2017-18 All LLHoops.com Section 3 Honors

2017-18 All LLHoops.com Section 3 Honors

Lancaster Catholic at Lancaster Mennonite boys’ basketball on January 12, 2017. Mark Palczewski Photo.

(Lancaster Mennonite’s Geoff Geoff Helped Lead The Blazers To Their First Trip To The State Semifinals Since 2002)

 


(Northern Lebanon’s Caleb Light)

All LLHoops.com Section 3 Honors
Coach of the Year- Geoff Groff (Lancaster Mennonite)

First Team
Noah Myers – Annville-Cleona
John Gillespie – Lancaster Mennonite
RJ VanTash – Lancaster Catholic
Jeff Lorah – ELCO
Caleb Light- Northern Lebanon
Devon Colyer- Pequea Valley

2nd Team
Elijah Terry- Lancaster Mennonite
Braden Bohannon- ELCO
Hummy Valerio – Lebanon Catholic
Johnny Besecker- Lancaster Catholic
Alex Yeager- Northern Lebanon
Carter Hurst- Lancaster Mennonite

ALL LLhoops Section 1:  ALL LLhoops Section 2 

2017-18 All LLHoops.com Section 2 Honors

2017-18 All LLHoops.com Section 2 Honors

 

L-L League boys’ basketball championship, Lancaster Catholic vs. Lampeter-Strasburg on February 16, 2017. Mark Palczewski Photo. 

(Lampeter-Strasburg’s Ed Berryman Celebrates The School’s First League Title)

 

L-L League Sr. All-Star game in Landisville, PA. Mark Palczewski Photo.

(Lampeter-Strasburg’s Ryan Smith)

 

2017-18 All LLHoops.com Section 2 Honors
Coach Of The Year: Ed Berryman (Lampeter-Strasburg)

First Team
Ryan Smith- Lampeter-Strasburg
Avery Walker – Donegal
Jordan Shewbridge – Garden Spot
Isaac Beers- Lampeter-Strasburg
Brad DaBella- Ephrata
Connor Hostetter- Manheim Central

2nd Team
Aidan Trynosky- Cocalico
Larry Locker- Elizabethtown
Aaron Constein- Solanco
Keontae Nunn- Garden Spot
Elijah Swanigan- Donegal
Xavian Rodriguez- Ephrata

ALL LLhoops Section 1 :   ALL LLhoops Section 3

2017-18 All LLHoops.com Section 1 Honors

2017-18 All LLHoops.com Section 1 Honors


(Hempfield’s Danny Walck Helped Take Hempfield Back To The State Playoffs Once Again In 2018)


(Lebanon’s Sincere Scott)

All LLHoops.com Section 1 Honors
Coach Of The Year: Danny Walck (Hempfield)

First team
Cole Laney- Cedar Crest
Blake Thomson- Cedar Crest
Ryan Moffatt – Hempfield
Luis Aquino-Rios – Lebanon
Sincere Scott- Lebanon
Tyler Crespo –Manheim Township

2nd Team
Austin Monroe – Conestoga Valley
Logan Monroe- Conestoga Valley
David Martin-Robinson – Hempfield
Eli Washington- Hempfield
Brian McKenzie – McCaskey
Brendan Mellott – Manheim Township

 

ALL LLhoops Section 2 :   ALL LLhoops Section 3

Balanced Efforts Allow Lancaster-Lebanon League Boys’ Senior All Stars To Shine In Final Swan Song

 

When talking about the 2017-18 Lancaster Lebanon League Boys’ Basketball season, it’d be fair to say that this most recent year will forever go down as a successful one.

Why? Well, we were fortunate enough to witness a few programs ascend to heights which they hadn’t ever experienced for one. And how could we ever forget about some of the memorable performances from the crème de la crème of the league’s stars that took place over the course of the last four months? Oh yeah, we also had more than our fair share of heart-stopping moments to go around if that’s more your style.

Just try some of these numbers and factoids on for size as we take a brief and abbreviated look back to examine the year that was.

Let’s get to it then shall we?

12: As in the number of teams from the L-L that had taken care of their business during the regular season with enough gusto to qualify for District 3 playoff spots as a dozen teams from the L-L earned the right to live on and play into the postseason.

2: Trips to the palatial confines of Hershey’s Giant Center for District 3 playoffs with old rivals Hempfield and Manheim Township being the lone L-L representatives in Chocolatetown this year as both the Black Knights and Blue Streaks were able to make it to the 6A semifinal round before falling to Chambersburg and Reading respectively.

5: Each and every season seems to yield new members into the “four digit” club and this year was again no exception. Yes, the 2018 season saw five new members reach the 1,000 career point plateau with this handful of talented hoopsters listed below…. And what a starting lineup this would be.

Ryan Moffatt (Hempfield)
Noah Myers (Annville-Cleona)
Tyler Crespo (Manheim Township)
Jordan Shewbridge (Garden Spot)
Ryan Smith (Lampeter-Strasburg)

3: This year for the first time in a long time saw the L-L League go back to an old way of life for which they hadn’t seen in over a decade: The dismantling of 4 sections and the beloved crossover games in favor of the tried and true method of 3 sections.

39-3: Speaking of 3 sections, the “new” format change did nothing to deter the performances of the three section champs throughout the year as Hempfield, Lampeter-Strasburg, and Lancaster Catholic all rolled to supremacy within their respective divisions by posting a combined 39-3 regular season league record with the Crusaders boasting a perfect 14-0 campaign in Section 3.

6: After surviving the landmine-filled District 3 tournament, a half dozen teams from the L-L were able to advance into the state’s invitation-only event, the prestigious PIAA tournament. In fact, next year this number would be bumped up to 7 as Lancaster Country Day was able to secure a bid to the dance as well with LCD coming aboard next season. Belated congrats for the year that was and a heart-felt welcome to the Cougars for the season coming up, which will likely be here on the horizon before we all know it.

Here’s your rundown for a refresher. No worries, it’s an open book exam.

1A: Lancaster Country Day
3A: Lancaster Mennonite
4A: Lancaster Catholic
5A: Garden Spot and Lampeter-Strasburg
6A: Hempfield and Manheim Township

1: After all was said and done this season, the L-L saw one final team left standing in the Final Four: Lancaster Mennonite. And what a ride it was. Yes, the undersized but tough-as-nails Blazers were able to advance all the way to the state semifinal before they would be knocked out in the cruelest of ways, a buzzer beating 35 foot shot as Tyler Zimmerman, a name which will always and forever be remembered by those who had a strong rooting interest in the Blazers’ two week crusade across the western half of the state, as the Richland senior guard was able to work his way off a screen near the scorer’s table after securing a baseball pass hurled from the opposite baseline before turning the corner with a full head of steam to rise and fire, knocking down the last second jumper to send the Richland Rams into the state finals opposite of Pennsylvania behemoth Neumann Goretti, where the Rams would eventually fall after a hard-fought 57-42 decision.

And while many may have thought that the book on Lancaster-Lebanon League hoops for 2017-18 was permanently closed after Mennonite’s heartbreaking defeat two weeks ago at Chambersburg, one of the most beautiful gyms across all of District 3 I might add, there was still one bit of business left to attend to: The annual L-L Senior All Star Gym which took place on Wednesday night at Hempfield.

Ironically, for a game that is so often defined by it’s defense or lack thereof, the opening minutes of Wednesday’s L-L finale proved that this year’s senior class was cut from a different cloth when compared to their recent predecessors.

However once the offense did get flowing, it would prove to a 3 point aerial display as triples cashed in by Cedar Crest’s Blake Thomson, Garden Spot’s Jordan Shewbridge, and fellow Cedar Crest Falcon Cole Laney helped pave the way for “Away” Team to open up an 11-0 bulge through the early stages of the opening period before Northern Lebanon’s Alex Yeager was able to knock down floater in the lane off an underneath out of bounds inbounds pass to get the “Home” side on the board under the direction of Northern Lebanon’s Chris George and Hempfield’s Danny Walck.

Unfortunately for those donning the white jerseys on this night, the hole would only continue to grow deeper from there as the Lampeter-Strasburg two-headed monster of Ryan Smith and Isaac Beers was on full display for all to see as Smith was able to get loose and pop a trey, destroying the notion yet again that 6’ 10” big men need to remain inside at all times, before Beers would follow suit by going on his own personal 5-0 run which allowed their squad to double-up the opposition at 22-11 at the 2:40 minute mark of the first quarter.

However to their credit, the Home team would continue to battle back throughout the waning stages of the first stanza as a 3-ball cashed in Cocalico’s Aidan Trynosky trimmed the Visitor’s lead to 27-19 before the quarter would eventually expire with the Away Team in front by nearly double digits at 29-20.

As it turned out, the fiery start to close the first period would only continue to rage on once the second ten minutes got underway as an old-fashioned Ryan Moffatt three point play would cut into the Away Team lead at 32-23 as the outgoing Hempfield do-it-all senior continued to shine while playing in the comfortable surroundings of his home gym one final time.

From there, the Away Team cushion grew more precarious over the span of the next few minutes as the lead was sliced down to a mere deuce following yet another three point play, this one administered by Annville Cleona’s Donald Friday, made it a 32-30 affair with the second frame nearing it’s midway point.

And although the dynamic Cedar Crest duo of Blake Thomson to Cole Laney were up to their old tricks as evidenced by Thomson lobbing up a sweet alley oop to his long-time confidant, Ryan Moffatt was there for a dunk of his own for the other side which coincidently gave the Home Team their first lead of the ballgame with score standing at 35-34.

