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.

Lampeter-Strasburg Rides Dominant Fourth Quarter Performance Into PIAA-5A Round Of 16 As Pioneers Turn Away Bangor

Just three weeks ago, it could have easily been argued that the Lampeter-Strasburg Pioneers were playing the best basketball out of anyone in the mid-state. And deservedly so.

After all, the Pios were in the midst of one of their best seasons in school history. And on that Friday night just three short weeks ago, the L-S Boys’ Basketball team was able to officially make a historically great season as the Pioneers advanced all the way to the L-L title game where they would upend Lancaster Catholic, knocking the mighty Crusaders off their championship level perch, for the first ever league title claimed by the Pioneer program.

Yet although L-S was clearly enjoying the ride of a historic high, the District 3 tournament would prove to be not nearly as kind to the Blue and White.

Entering the district brackets, L-S had rightfully claimed the #1 slot in the loaded for bear 5A field by virtue of their spectacular regular season. A regular season campaign that could only be described as a two month romp through L-L competition which saw the Pioneers rattle off an incredible 23-2 overall mark in the process.

Over the course of the next two weeks however, the Pioneers’ journey took a somewhat unexpected detour with L-S dropping the same number of the games over the span of a handful of days as they had over an entire two month span.

Their first roadblock would see L-S dropping their first game of the postseason to a wildly under-seeded #8 Lower Dauphin squad in the second round of the District 3 tournament. It would be a defeat which steered the Pios away from playing in the palatial confines of Hershey’s Giant Center, an undoubtedly bitter pill to swallow as the trip seemed all but a certain prior to their defeat at the hands of the Falcons from LD.

From there, L-S would proceed to knock off fellow Section 2 rival Garden Spot their next time out, only to come up short once more in the District 3 5th place game as the Pioneers succumbed to their second Mid-Penn foe in the D3 tournament, dropping a 54-42 decision to the Trojans of Hershey.

Yet through it all, L-S’ sparkling body of work was worthy enough for the Pioneers to garner a spot in the illustrious state tournament for a third straight year—An accomplishment that for whatever the reason always seems to slip under the radar when talking about great achievements that have taken place in L-L basketball over the last half decade.

And with the state tournament being the epitome of the “one and done” scenario, the Pioneers were assured of nothing but seeing a quality opponent. As it related to their opening round opposition on Friday night at Easton, that truly was a definitive fact as L-S embarked on their state playoff journey against the Slaters hailing from Bangor.

When talking about great eastern-based Pennsylvania high school hoops programs, one would be nothing short of foolish to leave Bangor out of the discussion. And while those on the outside of the mountainous communities that straddle the New Jersey state line may be somewhat unfamiliar with the Slaters’ accomplishments over the last few seasons, they certainly have been able to produce a resume that is worthy of recognition.

Just try this on for size, over the last five years alone, there is simply is no denying that there is no better program in the Colonial League than that of the Slaters. After all, Bangor has gone on to claim the league title the last four consecutive seasons and five out of the last six years overall.

But their dominance doesn’t end just there.

Once they move on to the bigger stages of playoff basketball, the Slaters have proven themselves to be a program worthy of playing beyond the league tournament as Bangor has advanced to the District XI Final two of the last three years, including having the unique distinction of being one of the last 16 teams left standing in the “big school” AAAA ranks in the final year of the now outdated classification system back in 2016.

And so with another state tournament bid in their possession yet again this season, the Slaters loaded up the bus and made the trek down to Pennsylvania’s eastern-most outpost to embark on yet another journey that they hoped ends far further than just the Sweet 16 in 2018 as the Lancaster-Lebanon League Champion and Colonial League Champion were set to do battle in Easton.

Whether it be a case of the week-long in between games or purely just state tourney game nerves, it took awhile for both the Slaters and Pioneers to get into a rhythm offensively.

So much so in fact that L-S was not able to tally their first field goal until the 3:50 mark of the opening quarter when stellar senior guard Isaac Beers was able to rise and fire from behind the arc in the face of the Slaters’ 2-3 zone for the early triple which gave the Pioneers the 4-2 advantage with the first quarter now past it’s halfway point.

Bangor on the other hand would have to continue to wait their turn.

