There’s no denying it. There’s just something different about rivalry games. Practices leading up are more intense, players and coaches are a little more dialed in, and the fans are a little more rabid. For both Manheim Central and Cocalico, all those elements and more came together on Tuesday night in Manheim as the Barons and Eagles renewed acquaintances for the latest chapter in their rivalry. But not on the football field however. This time on the hardwood.
Talk about a rivalry game in any sport and you’re likely to hear this old, belabored, token phrase. “Throw the records out.” Well in the case of Tuesday night’s matchup, those very records were almost impossible to ignore.
It’s been the dawn of a new day for Manheim Central basketball this season under the direction of new head man, but familiar face, Charlie Fisher. And so far, it’s looked like the recent days of old when he was helping call the shots on the Baron bench as an assistant to Chris Sherwood just a few short years ago, fielding some of the best teams in the school’s history.
After a somewhat shaky start to the year which saw the Barons start the year by going 0-2 against Lebanon County foes in Cedar Crest and ELCO respectively, Central was able to turn a complete 180 in their ensuing three games, winning all three contests to ascend the catbird’s seat in the topsy-turvy division known as L-L Section 2. The only squad mind you, that could boast an unbeaten Section 2 record entering the evening. And while Central came in scorching-hot, Cocalico had been equally as impressive in their most recent stretch as the Eagles came in riding nearly an identical wave of momentum.
After also starting off their campaign with an identical 0-2 record, albeit against a brutal field in the two day Hershey Tip Off Tournament, Cocalico would be able to respond accordingly after their grueling opening weekend slate by grinding out a physical, tough-minded, affair to knock Exeter from the ranks of the unbeaten for a crucial early-season triumph. Despite the fact that the Eagles would go 0-2 thereafter, dropping games to Wilson and Garden Spot, the Eagles once again showed their resiliency displayed under coach Seth Sigman’s leadership by promptly bouncing right back and rattling off a three game winning streak entering Tuesday night’s monster affair after dispatching Solanco, Ephrata, and Palmyra in that order to set the stage for what promised to be a surefire classic when Barons and Eagles tipped off with a spot for a share of the Section 2 lead up for grabs.
Whether it be big game nerves or just the side effects of a long layoff which was shared between the two squads with neither team having played since before Christmas, both the Eagles and Barons were plagued by somewhat sloppy starts as evidenced by their opening possessions which were mired with turnovers and cold shooting from the field. It’s the type of layoff that Manheim Central head coach Charlie Fisher said has both its pros and cons. “The positives are guys can heal and we can go over things,” Fisher went on to detail when describing his team’s nearly two week hiatus from live action. “We were without some of our starters at the start of the preseason because of football and everything, so that’s a positive. A negative to that is you’re smacked with a game 14 days after your last one and it takes some time.”
When the ball finally did go through the net for either team Tuesday night, it was Manheim Central’s Carson Brenize having first honors as the 5’9” junior guard splashed home a triple to put the Barons on board first 3-0 with a 1:30 having gone off the first quarter clock.
But Cocalico would waste little time answering right back as a sweet spin move inside by Eagle big man Trey Griffin was followed by a tough Aidan Trynosky lay in which put the Eagles on top 4-3 with five minutes still left in the first quarter.
Central would prove to have the answer over the course of the next minute however as a trifecta dialed up by star senior guard Connor Hostetter capped off a 5-0 Baron blitz which saw MC go back in front 8-4. Yet once again in the opening stanza, Cocalico would have an answer for an early Baron upper cut.
Following a 3 ball that was popped by 6’ junior guard Connor Mack of Cocalico, a drive to the tin by Nick Lucky followed suit and just like that, the Eagles had charged back in front at 11-10 with 1:30 left to go in quarter numero uno. From there, Cocalico would go on to see the opening eight minutes expire in their favor as the Eagles carried a 13-12 advantage with them into the second stanza.
Little did either team know it at the time, but an emphatic rejection by Cocalico’s Nick Lucky on the opening possession would help set the tone for a second quarter which was still in it’s infant stages. No doubt about it, the second eight minutes played between Manheim Central and Cocalico would prove to be one of a deliberate pace with defense being the overriding factor.
Even still, the second stanza was not without a smattering of offensive fireworks as a triple knocked home by Central’s Cameron Sell knotted things back up at 15-15 with just a shade over a minute having been expired off the second quarter clock.
In many ways, it seemed apropos in a quarter where both teams struggled to put the ball through the net that the difference in the half would come by way of the foul line in order for someone to claim a halftime lead. But that was precisely the case when Aidan Trynosky sank a pair of freebies from the stripe to put the Eagles up 19-17. And after Manheim Central’s last second halfcourt prayer was nearly answered, but ultimately went begging off the back rim, Cocalico went into the halftime break maintaining that same lead at 19-17.
Although Cocalico would go into the dressing room with positive vibes leading the lone undefeated team in Section 2 on their homecourt at halftime, it didn’t take long for the tide to turn once the second half began as a triple knocked home by lethal junior sharpshooter Chase Marquette put the Barons into the lead at 20-19 just two minutes into the new half.