Their lead would prove to be short-lived however as a 5-0 answer authored by the Away squad was capped off with Conestoga Valley’s Logan Monroe splashing in one of his trademark trifectas to put the dark uniform-clad All Stars back in front 39-35 with four minutes left to go in the opening half.

Once the game finally did reach intermission, the scoreboard read 48-42 in favor of the Visitors with L-S’ Isaac Beers leading the way with 10 first half points and fellow Pioneer Ryan Smith along with Lebanon’s Luis Aquino-Rios hot on his heels sharing 8 apiece between them.

Yet for as slow as the first half seemed to start with both teams likely getting their sea legs back underneath them for the first time in nearly a month in some cases, the brief respite in action did nothing to slow the hot-shooting touch of Garden Spot’s Jordan Shewbridge as the newly-minted Lancaster Bible College commit was able to rain down three of his signature triples in the early going of the third frame as the Away Team lead had dramatically swelled to 59-44.

In many ways, it may have been quite possible that Shewbridge’s dazzling proficiency from behind the arc became contagious over the course of the next several minutes as Blake Thomson was able to pour in 3 of his 11 points on the evening by dialing long distance to help keep the Away team lead at a comfortable 15 point difference, 69-51 with 5:04 to play in the third quarter.

In fact, the lead would even grow on from there over the course of the final five minutes and change as the Away lead would improve to a 20 point advantage at 81-61 with one final quarter of the L-L season officially upon us.

After the first couple minutes of the final stanza, it became apparent that the effort to chisel into the Away Team lead would prove to be a sizable ask to say the least. Yet they still continued to relentlessly trudge along as a Ryan Moffatt 3 ball kept the deficit at 20 points, 86-66 with time of the essence for a possible late game comeback.

From there, Northern Lebanon’s Caleb Light was able to lend a helping hand by exploding out of the chute with a dizzying half dozen points to help the Home Team effort down the final stretch for this talented group of hoopsters playing in their final scholastic event.

Yet even though the Away Team was still in control of the scoreboard, that certainly did not mean that the Home Team was devoid of their share of highlights which was becoming very apparent to all inside Buchanan Gymnasium.

Yes, for as much damage as Cocalico’s Aidan Trynosky has been able to inflict upon opponents with his long-range marksmanship over the last handful of seasons, the outgoing Eagle turned E-Town Bluejay was able to reverse the trend by elevating through the air and finishing with a dunk that drew plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” from those in attendance. Not to mention a very select few who were following along via social media as the Home Team only continued to tighten their grasp on claiming the showmanship portion of the final quarter.

But even though the Home Team was able to garner much of the attention with their splash-reel type plays inside the final ten minutes of the 2017-18 season, the bow was fittingly put on the night, and the season for that matter, by Lancaster Mennonite’s John Gillespie as the star-studded senior floor general for the league’s only state semifinalist was able to finish things off with an emphatic tomahawk dunk of his own, giving everyone just a brief glimpse as to why he was arguably the best point guard in the entire L-L League all season long.

And not only would have the dunk drawn several high scores had there been a panel of judges in the house to offer up their approval, the Gillespie jam put his Away squad over the century mark as the victorious team coached by Ed Berryman of Lampeter-Strasburg and Lancaster Catholic’s Joe Klazas would go on to close things out by turning away the Home Team, 101-89, lowering the curtain on yet another wild, fantastic, and memorable L-L Boys’ Basketball season that is sure to live on for years and years to come.

Lancaster Mennonite’s Memorable Ride Ends In State Semifinal Round As Blazers Fall To Richland On Last Second Buzzer Beater

Lancaster Catholic at Lancaster Mennonite boys’ basketball on January 12, 2017. Mark Palczewski Photo.

(Roman Ali Helped Lead The Charge For Lancaster Mennonite On Saturday Afternoon Against Richland By Chipping In A Team Best 18 Points)

 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers once sang about the topic nearly 40 years ago. And for the duration of this past week, the Lancaster Mennonite Blazers learned about it firsthand: The fact that waiting is indeed the hardest part.

Yes, after their incredible double overtime quarterfinal victory over Greenville by way of Mercer County last Saturday in Altoona, the Blazers were able to extend their stay in the PIAA Class 3A state tournament bracket just a little while longer.

The thing is, no one really knew for sure just how long the wait would end up being.

With an unquestionable bounce in their step, Mennonite bounded out of the Altoona site last Saturday afternoon thinking that their next test would come just a few days later against Richland on Tuesday night.

Until Mother Nature decided to intervene that is.

With the threat of a Winter Storm Toby looming in the distance and already dumping snow in some parts of the state that very same evening, those who sit in the PIAA power chairs decided to make the move to postpone Tuesday night’s semifinal round contests, slating them instead for Thursday night.

As fate would have it, Thursday night also came and went without any action taking place on hardwood floors across the commonwealth, setting up a weekend of semifinal matchups held at various outposts, subsequently postponing the originally published schedule which had this weekend signified as the three day festival with the state descending upon Hershey to celebrate the crowning of 12 new state champions for both the boys and girls.

So, after all was said and done following the logistical nightmare that will be always be remembered by Pennsylvania high school hoops fans as the week that extended the season just a little while longer, teams eventually got back into the swing of things by once again lacing the sneakers up with the glory of being forever remembered as a state champion so agonizingly close for all those who still had the privilege of being left standing.

And as already mentioned, Lancaster Mennonite was no exception.

It may seem odd when you think about it. A school from quaint Lancaster County in the western state bracket after all. Yet, after the various consolation brackets were finally played out from all around the 3A subdivision of District 3, the Blazers from Lancaster Mennonite were able to claim the very last spot in the state playoff field that is awarded to District 3 combatants, sending the Black and Yellow far, far away from their familiar confines.

Hours away to be more exact.

It’s true. After trekking off to Johnstown for the first weekend of the state tournament, the Blazers appeared at Altoona High School twice in one week as Mennonite passed their second and third tests of the PIAA tournament by turning away Westinghouse and Greenville respectively in their previous two contests leading into Saturday afternoon’s semifinal tilt.

And in an interesting twist of fate, Mennonite’s last stand before a possible trip to Hershey would see their westward journey come full circle as the Blazers prepared for battle with District 6 silver medalist Richland.

Ironically, Mennonite had already taken care of Ligonier Valley in the opening round of states—The same Ram squad that was able to get the better of Richland in the District 6 title fight by virtue of a 58-54 decision three weeks ago to the day.

And while this trip would not be nearly as long for Mennonite with LMH getting somewhat of a reprieve by being able to play inside District 3 once again, albeit at one of the furthest points within the massive District 3 footprint, the Blazers set sail for Chambersburg to tangle with the Rams of Richland for the right to see who would live on and make it to Wednesday afternoon and the Giant Center for opportunity to compete in the prestigious PIAA 3A State Championship game.

As nearly anyone could have guessed in a battle between two teams that had been able to succeed and make it all the way to this late stage of the state tournament bracket, the first quarter on Saturday afternoon between Lancaster Mennonite and Richland would show just how even and excellent both these squads truly were.

Case in point, an Elijah Bynum follow which capped off a 4-0 Mennonite run to give the Blazers their first lead of the day by the slimmest of margins at 4-3 just 1:20 into the contest.

But yet in fact, the game’s opening eight minutes would go on to witness another 4-0 march by LMH as this time a personal 4-0 rally sparked by senior guard Carter Hurst put Mennonite back into the lead at 10-8 just past the halfway point of the first period as both teams were unable to garner any sort of separation from one another in the game’s opening stages.

However just that like, Richland would be able to find some late first quarter answers from there as a nice bucket inside by the Rams’ 6’3” junior forward Collin Instone, coupled with a corner trey splashed in by sophomore Jake Felton saw Richland gain control of the scoreboard once again at 13-12 with two minutes and change left to go.

And once the first quarter clock finally did run out, it would continue to show Richland in front, 16-13, capping a marvelous display of hoops put forth by both squads with 24 more minutes of pulsating action left to go.

When the second period of the 3A Western State Final did finally commence, it would give way to a sensational performance authored by Collin Instone of Richland as the bruising, talented junior forward was simply unstoppable in the paint through the first few minutes of the second stanza as a handful of Instone bunnies saw the Rams increase their lead to seven at 22-15 before Lancaster Mennonite was forced to call timeout and regroup with the Blazers now staring at an early deficit.

Fortunately for Mennonite, they too would find their answer from the front line as 6’3” senior big man Roman Ali began to ignite a Blazer charge with four straight to help bring Mennonite back to within shouting distance while also taking the wind out of the proverbial Richland sails at that juncture which were clearly backed by a stiff breeze to say the least.

In fact, an Ali hoop plus the harm with one minute left in the half saw Mennonite stay within a touchdown at 28-21 before the first sixteen minutes would conclude with that same identical count still holding firm on the scoreboard’s neon lights.

By and large, the first half felt like it was ruled by Richland, especially thanks to the early second quarter start that knocked Mennonite back on their heels somewhat. And once the teams reentered the gorgeous Chambersburg Gymnasium to resume play for the second half of action, it seemed that little would be able to stop the Rams in their quest to reach Hershey for a Wednesday afternoon title fight as a steal and finish by 6’0” guard Tyler Paul in the opening stages proved that Richland still had their foot planted firmly on the gas pedal as the Ram advantage suddenly grew to nine within a flash.