Yes, the Slaters’ first bucket from the field would come after that thanks to crafty junior point guard Ben Holland who was able to knock down the spot up jumper after snatching an errant L-S pass just moments before, trimming the L-S lead to 6-4 with 2:15 left to go in the opening stanza.

And although both teams would be able to get their offenses going with a handful of buckets near the conclusion of the opening frame, it prove to be foul shots which would close the opening quarter as Isaac Beers was fouled in the act of shooting another trademark triple just before the horn, going 2-3 on his trip to the charity stripe to put L-S on top 10-8 at the finale of the game’s first eight minutes.

Ironically for as much as both teams struggled from the field to begin the contest, both the Pioneers and Slaters seemed to show no ill-effects or resulting scar tissue afterwards as both L-S and Bangor came out firing to begin the second frame.

In fact, Bangor was able to snatch possession of the lead at 11-10 following a trifecta knocked down by Ben Holland at the 6:30 mark of the opening quarter as the 5’9 junior was able to pump in 3 of his team-high 16 points on the evening.

But from that point on however, L-S would have all the answers.

Knowing how their bread is best buttered, the Pioneers went back to a tried and true formula. Feeding the ball inside.

And right on cue, the gameplan seemed to work like a charm as L-S proceeded to outscore Bangor 10-3 over the course of the next several minutes as a Zach Kingsley bucket from you guessed it, point blank range, put the Pioneers up by a touchdown at 20-13 with the game heading toward halftime.

But before L-S would be able to race off the floor into the nearby locker room to celebrate an outstanding second quarter of play, Bangor’s Bernard Davis had other ideas.

With his team needing to find some sort of spark and the game dangerously close to slipping out of their grasp, the Slaters turned to their junior big man to help turn the tide.

And fortunately for those who made the roughly half hour drive south to Easton, Mr. Davis was able to deliver the goods as the physically imposing 6’3” force inside proceeded to rattle off his own personal 5-0 run to close the half as the Slaters were to claw back to within four at the break with L-S holding serve with the 22-18 advantage.

Once both teams returned to floor to start the second half, it was apparent that the initial few minutes would go a long in defining who would be able to leave Easton with an opening round victory in the state tournament.

It just so happened that it would be Bangor who would author the first haymaker of the third quarter.

Without question, the Slaters had clearly been inspired by the conclusion of the first half, thanks in large part to Bernard Davis’ performance in the paint. And right on cue, the Slaters were able to knock the well-traveled Pioneers back on their heels with a quick 4-0 spurt to knot things back up at 22-22 after a Ben Holland layup in transition with just two minutes having run off the third quarter clock.

Over the course of the next few minutes of the third quarter however, neither squad would be able to gain much in terms of separation from one another on the large scoreboards hanging in the corners.

In fact, while it had appeared that L-S was able to find some much-needed momentum following a trey from sophomore guard Seth Beers which gave the Pios the 29-26 lead, the Slaters were able to come right back to meet L-S at 31-31 following a beautiful three point play by Nate Owens as the 6’2” sophomore guard was able to successfully execute the perfect backdoor cut along the baseline, finishing through contact and converting the freebie at the foul line to make things all square with the third quarter winding down.

But Owens wasn’t done there. Not even close.

Yes, even though L-S was able to counter back with a Ryan Smith bucket inside, stop me if you’ve read that phrase before, Owens was able to offer a rebuttal of his own in the form of a trifecta which gave the lead back to the Slaters at 34-33 at the conclusion of the third quarter with momentum clearly residing on the Bangor bench.

However Nate Owens’ offensive fireworks were not solely limited to the third quarter alone.

Once again, Bangor’s heady sophomore guard was able to continue delivering big time minutes for his ballclub in their time of need as Owens was able to fire in another triple, this one returning the lead back in the favor of the Slaters as Bangor went back in front 37-35 with 6:45 left to play.

But just as they had for the vast majority of this season, L-S proceeded to put their foot down and exert their will right then and there.

Not many teams in the area and not many teams in general are able to send out a 6’10” center—Let alone one that can hurt you in a multitude of ways. And as Bangor soon discovered, Ryan Smith is not just one of the best big men in the mid-state, but the entire eastern half of Pennsylvania as well.

And so, with their team needing to answer back with time of the upmost importance, L-S started to find their big and talented star.

