Andy talks with Coach Christenson, Warwick after summer league game in W. Reading. Enjoy!
Andy talks with Coach Christenson, Warwick after summer league game in W. Reading. Enjoy!
Andy talks with Coach Seth Sigman June 13th after W.reading summer league game. Enjoy!
(Lancaster Mennonite’s Geoff Geoff Helped Lead The Blazers To Their First Trip To The State Semifinals Since 2002)
All LLHoops.com Section 3 Honors
Coach of the Year- Geoff Groff (Lancaster Mennonite)
Noah Myers – Annville-Cleona
John Gillespie – Lancaster Mennonite
RJ VanTash – Lancaster Catholic
Jeff Lorah – ELCO
Caleb Light- Northern Lebanon
Devon Colyer- Pequea Valley
Elijah Terry- Lancaster Mennonite
Braden Bohannon- ELCO
Hummy Valerio – Lebanon Catholic
Johnny Besecker- Lancaster Catholic
Alex Yeager- Northern Lebanon
Carter Hurst- Lancaster Mennonite
(Lampeter-Strasburg’s Ed Berryman Celebrates The School’s First League Title)
(Lampeter-Strasburg’s Ryan Smith)
Ryan Smith- Lampeter-Strasburg
Avery Walker – Donegal
Jordan Shewbridge – Garden Spot
Isaac Beers- Lampeter-Strasburg
Brad DaBella- Ephrata
Connor Hostetter- Manheim Central
Aidan Trynosky- Cocalico
Larry Locker- Elizabethtown
Aaron Constein- Solanco
Keontae Nunn- Garden Spot
Elijah Swanigan- Donegal
Xavian Rodriguez- Ephrata
All LLHoops.com Section 1 Honors
Coach Of The Year: Danny Walck (Hempfield)
Cole Laney- Cedar Crest
Blake Thomson- Cedar Crest
Ryan Moffatt – Hempfield
Luis Aquino-Rios – Lebanon
Sincere Scott- Lebanon
Tyler Crespo –Manheim Township
Austin Monroe – Conestoga Valley
Logan Monroe- Conestoga Valley
David Martin-Robinson – Hempfield
Eli Washington- Hempfield
Brian McKenzie – McCaskey
Brendan Mellott – Manheim Township
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.
(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.
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.
(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.”