Yet just as they had all tournament long to that point, Mennonite proved why backing down is a trait simply not found anywhere in their collective DNA.

And sure enough, after a 4-0 rally by Mennonite star senior guard John Gillespie, held scoreless to that point in the contest, the Blazers started to regain their mojo by steadily chipping away at the Richland lead with the score now standing at 34-29 in the Rams’ favor with 4:30 left in the third.

But the Blazer blitz wasn’t done there.

No, the Mennonite troops only continued to fight on much to the chagrin of those partisans decked out in Red  and Blue colors inside the packed fieldhouse.

In fact, after a Cole Forte old-fashioned three point play, the Blazers had suddenly gotten to within a deuce at 34-32 before a Gillespie floater in the lane tied things up at 34-34 with Mennonite now clearly having seized the momentum.

Thankfully for the aforementioned Richland contingent that had traveled to Chambersburg from their home base in Johnstown, Joe Hauser was there to stop the Mennonite onslaught as the 6’1” junior guard was able to put the Rams back in front with a much-needed bucket inside as the back and forth affair only continued to rage on from there as an Elijah Terry corner triple gave the lead back to the Blazers at 37-36 which was where things would end up staying after the third quarter of play with the visions of playing for a state championship being just within reach for a deserving group of Blazers or Rams.

Flash back to last weekend in Altoona for a moment and it could easily be argued that without Elijah Terry’s gigantic plays down the final stretch, Lancaster Mennonite may very well have been sitting at home rather than playing in Saturday’s 3A Western State Final as the diminutive but courageous 5’9” sophomore guard continued to make big play after big play, helping his team turn away a very scrappy and talented Greenville bunch last Saturday afternoon.

And just like he was able to do his last time out, Terry helped lead the charge once again as a strong take to the cup was followed up shortly by a knock down jumper which helped push Mennonite’s lead out to 41-38 with the Blazers coming dangerously close to finally finding their rhythm while Richland’s season now stood delicately on the brink.

However just as Mennonite likely knew and then quickly soon discovered, Richland would refuse to go away without a fight with absolutely everything riding on the line.

And right on cue, the Rams were able to lean on two separate successful 2-2 trips to the charity stripe by Collin Instone and Tyler Zimmerman respectively which saw Richland surge back in front 46-43 with 4:20 left to play.

From there, Richland was able to keep Mennonite at bay over the course of the next several minutes with the Rams holding serve by way of the 49-46 advantage with the game clock now rapidly approaching one final minute left to play.

Needless to say, someone for Lancaster Mennonite needed to step to the forefront if the Blazers’ postseason run were to stay alive for a few more days.

Sure enough, you guessed it, none other than Elijah Terry was able to take the reins at that moment as a timely theft and Eurostep finish at the other end sliced the Richland lead down to the slimmest of margins at 49-48 with 1:30 still left to tick off the clock.

And after a critical defensive stand which the ball go back to Mennonite after a loose ball scrum by way of the possession arrow, the Blazers’ Roman Ali would be fouled at the conclusion of the next LMH possession as the undersized but always tough-as-nails “5” man was able to sink both of his attempts at the foul line for 2 of his team-high 18 points on the afternoon, to swing the lead back over to the Blazers’ favor at 50-49 with now just 31.4 left to go.

However once again, Lancaster Mennonite would find the task of putting Richland away once and for all to be an extremely tall and downright impossible task as the Rams were able to counter back with the biggest of answers both as Richland’s Trevy Hardison was able to drive along the baseline for his only field goal of the ballgame, as the 6’4” senior big man was able to put Richland back on top with the game now under 30 seconds.

From there, Mennonite would be able to offer a response of their own as a tip in follow by Roman Ali gave the lead back to the Blazers at 52-51 with just 3.2 left standing on the clock as the Black and Yellow backers from the Red Rose city roared their approval following what felt like the game winning shot.

Felt being the key word.

With Richland now having called timeout and being forced to call without question their best play of the season 94 feet away from both the literal and figurative goal, the ball found it’s way into the hands of the Rams’ Tyler Zimmerman who was able to become a decorated Richland Ram legend within a matter of moments as the 6’2” senior guard was able to turn the corner off the screen in front of the scorer’s table with a full head of steam, launching a 35 foot double-clutch shot into the air before the ball eventually danced through the bottom of net, sending the Richland fans onto the floor, and their team into the state championship, after a legendary 54-52 battle and subsequent triumph—A victory which by the way will see the Rams prepare to hurl their best stone at Goliath. Goliath of course being four time defending state champion Neumann Goretti, as the Rams will prepare for a Wednesday afternoon title tilt inside the palatial Giant Center to see who truly is the best in the commonwealth at the 3A level.

After such a gut-wrenching loss, much akin the one endured by Lancaster Mennonite on Saturday afternoon, it would certainly be understandable if the words, any words for that matter, would be nothing if not tough to utter.

Yet even still, Lancaster Mennonite head coach Geoff Groff continued to exude that same level of class as he always does, even while dealing with the most bitter of defeats.

“It was a great run,” Coach Groff said harkening back on his team’s incredible state playoff ride just moments after it ended while standing outside the team locker room. “It was an amazing group of guys that somehow found a way to overcome some of the different obstacles as far as no one picking us to really do anything, to travel like we did, and finding ways to battle,” the Blazer head man stated with pride.

“Every game was a possession here, a possession there,” Groff went on to detail regarding Mennonite’s trek to Saturday’s Western State Final. “I couldn’t be prouder of a group of guys,” Groff added. “We don’t have any sayings that we do, but we talk all the time about ‘You have to be ready.’ You might not be in this rotation, but you never know how things can change. You get opportunities in life and the guys who make it work are the ones who are ready when their opportunities come.”

So, when looking back on the 2017-18 Lancaster Mennonite season as a whole, whether it be in the immediate future or years from now way on down the line, it will and should always be remembered as a group of young men that did indeed take advantage of the opportunities presented to them by coming together and refusing to let extraneous factors such as seed lines or physical distances on a map to be obstacles in their way when it came to achieving their dreams of playing for the school’s first ever state championship. Yet unfortunately in the end however, the waiting will continue to be the hardest part.

Lancaster Mennonite’s Westward Conquest Rages On As Blazers Knock Off Greenville To Advance To State Semifinals In Double Overtime Thriller

The saying goes that the deeper the run through the state playoffs, the more arduous the journey grows. Well, aside from the fact that Lancaster Mennonite likely thought that they had needed to apply for passports as it related to their first three state tournament games-excursions that took them to the likes of Johnstown coupled with back to back trips to the center of the state in Altoona, the competition itself waiting there at those sites was no less daunting.

Yes, after being shipped to extreme western outposts given their school’s location which is nestled amongst countless outlet stores along Route 30 to the east of the Lancaster city limits, Lancaster Mennonite’s challenges were compounded even further as the Blazers were assigned the task of having to take down District 6 champion Ligonier Valley right out of the chute, a test that Mennonite was ultimately able to pass by virtue of their nail-biting 65-60 triumph.

Their reward? Another similar trip out west to square off with yet another District champion in Westinghouse, hailing from the District 8 ranks. And yet once again, Lancaster Mennonite’s propensity to remain unphased by whatever chore was asked of them was on full display as the Blazers were able to advance yet again, moving into the Elite Eight round of states after eking out another whiteknuckle affair, tripping up the Bulldogs from the Pittsburgh city school 52-50.

Their reward this time? A tiny bit of respite as the Blazers loaded up the coach bus to set sail for Altoona for the second time this week as the Blazers were set to do battle with District 10 second-place finisher Greenville who hails from the greater Erie area.

Without question, one of Mennonite’s biggest calling cards is their ability to ‘get up in your grill’ and make life miserable with their stifling defensive pressure. And from the outset on Saturday afternoon, Greenville would soon discover that it was an assignment that they too would have to deal with as the Blazers kept the scoring to a minimum throughout the first portion of the first quarter as both the Trojans and Blazers found scoring to be a difficult duty.

In fact, the score heading into the first media timeout saw the Blazers and Trojans deadlocked at 4-4 following an Elijah Bynum bucket in transition before a Carter Hurst trifecta shortly thereafter gave Mennonite the 7-4 lead at the three minute mark of the first.

But from there on out however, Greenville would be able to rally the troops and then some.

Sparked by a nice drive inside by fearless 6’2” senior guard Joe Batt, the Trojans had quickly rallied back to tie the Blazers up at 7-7.

However they weren’t done there.

Following the Batt take to the tin, the remainder of the first period would bear witness to the Trojans going on to rattle off the game’s next five points as Greenville went on to the conclude the first frame with an 8-0 run, bolstering the Trojan lead to a 12-7 count following the game’s first eight minutes.

Ironically, the start of the second quarter would go on to show the game take a massive seismic shift in Mennonite’s direction as the Blazers were able to battle back to meet the Trojans on the scoreboard at 12-12 following a theft and lay in by Mennonite’s diminutive but fearless point guard John Gillespie as the 6’1” senior floor general was able to knot things back up with his bucket in transition.

However the Blazers themselves weren’t done there.

In fact, the Blazers were able to continue their stellar second quarter play as Mennonite quickly saw their lead jump up to a half dozen at 18-12 following buckets from Carter Hurst and John Gillespie respectively before a much-needed deuce by Joe Batt stopped the bleeding for Greenville, which made it a 18-14 contest in favor of the Blazers.