From there, the teeter-totter of momentum went back and forth between the visitors from Denver and the home-standing Barons. Following a nice bucket inside that was put up and in by Cocalico’s 6’3” senior forward Brad Heck, the Central lead was sliced down to one at 22-21. Manheim Central senior guard Jake Novak would see the Heck deuce and match it as a strong take to the tin put the Barons back up by three before an offensive board and stick back by Cocalico sophomore big man Trey Griffin again cut Central’s lead down to the slimmest of margins at 24-23.
But just when it had appeared that Cocalico had finally found their spark of energy following a hoop plus the harm by star senior guard Aidan Trynosky which put the Eagles back in front 25-24, Evan Hosler was there to fan the flames for MC as a the junior guard completed the tough drive, finishing through contact to put the lead back in Central’s favor at 26-25 with just 1:28 to play in the third. Yet again however, Cocalico would have an answer that as well as a late quarter Eagle bucket sent Cocalico into the final frame with the slim one point cushion at 27-26.
Although Cocalico’s third quarter lead could hardly be described as “comfortable,” the Eagles were able to breathe a little easier once the fourth quarter got underway as a pullup jumper followed by a sensational drive through traffic en route to the hoop all culminated in an old-fashioned three point play by Connor Mack as the Eagles’ junior guard started the final frame on his own personal 5-0 run to make it a 32-26 ballgame, forcing Central to call a timeout. That’s when the dialed got turned up to the maximum level.
Needing a spark, any kind of spark, in order to generate some momentum and ignite a fourth quarter charge, Manheim Central turned to it’s roots. Defense.
Speaking of spark, it would be impossible to overlook Carson Brenize’s contribution to the effort as a the junior guard rose up and was all net from behind the arc in the corner, directly in front of the Baron bench, to put the Barons within a point at 32-31. But more importantly, the Brenize trifecta allowed Manheim Central to set up their 94 foot defense. An ingredient that would turn out to be the Barons’ secret sauce when concocting Tuesday night’s victory.
“When we called timeout down six I just said to them ‘Guys, we are playing flat.’ For you seniors, this is the last time you will play Cocalico at home in a basketball game.” Whether it was the message about picking up the energy level or the idea of succeeding over a rival one last time in the friendly confines, the Barons bought in. Hook, line, and sinker. An impromptu speech that Coach Fisher went on to humbly describe with a chuckle as “nothing mind-blowing.”
Whatever the case may have been, the Barons’ defensive intensity was ratcheted up to a level not yet seen in the ballgame. For Cocalico, the halfcourt stripe might from there on out may have appeared like the Bermuda Triangle for the rest of the way as the Barons began to promptly trap right around the timeline, giving Cocalico fits for which it would not be able to solve.
Following one of said turnovers, a Connor Hostetter put back gave the Barons the lead for good at 33-32. From there, Central would go on to ride it’s defense as the Barons only aided their cause the rest of the way. Perhaps the backbreaker in the whole ordeal would come by way of Chase Marquette spraying his second 3 ball of the night to give Central the half dozen point advantage at 38-32 with four minutes still left to go.
With Cocalico only coming away with empty trips offensively, the Barons only put more salt in the wound down the final stretch as a pair of free throws cashed in by Connor Hostetter who finished as MC’s leading scoring with a team-high 12 points, suddenly had the Baron lead flirting with double digits at 41-33 with just 1:48 left in the contest.
Despite the fact that a Tyler Keppley bucket inside would trim the Baron lead down to a half dozen at 41-35 with 1:30 left to play, the Barons were able to close things out in style as a breakaway lay in by senior guard Jake Novak put the finishing on touches on Manheim Central’s almost instantaneous fourth quarter comeback as the Barons were able to take game one of the season series with Cocalico, 48-40.
NEXT UP: With their win on Tuesday night, the Barons remain undefeated and all alone on the #1 line in the Section 2 standings. And although the Barons are undefeated, the bad news for the rest of Section 2 is that these Barons haven’t even hit their stride yet. “We said that before the game,” Coach Fisher went on mention after Tuesday night’s triumph. “We haven’t reached our peak. We still haven’t. We want to put together 32 minutes. When you put together 32 minutes, that’s when you’re where you need to be.”
For Manheim Central, the next opportunity to put that so-far elusive stretch of 32 minutes into one solid performance will be on Friday night when the Barons travel down to Lampeter for a headline matchup with Lampeter-Strasburg. An L-S team that will likely be chomping at the bit to get their shot at the unbeaten Barons. For the rest of this week though, the message appears to be pretty straightforward and simple coming out of the Manheim Central camp.
“We have a tough one on Friday,” Fisher said matter of factly when looking at the next game looming on the horizon. “It’s one day at a time. Tomorrow we’ll talk about some things we messed up on, but we’ll also start preparing for L-S. That’s the fun part about playing in Section 2.”
Speaking of Section 2, that is exactly where Cocalico will remain when they pick things back up on Friday night with another road tester at Donegal. And although Tuesday night’s affair is undoubtedly a game that Cocalico would already love to have a mulligan on, it is vital that the Eagles do not let Tuesday night’s defeat hinder them in their preparation for Friday night’s slugfest with the Indians as Cocalico is, and will likely remain, a key central figure in what promises to be a hectic, fun, and crazy Section 2 playoff race the rest of the way.