Simply put, Bangor had no answer for which to contend with Ryan Smith over the course of 32 minutes on Friday night. And right on cue, L-S started to work the ball repeatedly inside to Smith where he would ultimately continue to get fouled, earning subsequent trips to the free throw line as a result.

And sure enough, Smith was able to step up in his team’s time of need as the 6’10” prized East Stroudsburg recruit proceeded to go a perfect 4-4 from the line to start the final quarter, giving the lead back to L-S at 39-37.

With Smith’s offensive game clicking, the rest of the Pioneers followed right in line just as they had done all season long as the Isaac Beers promptly pumped in back to back triples which gave the lead back to L-S at 45-37 with Bangor now staring at a harsh reality that their season may soon be coming to an end.

It certainly did not help matters for the Slaters that Ryan Smith was able to continue displaying his sheer dominance as the current L-S Pioneer, soon-to-be East Stroudsburg Warrior, was able to tally another bucket inside, good for 2 more en route to his game-high 26 point performance.

Yet even though Bangor would continue to fight all the way to the finish as evidenced by a Ben Holland triple which made it a 51-40 contest with 57.2 to go, it was simply too little too late as L-S was able to ride their emphatic 21-8 fourth quarter performance into the next round of the state tournament, advancing past Bangor 54-42.

Without question, the state tournament is a unique deal in and of itself for a variety of reasons. However when you add in the mandatory week off in between district and state playoff games, the challenge of keeping a team in a groove can be nothing short of an added speedbump along the way while preparing to make a run for the state’s ultimate prize.

“It’s hard,” L-S head coach Ed Berryman admitted regarding the layoff in between games. “That’s the hard part is keeping (the team) motivated,” the Pioneer boss went on to explain. But fortunately for the Pioneers and the tight-knit bond that the program has now long-since established, they were able to call upon an old friend to help them in their time of need.

“Actually John Achille helped me out yesterday,” Coach Berryman said eluding to the former L-S head coach. “I went up to his classroom, took the whole team up too and we watched some motivational stuff on the whiteboard to help change the mindset and get them to start thinking about what we need to do,” Coach Berryman said revealing his plans on the eve before the start of the state playoffs. “I just figured we needed to give these guys something different to try and change it up a little bit.”

And for whatever it was that the team watched, the idea certainly proved to worth its weight in gold as the Pioneers were able to advance on to their second Sweet 16 appearance in three seasons after taking down the Slaters of Bangor.

NEXT UP: With their triumph on Friday night, the Pioneers know they will face off with Archbishop Carroll of the esteemed Philadelphia Catholic League on Tuesday night at a site and time to be determined but Coatesville likely serving as a possible landing spot given it’s near-perfect geographically-centered location along Route 30 in between both schools.

And not that L-S will need any sort of reminders as they prepare to sit down the watch film of the Patriots, but the Pioneers know that they will have the unique task of going up against one of the best teams in the entire state on Tuesday night. After all, it’s an Archbishop Carroll program that advanced to last season’s Elite Eight round and state final round back in 2015. But rest assured, this group of Pioneers will be out to make history, just as they have all season long, when they take to the floor against the mighty Patriots early next week.

With their defeat on Friday night, Bangor must now close the books on yet another special season in the annals of the Slater program. Their accomplishments alone this season serve as a checklist that most schools would love to have over the course of an entire decade or longer– A league championship, a runner-up spot in districts and not to mention yet another state tournament bid. And with a whole bunch of Slaters expected to return against next season, there’s no reason to think that Bangor won’t be able to find itself back in the same familiar place once again next year. This time though, looking to check off a couple of more boxes of that To-Do List, along with advancing further along in the state tournament, perhaps even surpassing their esteemed 2016 brethren.

Lancaster Catholic Ascends Past Northern Lebanon To Clinch PIAA-4A State Tournament Berth

If one were to hit the rewind button back to just a few weeks ago when talking about the Lancaster Catholic Crusaders, it would have certainly appeared that this year’s talented squad was on a bee-line to match the impressive achievements that were obtained by their brethren from a year ago that included an L-L League championship and subsequent District 3 4A championship.

But just then, adversity struck.

When Catholic entered this year’s L-L League tournament, odds appeared high the Crusaders would have another solid shot to make it to Township for the Friday night finale with the opportunity to bring home some gold medals to the school in the Rossmere neighborhood for the second consecutive year.