However as the Batt hoop would later prove, the Trojans were once again in the midst of authoring a rally of their own as a Trap Wentling floater in the lane quickly tied things back up at 20-20 with one minute left in the first half.

And once the first half did finally draw to a close, it showed the Blazers surviving two first half Trojan blitzkriegs, carrying a 23-22 lead with them into the intermission.

Ironically, for a first half which saw so many wild momentum swings in either direction, the third was relatively tame as the Trojans were able to keep a lid on the Blazers’ run and gun attack, holding the Blazers to just three third quarter points as the third frame concluded with Greenville on top 29-26.

And after the first few minutes of the game’s final stanza, things only continued to look more precarious for the Blazers given the fact that the Trojans were able to grow their lead to a 33-26 count at the 6:30 mark following a personal 4-0 rally authored by Greenville’s sensational senior guard Joe Batt who went on to finish with game-high scoring honors for the Trojans by netting a 20 point effort.

Needless to say, someone for Lancaster Mennonite needed to step up and make a play with their season delicately dancing on the razor’s edge.

Enter Elijah Terry stage right.

With his team facing the very real possibility of having an extra-long and solemn bus ride back to Lancaster, the fearless 5’9” sophomore played well beyond his years in the game’s most critical moments.

What does ‘fearless’ look like you may ask? How about a personal 5-0 charge to get your team back within three at 33-30 with under five minutes left to play in a state quarterfinal.

And yet even though Greenville’s Trap Wentling was able to counter right back with a badly-needed steal and finish to push the Trojan lead up to 35-30 with three minutes left to play, Mr. Terry stepped up to the plate once again by nailing a cold-blooded trifecta which made it a 35-33 affair with 1:21 left to play.

And with their defensive intensity magnified ten-fold following their late fourth quarter push, it had appeared that Lancaster Mennonite’s snowball was about to officially finish rolling downhill following a steal on ensuing defensive possession which gave possession back to LMH with 1:06 left to tick off the clock.

However the subsequent offensive trip was simply not to be as a block down on the defensive end by Greenville’s Trap Wentling, took some of the wind out of the Mennonite sails with the game now inside the epitome of crunch time.

To add insult to injury, Wentling ended up being fouled during the chaotic scene which the sent the crafty the 5’8” senior guard to the line with just 30.4 left to play. And just as most seniors are able to do, he too was able to deliver the goods in his team’s time of need by knocking down an enormous pair of freebies from the charity stripe which saw the Trojans increase their advantage to 37-33 with time quickly running out on the Blazers’ chances.

And with that old saying of seniors stepping up in the biggest moments still on the forefront of everyone’s minds, Lancaster Mennonite’s Carter Hurst was able to come through with an equally big play as the 5’10” senior guard drove fearlessly to the cup, finishing through contact, and converting the free throw afterwards to make it now just a one point game at 37-36 with 24.9 left to go.

From there, Greenville’s Joe Batt ended up being fouled on the ensuing inbounds play as the 6’2” senior walked to other end to toe the stripe where he would go on to make it a 1-2 trip, bolstering the Trojan lead to 38-36 with roughly 20 seconds remaining in regulation.

However just as he had earlier in the final stanza, Elijah Terry continued to rise to the occasion one more time as the Blazers’ gutsy guard drove hard to the rack, converting the lay in which made things all square at 38-38 with the last few seconds quickly melting off the clock.

And as it turned out, it nearly, very nearly to be more precise, appeared to be just enough time as Greenville’s last gasp half-court heave rattled halfway down before cruelly bounding back out, sending this already great affair into a deserving period of extra time with the Blazers and Trojans deadlocked at 38-38.

Once inside the extra session, the Blazers showed no-ill effects of an early Joe Batt take to the cup on the Trojans’ first possession of overtime by immediately responding with the next game’s next five points thanks to a trifecta splashed home by John Gillespie before a Carter Hurst steal which ended in a coast to coast layup down on the other end as Mennonite quickly took control of the scoreboard with it reading 43-40 in their favor with 2:30 left to go.

However as Mennonite quickly found out, teams that have their backs against the ropes with their season riding on the line do anything but go away quietly into the night.

And right on cue, a timely take to the hoop by Greenville’s Connor Gilfoyle made it a one point ballgame at 43-42 with 1:21 to go.

From there, a John Gillespie free throw would later improve the Lancaster Mennonite advantage to 44-42 with 35.6 left to go.

Now faced with the challenge of having to play their best defensive series of the entire season, those who had the made roughly 3 hour drive from the Red Rose city were able to see their Blazers do exactly that as the Mennonite’s relentless pressure finally gave way to a Greenville turnover as the Trojans were then whistled for stepping along the sideline thanks to the chaotic scene painted by the LMH defenders, giving the ball back to Lancaster Mennonite with just 14.8 left from an appearance in the state semifinal round.

However the game giveth and the game taketh away as the Blazers quickly found out as a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play saw the ball bounce into the hands of Greenville’s Tyler Kincaid as the 6’5” senior forward was able to dash to the hole for the lay in which tied things back up at 44-44.

From there, Mennonite raced down to the other end in the ball in their hands with the chance to claim a walkoff-style victory.

And while the magic was somewhat tempered following a block which sent the ball out of bounds, possession was awarded to the Blazers underneath their own goal with just 1.7 left to tick off the clock.

Yet just as he had all game long on the offensive end, Greenville’s Joe Batt was able to be a 6’2” thorn in the Blazers’ side defensively as well by rising up to swat away Lancaster Mennonite’s last second 3 point attempt, sending the game into an additional four minute period.

Without a doubt, both teams had already emptied the tank to this point, laying absolutely everything on the line with the ultimate goal of state championship glory tantalizingly oh so close.

Yet even still, both the Trojans and Blazers would have to rise to the challenge one more time.

And speaking of rising to the challenge, that was precisely what Lancaster Mennonite was able to do once the second overtime got underway as a Roman Ali bucket got things started for the Blazers before John Gillespie was able split the Trojans’ defensive zone like a hot knife through butter as the tough-as-nails senior Blazer guard tallied 2 of his team-high 14 points. More importantly however, the Gillespie hoop increased the Mennonite lead to 48-44 with the game heading into it’s 40th and final minute.

But the Blazers were not out of the woods just yet. Not by a long shot.

Although they had seen things slip away somewhat having spotted Mennonite a four point lead with time evaporating like that of a hot summer’s rain, the Trojans simply refused to rise the white flag as evidenced by a Tyler Kincaid take to the rim which came on the heels of the Gillespie bucket, trimming Mennonite’s lead back down to just two at 48-46 with 50 seconds to go.

Down on the offensive end, Lancaster Mennonite began to milk away precious seconds away from the Greenville cause with a diligent offensive set before the Trojans were eventually forced to foul which sent the Blazers into the bonus.

Once the Trojans did indeed collect enough fouls, they would send 5’9” junior guard Elijah Bynum to the charity stripe with 17.7 left to go.

And right on cue, Bynum displayed the poise of a grizzled, battle-tested savvy veteran by calmly toeing the line and cashing in both attempts to make it a 50-46 Blazer advantage with time quickly running out on Greenville’s hopes of advancing.

However just as they had all game long, the Trojans continued to battle back in the face of adversity, pushing the Blazers to the ultimate limit as evidenced by a timely take to the rack by Joe Batt with just 4.8 left to play.

From there, Mennonite was fouled on the ensuing inbounds with just three seconds standing between them and another dose of state playoff euphoria.

And even though the front end of the 1-1 danced off the rim, this Greenville halfcourt heave was not nearly as nerve-wracking, falling short, prompting a Blazer dogpile celebration at midcourt as Lancaster Mennonite had come out on top with a 50-48 state quarterfinal triumph, making the Blazers just one of four 3A ballclubs left standing in entire state of Pennsylvania.

After the game, it was obvious that absolutely nothing was going to wipe the smile off longtime Lancaster Mennonite coach Geoff Groff’s face.

“It’s all kind of a blur,” an excited Coach Groff admitted in the immediate aftermath on Saturday afternoon. “They made the plays they needed to make,” Groff went to add regarding his squad. “It’s a tough group of kids.”

“I enjoy the process,” Groff went on to say while still reflecting in the glow of the Blazers’ state quarterfinal victory. “I enjoy being able to do what we need to do. The wins particularly when you win in this stage, when there’s a lot of pressure, yeah, this is big…It’s nice to still be playing. When you can play at this time of year and keep playing, it’s a good win.”

NEXT UP: With their win on Saturday, Lancaster Mennonite now preps for another trip out west at a site and time to be made official later this weekend by the PIAA offices as the Blazers will tangle with Richland on Tuesday night, a silver medalist from District 6 who also emerged victorious in their Saturday afternoon quarterfinal contest, besting Fairview 48-26.

However if one were to ask Coach Groff, chances are that he isn’t exactly upset about another long bus ride if it means playing at this late stage of the game. After all, even the 25th year head coach has seen a whole new side of his talented ballclub shine through during these last few westbound excursions.

“I always knew they were very resilient group,” the Blazer boss said again while illuminating his team’s mental makeup. “They’re having fun with some of the things and letting their guard down. I’m seeing more interaction with each other as a team. I’m seeing good things,” Groff went on to explain.

“The guys genuinely seem like they’re enjoying this time together. Our booster group is doing a tremendous job of making them feel special too. We have the parents come along on the bus and it’s nice. It’s nice because the parents can see their kids there and see their interactions,” Groff continued before summing it all up point blank by saying, “It’d be nice to be a little closer to our area but these guys are pretty amazing.”

