In many ways, it’s fair to say that Saturday afternoon in the Lancaster Lebanon League basketball community was date that many had been anticipating for quite some time. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you know full-well by now that Saturday officially marked the beginning of postseason play as Manheim Township and Garden Spot help raise the curtain on this year’s playoffs in the LL play-in game held at Hempfield.
However there was still one other squad in the league that had some unfinished business left to attend to. That being the Solanco Golden Mules.
While a great majority of LL teams that did not survive to play into the second season have likely already had discussions about when the dreaded uniform return day will be, Solanco saved one of their stiffest challenges yet to date in the final contest of the season as the Mules went on an hour long bus ride before unloading and then squaring off against the Sun Valley Vanguards of the Chest-Mont League. A school which is nestled in the quiet town of Aston, just a stone’s throw north of the Pennsylvania high school hoops hotbed of Chester.
Despite the fact that the Golden Mules came into the weekend sporting just a 4-16 overall record, Solanco was coming off their first Section 2 victory of the year last week when the Mules were able to knock off Manheim Central before giving aforementioned Garden Spot plenty of fits their last time out before ultimately falling to the Spartans by a 59-42 count. And with that late added burst of momentum in tow, Solanco was eager to end the year with an exclamation mark if they could upset the playoff-bound Vanguards hailing from the District 1 ranks.
But their opposition would be anything but a leisurely stroll through suburban Philadelphia with Sun Valley coming into Saturday with even more momentum than their counterparts considering the Vanguards were winners of their last five contests, including a 70-61 victory over future LL member Octorara on Friday evening.
Once the game got underway, things couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start for the Golden Mules if they would have scripted it themselves. With Sun Valley opening the contest by employing a 2-3 zone defensively, 6’1” senior guard Aaron Constein was able to rise and fire, knocking down a trifecta on the Mules’ opening possession of the ballgame.
And although Sun Valley 5’10” senior guard Shair Brown Morris would counter that with a 4-0 run of his own, Solanco would be able to regain control of the scoreboard following yet another triple, this one cashed in by 5’10” junior guard Dawson Kreider, as Solanco surged back in front 6-4 in the early going.
Once again however, Solanco would have to continue to deal with the exploits of Brown Morris over the course of the next several minutes as the Vanguards’ floor general was able to pilot another personal advance, this one of the 5-0 variety, as Sun Valley charged back to the lead at 10-6 with five minutes still left to tick off the first quarter clock.
But the back and forth battle would only continue to rage on from there as Solanco would answer the Brown Morris salvo with a 5-0 blitz of their own which was capped off by an Aaron Constein 3 ball, putting the Golden Mules back on top 11-10 at the 4:15 mark of the opening quarter of play.
The Solanco lead would only improve from there as another 3 ball, this one splashed in by 6’ senior guard Jon Rush, gave the Mules their fourth triple of the opening quarter while simultaneously increasing Solanco’s lead to four at 14-10.
And although Solanco would see their sliced down to just one following a Shair Brown Morris triple, the Golden Mules were able to play with the lead for the remainder of the opening quarter as a sweet dish inside from the senior connection of Aaron Constein to Braden Redcay gave the Mules the 18-15 advantage just before the first quarter horn rang out.
Fortunately for Sun Valley, their knight in shining armor donning the #14 jersey would then proceed to check into the contest at the onset of the second quarter and help carry the Vanguards across the finish line the rest of the way.
His name is Vinny DeAngelo. And if Solanco didn’t know his name at the beginning of Saturday afternoon, they certainly knew of it after. After giving way to a senior-laden lineup which more than held their own in the opening quarter of action, DeAngelo wasted little to no time taking the game over.
In fact, it took all of 1:10 off the second quarter clock before Solanco would quickly see their lead vanish after a 5-0 DeAngelo blitzkrieg which knotted things up at 20-20, forcing the Golden Mules to call and try and muster an answer.
Unfortunately for those that traveled east on US Route 1 from Quarryville on Saturday, that would prove to be the closest Solanco would stay within the Vanguards for the remainder of the game.
Over the span of the next two minutes, Sun Valley would promptly go from being in a tie ballgame to leading by a touchdown as a steal and runout by 6’1” junior forward Lance Stone put the Vanguards in charge at 28-21 at the 3:12 mark of the second quarter, forcing Solanco to call yet another timeout to stop the bleeding.
Yet just as they would throughout the entirety of the contest, Solanco simply refused to quietly go back home on this rainy Saturday afternoon.
After a pair of Vinny DeAngelo freebies from the line gave Sun Valley a double digit lead at 31-21 following the Solanco timeout, the Golden Mules continued to scrap and claw their way back to within single figures as an old fashioned three point play put up and in by Aaron Constein cut Sun Valley’s lead to 33-24 with just one minute left in the first half. On the day, Constein would go on to close the book on his all-star caliber season and Golden Mule career by netting a team-high 24 points.
But just when it had appeared that Solanco would be able to go into the intermission with the game still within shouting distance, Mr. DeAngelo continued to have alternative plans for his guests as the stellar 6’2” junior guard continued to show why his is one of the better players in the greater Philadelphia area by collecting an offensive rebound and having the presence of mind to come down with it and score the goal just before the halftime buzzer, sending Sun Valley into the break with the 37-26 advantage.