And for good reason.

Lancaster Catholic came into the league playoffs boasting an impressive resume that included a remarkable stretch of games that was highlighted by the Crusaders winning 17 of their last 18, before going on to add two more against Garden Spot and Ephrata respectively once inside the league tourney bracket before making good on that aforementioned Friday night trip to Manheim Township where the Crusaders would take center stage opposite of what was considered by most to be the best team in the entire league, the L-S Pioneers.

And while Catholic would continue to fight throughout the entirety of the title bout, it was simply not enough as the Pioneers played with a determined effort to make history, which they were able to do as L-S laid claim to their first ever league title crown by besting the Crusaders 50-40.

From there, Catholic was forced to right the ship when they hit the court next against an always-tough Bishop McDevitt squad in the first round of District 3 tournament action. But unfortunately, Lancaster Catholic would see a finale to that tournament much too soon as well as the Crusaders from Harrisburg were able to knock off the Crusaders from Lancaster by a 47-43 decision.

“To McDevitt’s credit, they did some good things that sort of put us on our heels a little bit,” Lancaster Catholic head coach Joe Klazas said rehashing last week’s early round setback. “(Bishop McDevitt) changed some defenses up and we weren’t as aggressive as we’d like to be on a normal basis,” the head Crusader went on to add. “They also made some big shots in that game too. If we hard to chart them, they were probably ones that we’d want them to shoot but they made some tough ones there.”

Fortunately for Catholic however, the Crusaders were able to use their impressive resume to their advantage by earning the opportunity to continue on by playing in a series of consolation games before having everything come to a head against an old foe in fellow Section 3 ‘mate Northern Lebanon on Wednesday night at Warwick. A team that likely didn’t give the Crusaders the fuzziest of feelings to see in their bracket heading into the midweek.

Hopefully that rewind button isn’t worn out too much, but go ahead and click it again so you transport yourself back in time to the night of January 30th at Northern Lebanon. As many are already well aware, that was the night where Lancaster Catholic made the trip north to tangle with the home-standing Vikings in a Section 3 game that will likely go down as one of, if not the most discussed outcome of this year’s basketball season, as a late Johnny Besecker corner buzzer beater sent the Crusaders home with the 55-54 triumph, completing the regular season sweep of Northern Lebanon.

Although to make a long story short, if a random sample poll around the community of Fredericksburg were to be taken today, chances are you’d likely receive a much different reaction as to whether that shot truly did beat the buzzer or not. But we’ll just leave it at that.

And so, the two old competitors laced it for the third and final time this season against one another with the stakes set at the greatest of magnitudes—The winner advancing on to next week’s state tournament with the loser having to make plans to hand in the uniforms while getting a leg up on the spring sports scene.

However if one thing quickly became obvious during the first few minutes of the ballgame, it was that Lancaster Catholic’s David Kamwanga had no plans of having his sophomore season be cut short.

In fact it didn’t take the Crusaders’ 6’6” human pogo-stick long to assert himself as Kamwanga was able to stroke home a gorgeous spot up jumper along the baseline to give the Crusaders the early 2-0 advantage on Catholic’s first offensive trip.

However Northern Lebanon quickly soon discovered that Kamwanga had arrived with bad intentions on the defensive end as well as Catholic’s always-improving big man was able to swat away the Vikings’ first shot attempt of the ballgame, effectively setting the tone for the rest of the night.

And although NL’s Josh Bowers was able to break the scoring seal for the Vikings with a triple which gave his team the lead at 3-2 just 1:15 into the contest, Kamwanga continued to be a nearly 7 foot thorn in Northern Lebanon’s side over the next few minutes as he proceeded to chip in the next four Catholic points as well, as David Kamwanga was leading Northern Lebanon 6-5 at the 4:35 mark of the opening period.

From there, Johnny Besecker was able to get loose against the Northern Lebanon defense from behind the arc once again, as the 5’11” junior guard got himself into the scorebook with one of his trademark triples which improved Catholic’s lead to 9-5 shortly thereafter.

But much in the same vein that David Kamwanga had proven himself to be a problem for Northern Lebanon in the early stages of the first quarter, NL’s Alex Yeager was able to fill that very same role in the waning stages of the first frame as the Vikings’ ultra-talented guard ripped off his own personal 5-0 run to close things out, including a corner 3 ball just before the first quarter horn which gave Northern Lebanon the 12-11 lead after the conclusion of the opening eight minutes.