And when they take to the court next, no matter where the state tournament brackets may take them, the Blazers will be making their first appearance in a state semifinal game since a 2002 game which saw the Blazers drop a tough 55-48 decision to Kennett who would later go on to claim state gold.

Should they come away victorious on Tuesday night, there will be no more long, lengthy road trips at hand. Instead, Lancaster Mennonite will have the opportunity to finally be back in their own backyard of sorts as the Blazers would then play their next game at Hershey’s Giant Center. And if that motivation wasn’t nearly enough, the Blazers would have also have the opportunity to play for the shiniest of medals and a large gold trophy to boot by achieving the game’s ultimate prize, state immortality.

Black Knights Go Down Swinging In Double Overtime As Hempfield Falls To Lincoln In PIAA-6A Round of 16

(Hempfield Head Coach Danny Walck Embraces Ryan Moffatt Following Moffatt’s 5th Foul Wednesday Night Against Lincoln)

 

Last season was without question a memorable one for the Hempfield Black Knights Boys’ Basketball squad. A trip to the league playoffs, a trip the District 3 finals, and yeah oh by the way, a trip to Elite Elite of the PIAA state tournament. Needless to say, it’s a laundry list of achievements that need no further validation as a means to prove just how special these last two editions of Black Knight basketball have been. Not just on the court either, but off the court as well.

If need be, one only needs to spend just a few minutes chatting with Hempfield head coach Danny Walck to extinguish any shred of doubt regarding that.

And as mentioned, they haven’t exactly been too shabby on the hardwood this year either. A Section 1 championship, a trip to the league playoffs, a trip to the district playoffs, and you guessed it, yet another trip to the 6A state playoffs.

If it all seems familiar, don’t second guess yourself. Yes, they’ve truly maintained that same level of excellence.

They’ve been so good in fact that the Knights were able to slay yet another giant in the opening round of states this past Saturday night when Hempfield was able to take down an ultra-athletic Coatesville bunch in front of a capacity crowd at Warwick in a game that felt eerily similar to the Black Knights’ triumph at the same locale in the same scenario just one year ago against Allentown Allen.

And lo and behold, here they were again. With a trip to the round of eight hanging in the balance, Hempfield was just 32 minutes away from making good on that same feat that they were able to accomplish just one year ago when they met up with anything but a cupcake in Philadelphia Public League power Abraham Lincoln on Wednesday night at Pottstown.

Once the game at hand had finally commenced, Hempfield wasted little time in terms of throwing the first punch. In fact, the Black Knights were able to start things off with a bang as a David Martin-Robinson lay in made it a 5-0 Hempfield advantage in the early stages of the contest, helping send the message that Hempfield had arrived with bad intentions.

Yet even though things could not have possibly started out much better for Hempfield, Lincoln would eventually find their footing thanks a powerful one-handed tomahawk jam which was slammed home by Khalif Meares that got the Railsplitters on the board making it a 5-2 game in favor of the troops from Landisville.

As it turned out, Meares’ dunk would help give himself a burst of energy from there on out for the remainder of the first period as Lincoln’s lanky point guard was able to cash in on back to back jumpers later on in the quarter which cut the Black Knight lead down to 10-8 with just 30 seconds left to play before the first quarter buzzer would later ring out with Hempfield in possession of the lead by virtue of the 12-10 count.

For much of the second quarter, Hempfield would be able to keep the Railsplitters at arm’s length, keeping the game largely within a four point window, before a Donovan Green pullup jumper gave the Black Knights the 18-12 advantage midway through the second stanza.

Yet even though Green’s J put Hempfield up by half a dozen, Lincoln was able to answer back with a vengeance as a sweet dish from Pat Obogo to Sahnei Day led to a three point play which got the Railsplitters back within a deuce at 20-18 with just 1:25 left to play in the first half. A score which just so happened to remain identical once both squads jogged off the floor and into the halftime break.

Without question, the pace of the game was far more to Hempfield’s liking than that of their counterparts from the City of Brotherly Love throughout the first 16 minutes of play. And with the game on track to see the winning team prevail by scoring just 40 points, the Black Knights continued to keep their nose to the grindstone once the second half got underway as a pair of Eli Washington freebies at the charity stripe helped keep Hempfield in front 24-21.

But just then, the Railsplitters came alive.

Sparked by a 4-0 run all authored by Lincoln’s Jahi Randall, the Public League Champs ascended to their first lead of the contest at 25-24 near the five minute mark of the third period.

However just as he had done all season long, Hempfield’s Ryan Moffatt would have an answer for that.

With his team facing their first true test of adversity all night long, the 6’5” senior wing was able to counter back with a triple on the ensuing offensive trip which promptly gave the lead back to Hempfield at 27-25.

And even though Hempfield would continue to play tough throughout the remainder of the third quarter as evidenced by a strong David Martin-Robinson drive inside which gave the Black Knights the 31-30 lead, Lincoln would have an answer of their own as a 4-0 Railsplitter rally would close the books on the third quarter of play as a timely put-back by Shikier Morrison gave the Lincoln the 34-31 lead as the game headed into it’s final eight minutes….Or so everyone thought.

No doubt about it, the action inside the Pottstown High gymnasium was certainly ratcheted up and then some once the fourth and final quarter began.

It certainly appeared that things were heading in that direction when Hempfield’s Anthony Alston proceeded to open the final frame with a pair of gigantic triples which saw the Black Knights charge back in front 39-37 with four minutes and change left to determine who would earn the right to survive and advance.

And right on cue, Donovan Green was able to snatch up some of the momentum that was created by Alston’s long range marksmanship as the bullish 6’2” senior forward was able to convert an old-fashioned three point play which created a deafening roar from the Hempfield side of the gym as the Black Knights now held a 42-37 lead with 3:20 left to go.

But as is the case so often in tournament games of the highest magnitude, Hempfield knew full well that the Railsplitters would do anything other than simply roll over.

Sure enough, Lincoln came out firing with their backs against the ropes as a 6-0 Railsplitter run quickly ensued which was capped off with a key offensive board and stick-back by Lincoln’s Tyree Corbett that gave Lincoln the 43-42 with Hempfield having to call a timeout with 1:21 left to go.

Yet just as nearly everyone in the gym was sure that Lincoln would be able to answer Hempfield back in the face of adversity, the Black Knights were up to the task in their own right as a beautiful dish from Eli Washington to Ryan Moffatt led to the hoop plus the harm as the Knights had raced back in front 45-43 immediately following the late-game timeout.

From there, Washington was able to display the moxie of a grizzled veteran as the 5’11” junior guard would go on to take a charge on the Black Knights’ ensuing defensive possession, giving the ball back to Hempfield with the chance to put an even bigger dent in their lead.

And fortunately for those that had made the Wednesday night excursion down Route 422 into Pottstown, the Black Knights were able to do precisely that as a pair of Ryan Moffatt free throws gave Hempfield what at the time could have felt like an insurmountable lead with just 32.8 left to play.

However just as most everyone who has seen their fair share of zany playoff battles over the course of time would be sure to tell you, the game is never truly over until the clock reads nothing but zeroes.

And as it turned out, 32.8 proved to be just enough time for Lincoln.

Aided by an unfortunate hustle-play type foul that was charged against the Black Knights on the next Railsplitter possession, a 1-2 trip to the line by Lincoln’s Emeuel Charleston made it a 47-44 contest with time running out.

Unfortunately for Hempfield however, the Black Knights’ next trip up the floor would end in a turnover, creating an impromptu scramble situation on defense which would eventually end in a Charleston trifecta, knotting the score up at 47-47 with now just 10.8 left to play.

And even though Hempfield would a call a timeout on the side out of bounds play with just a shade over 10 seconds remaining, the Railsplitter defense would fail to yield late-game magic to the Black Knights, sending the game into overtime.

Lincoln would waste little time once the extra session got underway as a pair of freebies converted at the charity stripe by the Sahnei Day gave the Railsplitters the 49-47 advantage immediately into extra time.

Yet Hempfield would continue to keep plugging away at things as a steal and foul down at the other end led to a pair of Anthony Alston free throws which would give the lead back to the Knights at 50-49 with 1:30 left to tick off the clock as the 6’1” senior guard continued his spectacular playmaking down the final stretch.

From there, Lincoln would offer a rebuttal to the Alston pair as stick-back by Aseem Luckey gave the Railsplitters the lead right back at 51-50 before an Emeuel Charleston free throw made it a 52-50 affair with 35 seconds left to go in OT.

Even still, things would continue to grow more precarious from there for the Black Knights as a tie up had the possession arrow pointing in the Railsplitters’ direction. And right at the conclusion of said offensive possession, a Khalif Meares sunken free throw would add to Lincoln’s lead, making it a 53-50 contest with just 10.5 left.

As it turned out, 10.5 would not be nearly enough to simply turn Hempfield away on this night.

With their season on the brink, Hempfield’s Anthony Alston had the rock in his hands with the opportunity to make good on sending this already instant classic into a second extra frame, effectively giving the Black Knights 4 more minutes on how to try and figure out a way of solving the Lincoln riddle and advancing past the District 12-6A Philadelphia champions.

Well, given his spectacular fourth quarter and overtime period to that point, one had to think that something special was about to take place. And sure enough, just as he had countless times so far in the ballgame, Alston was able to drain the cold-blooded trifecta, just beating the buzzer, to give the game just an added extra spice of overtime with both teams headed into an additional four minutes with things all square at 53-53.

