one hiccup this season, dropping a home contest to E-Town in the hyphen bowl. A loss which still haunts L-S in the sense that it currently keeps the Pioneers off the #1 line in the Section 2 standings despite their impressive start.
As far as Lancaster Mennonite is concerned, it’s looked like business as usual. When assessing the last half decade, it’s hard to find a program around these parts with a much better resume than the Blazers. A laundry list of recent accomplishments that includes trips to the last five league playoffs, the last three district playoffs, and a spot in the dance of all dances, the PIAA state tournament, three of the last four seasons. And although we haven’t even started to think about the finish line just yet, the Blazers appear to be on a direct path towards punching tickets to a handful of postseason tournaments, possibly hanging some banners along the way.
After getting out to a 2-2 start to usher in the campaign, the Blazers have been on a tear ever since, storming through Section 3 play with an undefeated mark thus far, winning by an eye-popping average of 31 points per contest. And just for good measure, the Blazers have already earned the right to be called champions this season as Mennonite traveled over to the West Shore and took care of Twin Valley and Boiling Springs respectively to go home with some early-season hardware in the Mechanicsburg Holiday Tournament.
So, all the pieces seemed to be there. This one figured to be a playoff-type game and boy did it deliver.
Playing in front of a raucous crowd supporting both sides, Mennonite’s Roman Ali would be the one to break the scoring seal on this night as the 6’3” senior wing splashed a triple to give the Blazers the early 3-0 advantage. But L-S would counter right back by going into 6’10” Ryan Smith. A gameplan that would prove to be greatly beneficial the entire night.
But Mennonite would be the ones to throw the first early volley in this game as a steal and finish by 5’9” junior guard Elijah Bynum coupled with an Ali lay in all culminated to a 9-3 Blazer advantage with 3:20 left in the opening stanza. But then Ryan Smith arrived to the party with bad intentions.
A 4-0 Smith run would ensue following the Ali bucket which trimmed Mennonite’s lead down to size, making it 9-7 before a trifecta dialed up from arguably the league’s best sharpshooter, L-S’ Chase Broderick, gave the Pioneers their first lead of the game at 10-9 with 1:30 left on the first quarter clock.
But LMH simply had no answer for which to contend with Ryan Smith. When the action in the first quarter had finally come to a close, it L-S was in front 16-10 with Mr. Smith already tossed in a baker’s dozen.
For as much as Ryan Smith helped lead the charge in the opening eight minutes, his teammates were to pick up the slack at the onset of the second quarter as the Pioneers began to distance themselves from their hosts.
Following an old-fashioned three point play authored by L-S junior guard Zach Kingsley, a strong drive to the cup by Peyton Denlinger followed suit and the Pioneers had suddenly opened up a 13 point bulge on the scoreboard.
From there on out, L-S would be able to keep Mennonite at arm’s length the rest of the way in the opening half with the game being played right around a 12 window for the remainder of the half. Ironically, 12 points would be prove to be the deficit exactly following Elijah Bynum’s triple just before the horn which made it a 35-23 Pioneer lead. Also in it’s own ironic way, 23 just so happened to also be the first half point total for one Ryan Smith.
Not much then changed in the third quarter of play concerning a Mennonite dip into the Pioneer advantage. L-S kept feeding Ryan Smith with post touches inside early and often and the talented and well-rounded supporting cast surrounding him was there to make up the difference as evidenced by a determined baseline drive midway through the third quarter by L-S’ Jordan Swegar which put the Pioneers up 14 at 43-29. And just for good measure in the third quarter, Ryan Smith also showed off his outside prowess as well when the multi-skilled big man tallied 3 from behind the arc en route to his game-high 34 point night, helping usher L-S into the final quarter with ownership of the 48-37 lead.
Needing to organize some kind of late-game charge, the Blazers would respond accordingly in the early moments of the final quarter. After a Cole Forte drive to the rack, Mennonite was able to snatch up a loose ball steal with Elijah Terry converting on the other end by way of the Euro-step to cut L-S’ lead down to seven at 48-41 with 6:13, forcing the Pioneers to call a timeout to halt the impending danger.
But Mennonite would only continue to push on from there as a Carter Hurst turnaround jumper got the Blazers even closer with the gap now standing at six at 49-43 with 6 minutes left to play.
Things would only continue to get more precarious for L-S from there as a Cole Forte bucket inside made it just a four point deficit at 51-47 with 4:10 left to play and momentum, not to mention the decibel level, unequivocally on Mennonite’s side.
But just as good teams are able to do, L-S found a way to have the final answer in the face of adversity. Following an ill-timed Mennonite turnover, Jordan Sweger continued to show off his fearlessness with a strong take to the cup for a much-needed bucket that pushed the L-S lead back up to six at 53-47. From there, a bucket inside by guess who, Ryan Smith, made it a seven point L-S cushion before Isaac Beers splashed home a backbreaking trifecta which put the Pioneers well on their way as L-S eventually went on to close things out by posting a 60-49 victory over Lancaster Mennonite.
“I’m very proud of them,” L-S head coach Ed Berryman stated once his team could finally exhale after holding off Mennonite’s late game charge. “We’ve got some good seniors and good experience from last year so they can step up in those situations and they did tonight.” And not a moment too soon.
NEXT UP: With their big time midweek game against Mennonite now out of the way and more importantly in the win column, L-S will shift their focus back to Section 2 when the Pioneers entertain the Barons from Manheim Central. A Manheim Central team that is the lone unbeaten remaining in section play. A crucial game that will certainly go a long way in determining who will eventually be the section champ as things play out over the course of the next month.
Much in the same vein that L-S will go back to work prepping for an old familiar section foe, Mennonite will do the same as the Blazers look to regroup when they play their third home game of the week when they entertain Annville-Cleona on Friday night. It’s a Dutchmen squad that is sure to be determined in making amends for Tuesday night’s overtime slipup at home to ELCO.