Despite the fact that Lancaster Catholic had traded volleys with their counterparts from up north throughout the majority of the first quarter, the Crusaders came out of the break in between quarters with a renewed sense of energy and focus. Traits that clearly knocked NL back on their heels once the second quarter got underway.

Aided by a 4-0 salvo that took place over the opening minute of the second stanza, the Catholic run would eventually culminate in an 8-0 charge to open the quarter as the Crusaders’ do-everything man RJ Van Tash was able to author the last four of the Crusader flurry to put Catholic up by a touchdown at 19-12 with Northern Lebanon frantically searching for answers.

Fortunately for the Vikings, they would not have to look far as Alex Yeager was able to rise and fire from behind the arc, giving Northern Lebanon their first points of the quarter nearly halfway in, trimming Catholic’s lead to 19-15.

Yet even though the Vikes were able to claw back to within four following the Yeager bomb from bonus distance, Johnny Besecker continued to show off his hot-shooting touch by knocking down his third triple of the half which extended the Lancaster Catholic lead out to nine at 26-17 with 1:30 left to go in the half.

With the Crusaders’ lead flirting with double digit sized proportions and time in the opening half quickly winding down, Catholic’s Miles McCaskey was able to help make good pushing the advantage over the 10 point bulge as the 5’10” senior guard put home a pretty floater in the lane just before the second quarter buzzer which sent Catholic into the break with the 30-19 advantage.

Coming out of the locker room, it was clear that Lancaster Catholic had one goal in mind: Finish this one out in style.

It certainly appeared that things were headed in that very direction when RJ Van Tash got loose along the baseline for a sweet knock down jumper which upped the Catholic lead to 34-20 with 5:40 left in the third.

And although Alex Yeager was able to answer with a pretty step-back trifecta of his own that cut Catholic’s lead down to 11 at 34-23, the Crusaders answered back with a vengeance as a Van Tash bucket at the tin put the finishing touches on a 6-0 Crusader march, forcing NL to call timeout and regroup now staring at a 40-23 deficit with just 3:13 left in the quarter.

But unfortunately for those that had made the trip south to Lititz, the hole would only continue to grow deeper from there as an Andrew Miklos bucket near the one minute mark of the third quarter gave Catholic the 20 point cushion at 46-26 before the third quarter clock would eventually expire with Lancaster Catholic holding serve with the 46-27 advantage.

Yet even though it appeared that Catholic was well on their way to clinching that state tournament berth that was hanging in balance at the start of this one, the final period was not without it’s fair share of highlights for the Vikings.

Never was that on display more than with Henry Hubbard’s triple with 6:45 left to play which cut the Catholic lead down to 47-32, giving the senior guard one last rightful hurrah with time winding down.

And when speaking of this year’s Northern Lebanon senior class, it is absolutely impossible to do so without highlighting the accomplishments of Caleb Light as the 5’11” tough-as-nails point guard proved himself to be a reliable option most every night for the Vikings’ effort, ending his career with a pair of free throws from the charity stripe which helped close things out as Lancaster Catholic was able to march on next week’s PIAA Tournament by virtue of their 57-42 victory over Northern Lebanon on Wednesday night.

While every team begins the year with the goal of making it to the dance of all dances in the state tournament, it’s easy to see that while even in his 13th year presiding over the Crusader bench, Coach Klazas is as excited as ever for this group to have the rightful opportunity to chase down their dreams.

“Just to make the (PIAA) tournament is a great thing,” Klazas said in the glow following his team’s triumph Wednesday evening. “We’ll spend the week to try and figure out what we can do to be able to compete there,” the Crusader boss went on to say before summing it all up matter of factly by saying, “The great thing with the state tournament is that you’ve got to do a lot of homework.”

NEXT UP: With their victory over Northern Lebanon, Lancaster Catholic moves on with the right to play next Friday night when the Crusaders will be shipped out West, somewhere likely near the Altoona area, to match up with District 6 champion Huntingdon to tip off the PIAA 4A state bracket.

For Northern Lebanon, Wednesday night unfortunately marked the end of the season while also marking the end of the line for some pretty remarkable Viking careers as well.