Yet just as they had in the first overtime, Hempfield would spot Lincoln an opening lead throughout the first few minutes of extra time as a 1-2 trip to the line by Sahnei Day of Lincoln gave the Railsplitters the 57-53 advantage with 2:11 left to play.

And even though Hempfield was able to get it down to just two at 57-55 with 1:54 left following a pair of Donovan Green free throws, Lincoln would be able to put the game away at the foul line through the final minute and change as the Railsplitters advanced on the PIAA-6A quarterfinal round after topping a very determined Hempfield team who had left absolutely everything out on the floor, by a very deceiving 65-55 final score.

Needless to say, gut-wrenching losses such as the one that Hempfield had endured on Wednesday night make the words that much more difficult to muster in the immediate and cruel aftermath.

The pain in their eyes was evident as one by one the Black Knights slowly trudged out of the locker room, slowly coming to grips with the realization that their sensational season had just come to an unfortunate and abrupt ending.

“There’s nothing you can say tonight that’s gonna take away the pain,” Hempfield head coach Danny Walck said following his team out of the dressing room. “We played against a really, really good basketball team with a lot of skilled players with size and quickness,” Walck said praising the Railsplitters. “I’m just really proud of the grit of our kids… The ‘No Quit’ attitude and not just this game, but all year long,” the Black Knight head man said continuing on. “Everyone in that locker room wanted to play another game.”

Even still, the 2017-18 Black Knights can and frankly should hold their heads high given all that they were able to accomplish. And their head coach agrees.

“You have to look at body of work,” Walck said overviewing his team’s successes. “They won 24 games. It’s not going to mean a whole lot going home tonight, but maybe on down the road they’ll have a chance to look back and reflect,” the Hempfield head man proposed before saying simply, “I’m just really proud and privileged to be their coach.”

But as mentioned earlier, this comparisons between this year’s team and last year’s squad are so uniquely similar. And even with all the wins and postseason successes put the side for a moment, perhaps the biggest reason that argument holds so much merit is due to the fact that largely the same core group of Black Knights have taken to the floor each and every night over the past two seasons who have a direct and profound effect on Black Knight hoops. And not just this year mind you, but for years and years to come.

Who’s on that esteemed list you may ask that helped engineer back to back trips to the PIAA-6A Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight rounds? Well, this year’s senior class for one: Drew Groft, Anthony Alston, Ryan Moffatt, Teagan Hazel, David Martin-Robinson, and last but certainly not least, Donovan Green. And lest we not forget some key contributors from last year’s squad who have since departed in Bryan Karl and Tyler Hilton.

All in all, it’s certainly a small but exclusive group that Coach Walck holds in high regard.

“They’re right up there at the top. They set a high standard for us as a program,” Walck added while illuminating his last two ballclubs. “That’s what I’m saying about the body of work. We can talk about last year, we can even talk about two years ago when we went down to Interboro and played Chester in a similar situation.”

And perhaps most importantly, they have defined the word ‘team’ in the truest sense of the word.

“They just love to play and they love to play together. That’s the nice part about it. They share the ball and they aren’t worried about who gets credit for it. That’s why they’ve been successful.”

Pioneers’ Historic Season Ends In PIAA Second Round As Lampeter-Strasburg Falls To Archbishop Carroll In Overtime

The old adage in the state playoffs is that the further along you advance, the more and more that the ensuing competition only continues to grow stronger and stronger with each passing round. Well, in the case of the Lampeter-Strasburg Pioneers, never was that more true than on Tuesday night at Governor Mifflin when the L-L League champs, enjoying perhaps their best season in school history, had the task of going up chin to chin with a behemoth hailing from the prestigious Philadelphia Catholic League in Archbishop Carroll.

All things considered, it’s a Patriots program that routinely makes a habit of advancing far in March. Just consider their trip to the Final Eight last season and then magnify that tenfold given Carroll’s trips to the state finals in 2015, 2013 and 2009. And in that 2009 state final, the Pats were able to bring home the coveted gold trophy back to the diocese school located in Radnor.

So needless to say, the Patriots from Archbishop Carroll take a back seat to no one when it comes to what is without question the toughest basketball conference in the entire state of Pennsylvania, and quite honestly, maybe the whole Eastern seaboard.

Yet even still, this historic group of L-S Pioneers were not about to get caught up in all of the extra frivolous fanfare that had nothing to do with the actual game that would take place in between the white lines to determine who would move on the PIAA-5A Elite Eight round for the right to play another 32 minutes on Friday night.

And so, with a trip to the final eight on the line, Lampeter-Strasburg conducted all the necessary pregame measures to help ensure that not only would they be able to compete with one of the best outfits in the state, but perhaps come out on the winning end as they trekked up to Shillington to match up with a Catholic League heavyweight.

However once the game began, one thing became quickly apparent from the get-go. And that was that the Pioneers had come ready to ball.

Truth be told, it was hard to envision a much better start than the one that Pios put forth on Tuesday evening. To put it mildly, L-S started off white-hot with Ryan Smith’s early trifecta helping set the tone for the next few ensuing minutes of game action.

And shortly before they knew what they had gotten into, Archbishop Carroll suddenly found themselves down 7-0 and having to call a timeout to right the ship after a Ryan Smith bucket inside at the 4:31 mark of the opening quarter.

But the Pioneers weren’t done there.

In fact, L-S would remain razor-sharp coming out of the early Carroll timeout as 6’ junior forward Patrikc Holmes proceeded to splash in a trifecta which upped the L-S lead to a staggering 10-0 margin before Carroll’s Devon Ferrero was able to put a band-aid over the Patriots’ cut as the 6’5 senior forward was able to get Carroll on the board with the floater in the lane which made it a 10-2 affair at the 3:30 mark of the first.

However the Pioneer snowball would only continue rolling downhill as a Ryan Smith old-school three point play allowed the Pios to double-up their opposition with L-S now holding a commanding 13-2 advantage with the Blue-clad fans from Lampeter overjoyed with excitement.

Yet just as all good teams do, which all teams are at this stage of the game, Archbishop Carroll would start to mount a rally back.

In fact, the Pats would go on to score the next six points of the contest as an AJ Hoggard steal and finish at the cup put Carroll within five at 13-8 with 1:20 left to go in the opening quarter.

But just when Carroll may have thought that they had made L-S flinch, Ryan Smith responded with a monstrous 3 ball which extended the Pioneer lead to 16-8 with roughly one minute left to play before the first eight minutes would eventually expire with L-S in possession of the lead at 16-12.

If anything, the first few minutes of the second period proved that the first quarter was anything but a fluke as far as L-S was concerned.

With L-S playing a pesky mix of defenses which made life miserable for Carroll in terms of finding the cure to solve what ailed them, the Pioneers only continued to play on with great abandon as yet another Ryan Smith bucket inside, an all too familiar theme as witnessed by Carroll in the first half, saw the Pioneer lead grow to a dozen at 24-12 with Carroll being forced to call yet another timeout around the five minute mark of the second stanza.

In the opening half, Ryan Smith played like a man possessed as the L-S senior big man could simply not be hemmed in by the Patriots’ defenses as Smith exploded for a 21 point effort through the first sixteen minutes.

Yet even after yet another Carroll timeout, the Pioneers continued to play their game and were rewarded for doing so as a pair of buckets from the brothers Beers, Isaac and Seth respectively, kept L-S firmly in control at 28-16 with three minutes left to go in the opening half.

But putting Archbishop Carroll would prove to be another task altogether different.

After the Beers’ buckets, Carroll proceeded to outscore L-S 8-2 from then on as a bucket inside by the Patriots’ Tairi Ketner cut the Pioneer lead down to a half dozen at 30-24 before both teams went into the dressing rooms with L-S still on top by six at 32-26.

Coming out to start the second half, there was one prevailing theme that quickly became evident. And that was that Archbishop Carroll intended to use all 94 feet of the floor, forcing L-S to play at a pace that would make them uncomfortable to say the least.

No matter.

In fact, Ryan Smith picked up right where he had left off in the opening half as the L-S big man continued his reign of terror in the paint with another bucket from point blank range, this one coming on the Pioneers’ opening trip of the third period to help send the message that L-S was here to stay.

However Carroll knew that if they stuck to what they wanted to do, chances were that they would eventually be rewarded for doing so which is precisely what happened over the next few offensive trips for the Patriots as back to back triples cashed in by Luke House and Devon Ferrero sliced the L-S lead down to just two at 34-32 with 5:35 still showing on the third quarter clock.

And even though Ryan Smith would go on to show off his entire offensive repertoire by stepping out and nailing a 3 ball which kept the L-S lead at five for the moment by virtue of the 37-32 count, Archbishop Carroll would go on to outscore the Pios 7-0 over the next few minutes thanks in large part to a tenacious defense scheme that was implemented at the half as a Justin Anderson layup in transition following a turnover, gave the Pats their first lead of the contest at 39-37 around the three minute mark of the third.

Even despite their boat taking on water during this time, L-S and Isaac Beers were able to help plug some of the holes as the 6’ senior guard’s scoop shot in the lane made things all square once again at 43-43 with the 1:30 left to play in the third.

But from there, Carroll would go on to post a 5-0 run which was capped off by a Justin Anderson trifecta in the corner as the 6’2 senior guard was able to put the Patriots in front 48-43, just beating the third quarter buzzer.

But the Patriots weren’t done swinging their sword at the conclusion of the third.

