For some, Monday night across the LLhoops landscape marked the beginning of a brand new season. Not so for Ephrata and Penn Manor. This past weekend, both the Comets and Mounts played in traditional early season tip off tournaments at Exeter and Lancaster Catholic respectively, with both squads coming away with 1-1 marks after the opening weekend of the season. With some early season momentum ripe for the taking at Ephrata Middle School on Monday night, both teams squared off in what would turn out to be an early season intersectional thriller.
The early going seemed like one of a heavyweight title fight with both teams taking their time to feel the opposition out. Case in point, Penn Manor did not have much activity below the foul line or even attempt their first shot until 40 seconds had run off the clock on their opening possession. Likewise, Ephrata also shared the sugar offensively with the Mounts working the ball around, looking for the best available shot. They finally found their answer to the Comet defensive riddle in Dilyn Becker as the senior guard scored the first bucket of the ballgame with 5:25 showing on the first quarter clock. The Mountaineer lead then ballooned to 5-0 when junior Zach McGillan wandered to his favorite spot on the floor, the corner, for yet another trifecta in his terrific Ephrata career for 3 of his game 17 points.
Undeterred, Penn Manor also found the touch from behind the arc as well for their first points of the ballgame when fellow junior Ty Erisman knocked down the 3 ball for the Comets to get them on the board. For the next few minutes however, the Mounts would go on a bit of a run to distance themselves from the visitors from Millersville as another McGillan 3 ball made it a 10-3 ballgame in favor of the Mounts, forcing Penn Manor to burn a timeout with 2:20 left in the opening quarter.
With the game hanging in such a critical balance that early, an answer from Penn Manor was needed. ASAP. They were able to find their rebuttal to Ephrata’s early-game success in the form of Kevin Roldan as the pesky junior guard finished off two easy lay-ins which cut into Ephrata’s lead before the first quarter buzzer finally sounded with Ephrata maintaining the narrow 1 point lead at 10-9.
The late momentum that Penn Manor was able to scoop up in the waning minutes of the first quarter carried over into the early stages of the second stanza as well as a bucket inside by Comet big man Josiah Edwards gave Penn Manor their first lead of the ballgame. But not before Ephrata’s Xavian Rodriguez was able to steal momentum right back with an old-fashioned three point play in the paint to put the Mounts back in front. Shortly thereafter, another tough battle inside won by Rodriguez culminated in yet another three point play that put the Mounts up by five at 16-11 with 5:40 left in the opening half. From there, the Ephrata lead doubled in size as an offensive board snatched down by the Mounts eventually saw the ball get into the hands of Sam Cable as the Ephrata senior was able to knock down the triple to put Ephrata in front by ten at 22-11 with 3:55 left in the half, forcing yet another Comet timeout to stop the Mount snowball from rolling downhill.
But unfortunately for the Comets, that would not turn out to be the case as a late Zach McGillan triple, his third of the half, put the exclamation mark on a dominating second quarter authored by the Mounts, as Ephrata held the Comets to just 4 second quarter points, leading 26-13 at the break.
Whatever was said to his troops by Penn Manor head coach Larry Bellow in the intermission seemed to be exactly what the doctor had ordered as the Comets came out of the locker room on a torrid start. After a 3 ball by Ty Erisman got the second half scoring underway, another 3 ball, this one splashed down by Reed Morrison, cut the Ephrata halftime advantage down to just five at 26-21 with 4:37 left in the third, forcing Ephrata this time to call a timeout and regroup.
Although a Dilyn Becker drive to the tin would quell Penn Manor’s scintillating second half start to some degree, another Comet triple, this one from senior forward Colin Morrison, kept Penn Manor in the thick of it at 31-26 with 3:15 showing on the third quarter clock. From there, Penn Manor continued to ride their hot shooting from behind the arc as another trifecta, this one from Luis Tamayo, cut Ephrata’s once impressive lead down to just a bucket at 31-29.
Although Ephrata wasn’t about to simply relinquish their lead without a fight, as evidenced by Xavian Rodriguez’s emphatic swat on a would-be layup to put the Comets in front, Penn Manor continued to remain on the attack and was rewarded for doing so as a late quarter drive to the rack by Kevin Roldan for 2 of his team high 12 points, put the Comets back in front 32-31 as the third quarter expired.
Now with the shoe being on the other foot, it was Ephrata who was forced to find an answer for Penn Manor’s surge of momentum. Fortunately for the Yellow and Purple, they have a reliable answerbank in Dilyn Becker to call on in times of need. And it just so happened that an early Becker turnaround jumper to start the quarter put the Mounts back in front in this seesaw affair. The back and forth battle raged on as a Josiah Edwards bucket plus the harm put the Comets back in front 34-33 with 5:21 left to play. But as is the case with most any team with lofty preseason expectations, Ephrata has more than one weapon that can do damage. Never was that more apparent than when Zach McGillan tallied a bucket of his own to put the Mounts back in front 35-34.
Bucket for bucket. That was the theme as the fourth quarter continued on. Penn Manor would have their turn to answer McGillan’s basket with an excellent offensive possession that saw the Comets get Ephrata unbalanced off superb ball rotation before the extra pass found its way to Ty Erisman who let it fly from behind the arc and promptly rained down a triple to put Penn Manor back in front 37-35. Ironically, the next basket of the contest would get away from the alternating theme that had ensued over the previous few minutes as a Kevin Roldan steal and layup put the Comets up by four at 41-37 with 2:23 to play.
Ephrata was able to inch closer following the late Comet barrage with a McGillan hoop, which was immediately followed by a timely steal by Dilyn Becker on the Ephrata end as the Mount possession ended with Sam Cable being fouled and converting 1-2 from the stripe to bring the Mounts within a point at 41-40.
With the game on the line, Penn Manor was the first to answer the bell as a free throw from Ty Erisman allowed Penn Manor to get some additional breathing room before a Luis Tamayo bucket gave them even more with the Comets now in front 44-40.
Just as he had all game though, Xavian Rodriguez’s hustle plays, the ones that won’t appear on many flashy highlight mixes, proved to be the difference in the ballgame as time after time his plays stemmed the tide away from the Comets just when the Mounts needed it most. And once again, another Rodriguez-won battle under the rim resulted in a hoop plus the harm, for a change of momentum that put Ephrata within a point at 44-43.
With Penn Manor being unable to manufacture anything in their ensuing offensive set, Ephrata saw themselves with the ball and time running out. And once again, Dilyn Becker had the ultimate answer as the Mounts’ senior guard rose up off the dribble and knocked down a coldblooded triple from the elbow-extended to put Ephrata back in the lead 46-44, making the cozy gymnasium roar like a 747 jet engine.
As was the case for most of the fourth quarter, Penn Manor was hoping that the theme of alternating baskets would come true just one more time. This one meaning that the Comets would be able to ride back to Millersville with a hard-fought victory. Unfortunately for the Comets however, that would not come to pass as Penn Manor’s last shot of the ballgame cruelly bounced off the front rim for the Comet faithful, giving Ephrata a dramatic early-season defining triumph over a gritty Section 1 ballclub in Penn Manor, 46-44.
NEXT UP: Ephrata will continue with the Section 1 flavor on the schedule this week as the Mounts will take on longtime rival Warwick before finishing up the week with up and comer E-Town back at Ephrata.
Penn Manor will look to regroup this week as the Comets make their home debut on Wednesday night as the Comets play host to Kennard-Dale, and one of the best players in the York-Adams League, southpaw guard Adam Freese. Penn Manor will close out this week’s action by also squaring off with Warwick with the game between the Warriors and Comets set for Thursday night in Millersville.