Once the third quarter got underway, it was apparent that the underlying game of cat and mouse being played between Solanco and Sun Valley would only rage on into the second half as well.
With Sun Valley continuing to own a double digit lead, Solanco’s Jack Boomsma was there to say not so fast as the 6’2” Golden Mule senior tallied a tough bucket inside to draw Solanco back within single figures, cutting the Vanguard lead to 39-30 at the 4:10 mark of the third.
But yet again, Sun Valley would have none of that.
Following the Boomsma bucket, Sun Valley’s rangy 6’4” wing in Marvin Freeman stopped and popped from bonus distance, putting the Vanguards up by a dozen at 42-30.
And although Sun Valley would continue to enjoy a double figure lead following a tough, gritty drive to the cup by Vinny DeAngelo, Austin Daniels was able to check into the game and deliver a 3 ball to aid the Mules’ cause as the 5’11” senior guard trimmed the Sun Valley advantage to a 44-36 count after his immediate trifecta in the waning minutes of the third period.
When the third quarter clock finally did expire, it would show Sun Valley continuing to hold serve, leading Solanco 48-38 heading into the final eight minutes of the Mules’ season.
But just as he had all game long, Vinny DeAngelo refused to yield anything to the visiting Golden Mules. Aided by his 5-0 spurt to begin the final quarter, the Vanguards increased their lead to a baker’s dozen at 53-40 just 1:10 into the fourth as DeAngelo was well on his way to claiming game-high scoring honors by posting a marvelous 31 point effort.
And although Solanco would mount one last charge after back to back triples cashed in by Aaron Constein and Jon Rush respectively, Marvin Freeman was there to put the exclamation mark on the afternoon for Sun Valley as the Vanguards’ matchup nightmare completed the transition opportunity with a two-handed throwdown in the face of the final Solanco advance.
However to their credit, Solanco continued to play all 32 minutes without giving an inch as evidenced by the late game triples dialed up Austin Daniels and Zach Wiker respectively as the Golden Mules went down swinging to Sun Valley, 65-56.
Coming into the contest, it was evident that third year Solanco head coach Scott Long knew that Saturday’s game would be one of Solanco’s stiffest challenges yet to date given the length and pure talent that Sun Valley possesses across the board this season. “They would be a team that would be right there with everyone else. They’re just as good as an Ephrata, L-S, or Garden Spot,” Long stated when describing the Vanguards in comparison to other LL Section 2 heavyweights this season. “They’re so tough because they have that elite level guard who can just make a play. We struggled with him,” Long admitted when referencing Vinny DeAngelo’s 31 point outburst. “They’re definitely one of the better teams we’ve seen.”
NEXT UP: Not only did the final buzzer on Saturday afternoon indicate the end of Solanco’s valiant effort against the home-standing Vanguards, it also marked end of the road for Solanco this season. And although the Golden Mules finished the year with a 4-17 overall record, Coach Long was still quick to point out that even despite the win/loss record, there were still positives from this year that he will be able to take away from this team for years to come.
“Our win at Gettysburg was a fun one,” Long said looking back on the year that was. “We go away for the holidays and go to Gettysburg to play in their holiday tournament. It was just a fun game because the end was back and forth and we actually hit a shot at the buzzer to win the game, so that was a fun one.”
Wins and losses aside, it’s also crystal clear that Coach Long will remember this year’s senior class fondly for the upstanding individuals they were away from the hardwood as well. “Our senior group that’s graduating, they’re all great kids,” Long detailed regarding the upcoming 2018 graduates. “They’re fun to be around, they’re respectful kids, and they work hard. Even tonight, they were down by about ten at half and they fought their tails off.” A feature of this year’s edition of Golden Mule basketball that goes well beyond just Saturday afternoon. “I was happy with how they continued to play even though they weren’t getting the results they wanted,” the Solanco head man said regarding his team’s resiliency in 2017-18. “I think that’s a life skill that translates further than just basketball.”
And even despite what may have appeared to be a long winter on the surface this year down in Quarryville, it was impossible to ignore the optimism in Coach Long’s voice as he knows what is brewing for the future of his program next year and beyond. “We’ll bring back some experience so that’s exciting,” Long explained regarding what lies ahead for Golden Mule hoops. “Our JV team finished with a winning record so we’re really excited about them… I think just getting that group on the court more knowing there’s some pieces there that are good players, that really energizes our whole staff.” And with a revamping of the entire LL landscape next season, don’t forget about the Golden Mules. If you do, you’ll likely regret it.
With their victory over Solanco on Saturday afternoon, Sun Valley advances on to play in the District 1 tournament, earning the right to play a home game as the #6 seed in the 5A bracket opposite of #11 seeded Marple Newtown in a Wednesday night opening round game with a tip time set for 7pm in Aston. Should the Vanguards advance past the Fightin’ Tigers in the midweek, they may very well have a date with the most historic program in all the state next weekend as the Chester Clippers will tangle with Academy Park in the game opposite them in their bracket. And with players such as Vinny DeAngelo, Shair Brown Morris, Marvin Freeman, and Issac Kennon leading the way, don’t be surprised to see Sun Valley continue to hang around longer than some may anticipate as the Vanguards possess all the tools to be a serious threat in the District 1 tournament.