In fact, things appeared to get very delicate for L-S once AJ Hoggard was able to drain a 3 ball to start the fourth quarter which subsequently put L-S’ hopes and dreams of advancing further skating into the tournament on very thin ice.

The one thing that is said about big time players is that they step up in big time games. Enter L-S’ Jordan Sweger at that very moment.

With his team trailing and his Pioneer career possibly ending in just a matter of minutes there in Shillington, the 6’ senior guard absolutely took the game over with a pair of back to back old-school three point plays which immediately shrunk the Archbishop Carroll lead down to just a deuce at 53-51 with roughly six minutes left to go.

However the Pioneers would do better than simply getting close to their opponents who hail from just outside of Philadelphia.

Yes, L-S continued to play inspired ball as a Ryan Smith bucket inside made things all square at 53-53 before an Isaac Beers triple gave the lead back to L-S at 56-53 as the Patriots were forced to call timeout and regroup with 4:48 to play.

And although Archbishop Carroll would eventually regain their footing and claw back to within a whisker of L-S, the Pioneers appeared to be on the verge of claiming the upset victory as a loose ball scrum eventually saw the leather roll into the hands of L-S’ Zach Kingsley with the 6’ junior guard promptly taking off and racing down to the other end with it as Kingsley was able to tally the transition bucket which made it a four point Pioneer lead at 65-61 with time quickly running out on Carroll.

What was that saying about big time players stepping up in big time games? Oh yea, better find Archbishop Carroll’s Keyon Butler to help fit that description as well.

With his team now staring at the harsh reality of possible elimination, the 6’4” senior forward authored a Titanic-sized three point play through contact which helped the Pats get back within one at 65-64 with just 45.5 left to go with their season on the brink.

Yet things only got better from there as far as the Archbishop Carroll patrons were concerned as a strong, man-sized take to the rack by 6’2” sophomore dynamo AJ Hoggard put the Patriots in front 66-65 with the game now inside 30 seconds left in regulation.

And with L-S now looking at the possibility of a walk-off winner, the Pioneers were patient in their offensive set before firing a shot up from the field. Unfortunately, the shot would be no good. Fortunately on the other hand for L-S, the carom would come out to Isaac Beers who was fouled later in the possession, sending him to the line with the chance to make things all square once more.

And right on cue, the Pioneers’ steady senior guard was able to do exactly that, going 1-2 from the stripe with the game on the line to make it a 66-66 contest with Carroll having one final chance of their own.

And yet even though the Patriots would get off a really good look from the right around the tin, it was not to be as the Pioneers and Patriots headed back to their respective benches with four more minutes of playoff basketball afoot.

To start the extra session, it was certainly fair to say that L-S’ Seth Beers was a key contributing factor.

Yet to be more precise, the 5’9” sophomore guard was lights out to start the extra frame by rattling off five gigantic points. In fact, after each exchange, Beers was able to help put L-S back in the lead each time as his triple first made it a 69-68 affair with 2:30 left to play before his pair of freebies from the line made it a 71-70 Pioneer lead with 1:47 remaining.

Death, taxes, and free throws deciding playoff games.

As is so often the case, a team’s ability to cash in from the charity stripe almost always proves to be a key factor in determining who emerges victorious. And yes, Tuesday night’s Archbishop Carroll and L-S game really was no exception to that rule.

Shortly after the Beers knockdowns at the line, Carroll proceeded to go a perfect 4-4 from the stripe as a pair of 2-2 exchanges by Keyon Butler and AJ Hoggard respectively gave the lead back to the Patriots at 74-71 with just 1:10 being the difference in who would advance on the round of eight.

Down on the other end, opportunity did not shine as brightly for the Pioneers as an 0-2 trip to the foul line helped pave the wave for Justin Anderson to add on to the Patriots’ lead after a 1-2 trip of his own which made it a 75-71 Carroll advantage with 30 ticks left on the clock.

As expected however, L-S continued to fight with everything they possibly had as a Ryan Smith bucket inside, good for 2 of his game-high, now seemingly business-like 34 point outburst, cut the Archbishop Carroll lead down to two at 75-73 with just 8 seconds left to play.

From there, AC’s AJ Hoggard was promptly fouled on the ensuing inbounds with just 6.7 left. However nerves clearly were not a factor for the 6’2” sophomore guard as Hoggard would walk to the other end and go to cash in both of his attempts en route to a 19 point effort, falling just shy of fellow teammate Keyon Butler for Patriots’ high-scoring honors as Butler pumped in a 21 point team-high effort on Tuesday evening.

And so, with the lead now standing at what appeared to be an insurmountable four with the scoreboard reading 77-73, L-S would have one last offensive possession of the season. Fittingly, it too would end points as Isaac Beers was able to sink a trifecta before beating the horn, but it would simply be a matter of too little too late as Archbishop Carroll was able to escape after a fantastic effort put forth by a very game Lampeter-Strasburg squad, 77-76.

Without question, losses hurt. Losses that end your season are just one that simply sting a little different. Especially when a defeat marks the ceremonial dropping of the curtain on a historical season just as it did figuratively for L-S on Tuesday at Governor Mifflin.

But even through the obvious pain that was apparent in the immediate aftermath, it was plain as day to see that L-S second year head coach Ed Berryman was undeniably proud to have had the opportunity to coach and mentor such a fine and upstanding group of Pioneers.

“They played their butts off,” Berryman said after his team’s hard-fought defeat. “That just spoke volumes by what they did on the floor,” the L-S head man said referring back to the game that had just finished up no more than five minutes prior.

“They’re leaders and they play hard,” Berryman went on to add regarding his 2018 six man senior class.

And the high praise certainly did not end there. Nor was it in short order.

“He’s a damn tough kid and he’s a great leader for our team,” Coach Berryman said when describing Jordan Sweger and his contributions to the Pioneers’ program. “Peyton Denlinger hustles his butt off all the time,” the L-S boss continued on. “Obviously Ryan (Smith) did a great job and Isaac (Beers) did a great job. And also Mark (Wilson) and Cam (Neimeyer) are leaders as well….They’re great basketball players and they’re better people,” Berryman said summing up his departing seniors that have given so much to the program one final time. “That’s who they are.”

Hempfield Experiences Deja Vu As Black Knights Advance Past Coatesville For Dramatic Opening Round State Playoff Victory

Let’s be honest for a quick second, there are a lot of adjectives that could still be applied to describe Hempfield’s spectacular postseason run from just one short year ago. Not the least of which include the word “unforgettable.”

No doubt about it, the Black Knights’ journey through the postseason last year was filled with plenty of memorable peaks and valleys along the way….And those only need be limited to just the L-L and District 3 tournaments alone.

Going back to last season’s L-L tournament, Hempfield and Lancaster Catholic battled it out, both literally and figuratively over the course of 32 minutes, with the Crusaders coming out on top to advance to the league title fight by virtue of a 35-19 blue-collar victory at Penn Manor. And yes, that score is no misprint.

And although the abrupt exit from the league playoffs could have easily derailed their other postseason dreams, the Black Knights were certainly able to right the ship and then some as Hempfield was able to do an about face, advancing all the way to the inaugural District 3 6A championship game where the tenacious squad from Landisville would eventually fall short to arguably the best program in all of Central Pennsylvania as the Harrisburg Cougars were able to topple the Knights, claiming their 12th District 3 title in the process.

However the DNA of last year’s Hempfield team would quickly be defined as one that could and would always bounce right back up off the canvas.

Look no further than Hempfield’s opening round state tournament game against Allentown Allen over at nearby Warwick for further proof of that.

In a game that seemed like it would take the form of the quintessential “Irresistible Force vs Immovable Object” theme, the Black Knights were able to keep the clamps down on the Canaries’ high-flying attack, snatching an upset victory that sent tremors across the state as Allen, one of last season’s favorites to possibly make it all the way to Hershey, was knocked out on the opening night of the tournament.

And all things considered, you must forgive the Black Knights and their fans if they suddenly came down with an undeniable feeling of déjà vu when they took a look at this season’s postseason roadmap as well.

Just as they had in 2017, Hempfield found themselves right back in a familiar spot as the Knights made the short trip over to Penn Manor for a date in the league semifinals, this time against arguably the best team in the entire league in the L-S Pioneers.

And just like one year ago, the Black Knights found themselves on the short end of a hard-fought contest, falling short to the upstart Pioneers by a 47-45 count in what was the most-anticipated L-L playoff game that had taken place for quite some time around these parts.

Fast forward to the 2018 District 3 tournament and Hempfield was once again able to show off their mettle and moxie as the Black Knights threw all caution to the win, advancing all the way to the District semifinals before they would once again fall short of claiming gold medals, falling to Chambersburg 52-35.

And just as they had on opening night of the 2017 state playoffs, Hempfield made the short trip over to Warwick to do battle with an ultra-athletic ballclub hoping for the same type of magic they were able to use in their win over Allentown Allen last year as they prepared to face off with one of the best programs in all the state, that being the Coatesville Red Raiders.

And for a game that had so many eerie undertones to it, Hempfield head coach Danny Walck was sure to remind his troops to draw upon last year’s experiences. Even down to the tiniest of details including dressing the very same locker room.

“Yes, because you’re playing athletic teams and going against really good players, skilled players, and they have a lot of complimentary parts,” Coach Walck said harkening back to last year’s game against Allen in terms of finding similarities to their opposition on Saturday night. “So it’s like, ‘Go back and look at that if you want to have success.”’

Coming out, it quickly became apparent that Hempfield would be looking to their old reliable formula of slowing the pace down to help put the number of Coatesville run-out opportunities to a bare minimum. And right on cue the Black Knights proceeded to melt away over a minute of game action on their opening possession of the contest.

And although Hempfield’s opening trip would come up empty in terms of points, their second attempt would prove to be far more successful as one of Hempfield’s main stars, senior forward David Martin-Robinson, was able to launch and connect from long range, giving the Black Knights the early 3-2 advantage just two minutes into the game.

Yet even though the ultra-quick Red Raiders were able to push the pace here and there at certain points throughout the first quarter. No more was that evidenced than by a ridiculously-athletic put-back registered by Coatesville’s stellar sophomore point guard Jhamir Brickus to put the Red Raiders up by a deuce before a dunk shortly thereafter following a steal was slammed home by 6’3” senior forward Donte Crews. And suddenly right then and there, Coatesville found themselves in possession of the early 11-7 advantage even with Hempfield largely dictating the pace.

However that ole’ Hempfield “bouncback” DNA was on full display for the remainder of the first quarter on Saturday as the Black Knights rallied back to tie things up at 11-11 following a pair of free throws cashed in by Donovan Green, only to see Coatesville score the final bucket of the opening period as the Red Raiders marched into the second stanza by virtue of the 13-11 cushion.

But just at that very moment, Hempfield suddenly decided that they no longer wished to trade volleys with arguably the best team they had faced yet this season. Instead, the Black Knights proved to everyone in the gymnasium that they had arrived in Lititz with the intention to take this game over once and for all.

The run itself started off fairly innocently with an Elijah Washington take to the cup which made things all square at 13-13 on the Black Knights’ first offensive trip of the second quarter. However it was evident that this would prove to be no ordinary run as 6’0’ junior guard Adam Wernoch proceeded to check into the contest and deliver a Titanic-sized triple which gave the lead back to Hempfield at 16-13 with 5:30 left to go in the opening half with the Red and Black clad partisans from Landisville going bonkers with excitement.

However Hempfield was not done there.

No, the second quarter Black Knight salvo would see itself morph into a 9-0 rally throughout the initial first few minutes of the second stanza before a Jhamir Brickus steal and lay in finally stopped the bleeding for Coatesville with the Red Raiders now trailing by a 20-15 count with 3:40 left in the opening half.

And although Coatesville would cut the gap down to as few as five at 21-16, Hempfield proceeded to answer back in the face of adversity, (surprise surprise) with back to back old-school three point plays authored by Anthony Alston and Donovan Green respectfully as the Black Knight senior pair pushed Hempfield’s advantage back up over the ten point bulge at 27-16 with just 1:49 left to play in the opening half.

Yet once again, a late Coatesville second quarter rally was met with the upmost resistance as an Anthony Alston triple, buried right in front of the Red Raider bench just before the horn, sent the Black Knights into the dressing room with possession of the 32-20 halftime lead.

In a word, Coatesville’s first half was frustrating—for a multitude of reasons. However the frustration would only continue to boil over from the first half into the early stages of the second half as the Red Raiders were whistled for a technical foul, sending Hempfield star senior Ryan Moffatt to the charity stripe where the 6’5” combo guard would go on to convert the pair, upping the Hempfield lead to 36-22 which only added a further dose of salt to the already-gushing Coatesville wound.

But things would only get worse before they got better for the Red Raiders. In fact, four more Black Knights points were added to the scoreboard before Coatesville was forced to burn yet another timeout as C-Ville looked up and saw themselves trailing 40-22 with 5:15 left in the third.

Fortunatley for those that had made the trip westbound on US Route 30 into Lititz on Saturday evening, the Red Raiders found their go-to-guy with the game now residing at it’s most critical juncture as Division 1 recruit Tyrel Bladen went on to score six straight Red Raider points as the 6’9” towering senior forward helped narrow the gap with stellar play under the cup to help make it a 42-28 affair with now 3:15 left to play in the third frame.

However with the precious element of momentum now dangerously close towards tilting in Coatesville’s favor, Hempfield was able to continue reaping the rewards from Adam Wernoch’s monstrous night as the unheralded yet talented junior guard was able to rise up and knock down a clutch jumper to stave off that ever-approaching Red Raider snowball, keeping Coatesville at arm’s length at 44-28 with over two minutes left to go in the third.

It would prove to be a bucket which would help turn momentum back over to Hempfield’s bench as the third quarter clock would eventually expire with the Black Knights carrying the 46-36 lead with them into the game’s final eight minutes although nearly everyone inside the jam-packed gym felt like Coatesville still had yet to take their best shot.

And so, with Coatesville now staring at the harsh reality of having their special season possibly coming to an end after the very first night of the state tournament, the Red Raiders proceeded to turn up the dial to start the final period.

Aided by one of the biggest foul shots you will ever see—one that just so happened to give sensational sophomore guard Jhamir Brickus 1,000 career points, yes that too is not a misprint, the Red Raider deficit was closed down to a manageable nine at 46-37 with 6:45 left to go.

And that’s when the rally started.

From there, Coatesville continued to poke and prod their way back into the thick of things as a traditional three point play by the aforementioned Brickus sliced Hempfield’s lead to eight at 50-42, before a steal and layup by Dapree Bryant keep the margin still at eight with the score now standing at 52-44 with 4:30 still to play.

However just as they had done all night long, Hempfield continued to have the answer key to whatever questions Coatesville would throw at them.

Perhaps no play was as big in the entire game as Anthony Alston’s putback through contact after securing the loose pill following a scrum as the 6’1” senior guard gave Hempfield the 58-46 lead with three minutes and change left to go with the Black Knight fans giving their ear-shattering roar of approval in response.

But as is the case so often in big time basketball, you had to expect that Coatesville wasn’t about to go down without a fight.

And right on cue, the Red Raiders came roaring back, pushing the Black Knights’ backs up against the ropes as a gigantic 3 ball cashed in by junior guard Aaron Young suddenly closed the gap down to six at 58-52 with just 1:40 left to play.

However Hempfield continued to have the ultimate show-stopper on Saturday night at Warwick as senior guard Ryan Moffatt simply was on another level in terms of his free throw shooting prowess among other things.

On the evening, the all-star senior guard was able to tally an eye-popping 21-24 night from the charity stripe, including one following the Young 3 ball, which helped keep Coatesville at bay as the Black Knights increased their lead to a half dozen at 59-53 with 1:10 still showing on the clock.

Yet with the Red Raiders needing to answer back and pronto, luck was unfortunately not on C-Ville’s side as an empty trip on the offensive end led to even more frustration as Coatesville was dinged with their second technical foul of the evening, this one coming at the absolute worst of times.

From there, even more Ryan Moffatt freebies from the charity stripe helped close things out as Moffatt’s game-high 29 point effort proved to be more than enough to help send Hempfield into the second round as the Black Knights advanced past an ultra-talented Coatesville bunch, 66-53.

“I didn’t think that clock could go fast enough,” Hempfield head coach Danny Walck said with a smile and an exhale following his team’s magnificent performance on Saturday night. “Our guys followed the gameplan to a T. We knew that (Coatesville) was going to bring that pressure. It’s hard to simulate in practice,” Coach Walck added, acknowledging Coatesville’s trademark up-tempo style of play. “It’s different whenever you’re out there and it’s coming at you. There was no lead that was going to be big enough.”

And even though Hempfield was tested time and again on Saturday night, their various leads throughout would indeed prove to be big enough as the Black Knights continued to show the poise and grittiness of a team playing like it has no desires whatsoever of turning their uniforms in any time soon as Hempfield was able to turn away a pesky Coatesville squad at nearly every turn Saturday evening. A feat that no doubt serves the Black Knights well considering they are now one of only 16 teams still with the opportunity to play basketball in the state of Pennsylvania at the 6A level.

NEXT UP: With their win on Saturday night, Hempfield shifts their focus and attention directly towards the Lincoln High Rail Splitters from just outside of Philadelphia with a trip to the PIAA Elite 8 riding on the line Wednesday night at a site and time yet to be determined. And if you think Hempfield is going to revel in the spoils of this victory for any great length of time, think again.

“Will we start working tonight? We possibly could,” Walck said regarding the scout for their midweek affair. “The latest we would start working on them would be tomorrow morning. But this is this ‘madness.’ This is why you work so hard.”

And speaking of working hard, it truly takes a team effort to compete and advance at this stage of the game. A task that simply would not have been possible had it not been for the key contributions put forth by the tandem of Adam Wernoch and Ronnie Swantner on Saturday night. Two unsung heroes who were able to register big time games that were certainly not lost on Coach Walck.

“Can we win that game without them? No,” Walck said without hesitation when speaking on the junior guard duo of Wernoch and Swantner. “That’s why you have to stay prepared and when you’re number is ready, you’ve got to stay connected,” Walck went on to add. “When you’re going through the scouting report, stay connected because when you get put in there you need to know who (Jhamir Brickus) is, you need to know who (Dapree Bryant) is, you need to know our schemes and our plan and they played right on point tonight.”

For Coatesville, although Saturday night’s was without question disappointing to say the least, the Red Raiders can look out to the not too distant future and see big things likely on the horizon given the return of perhaps the two best players in all of the Chest-Mont League in Jhamir Brickus and Dapree Bryant respectively. Both of whom will enter next season in just their junior campaigns with plenty of miserable nights left to disperse on those that have the unfortunate task of lining up against them.