A group that will not soon be forgotten by third year Northern Lebanon head coach Chris George.

“Obviously we had a really nice season,” Coach George said in the immediate aftermath following his team’s final battle of the year. “You focus on the positives from this year and you certainly do not want to talk about the negatives from this game,” George said revisiting the postgame message he delivered to his troops.

“We did some things that never happened in school history with 17 wins and two district wins,” the Viking head man added while continuing to reflect on the year that was. “I really thought that for the most part, we showed really well in the playoffs,” he went on to say. “A lot of times you get a Section 3 team that rolls into leagues and they just get run over, but I thought we showed really well against Hempfield. I think against Berks Catholic we showed really well in that stretch where we were up so you know, I’m proud of them.”

And with plenty of experience having been in this same familiar spot during his previous coaching gigs, Coach George knew that the longer this season lasted, the more painful the ending would be should it come up short.

“I’ve been here now three times to states and a couple of times to districts with my other teams, you tell them ‘The further you get, the tougher it’s gonna be.’ Unless you’re one of the six teams that wins the state title, it’s always going to end in heartbreak.”

And although Northern Lebanon will have to start anew next season with a team next year that will look drastically different when compared to this year’s team which says goodbye to a laundry list of household senior names that leave the program in a much better place than which they found it, the up and coming cast of Vikings ballers certainly has the model blueprint of which to follow left behind to them by this year’s remarkable graduating class.

Powerful Second Half Performance Propels Reading Past Manheim Township Into District 3-6A Title Game

In sports, or really just in life in general, there truly is only one way to go about attacking a giant challenge set forth in front of you. Metaphorically speaking here of course, you can’t exactly tippy-toe into the lion’s den. Instead, you have to go in full-steam ahead, throwing caution to the wind, all while carrying a big stick to help take down the beast. And while Manheim Township was not exactly faced with such a literal, dangerous example on Tuesday night inside the Giant Center, the basketball challenge that was presented to the Blue Streaks was no less daunting to say the least.

Make no mistake about it, Township’s road to the District 3-6A semifinal round was not without it’s fair share of potholes that could have easily thrown the Streaks off course. Yet through it all, Township was able to hold steady, snatching up key victories along the way that could have done nothing but improve their overall mental makeup.

After a somewhat surprising opening round exit from the L-L League tournament at the hands of Garden Spot, the Streaks were faced with the challenge of bouncing back in quick order as MT would go on to enter the District 3 bracket as the #5 seed with an opening round tester against the Buckskins of Conestoga Valley. A fellow Section 1 outfit that was able to top the Blue Streaks in the last meeting between the two back on January 18th at CV with the Bucks pulling out a nail-biting 59-56 decision.

Once the Streaks were able to take care of business and hold off the Bucks 52-39 in the opening round of district play, Manheim Township was faced with the somewhat unenviable task of squaring off with yet another Section 1 opponent, this time with Cedar Crest Falcons who were likely salivating for another chance at the Streaks after MT was able to roll into the famed “Cage” in Cornwall earlier in the season and come away with a 77-71 victory. A triumph that would serve notice to rest of Section 1 and the rest of the league for that matter that these young Blue Streaks were growing up right before our very eyes.

And this past Friday night only proved to be yet another step in MT’s maturation process as the Streaks were able to complete the season sweep on the road at Cedar Crest, besting the home-standing Falcons 67-59 to earn the right to take their shot at a Pennsylvania goliath.

By now, odds are high that you already know the story and significance behind the date of March 25, 2017 as it relates to Reading High basketball. That after all was the night when the Red Knights were able to capture that elusive first title in school history, taking down Pine Richland 64-60 in front of a capacity crowd. It was indeed an enthusiastic environment to say the least that could only be described as the night where the Giant Center had transformed itself into “Geigle West.”

And while that night will always and forever live on in the hearts and minds of those who were fortunate enough to be a part of it, it was certainly understandable as to why the Red Knights would have nothing but good memories walking back into that very building for the first time since that historic late March night.

Even still, Reading head coach Rick Perez was not about to have this 2017-18 team be labeled with some sort of “leftover” tag, but rather making sure this year’s bunch was acknowledged for deserving the opportunity to write their own history inside the beautiful arena that every District 3 player wishes to play in at some point during in their career. After all, it’s simply too hard not to appreciate and recognize the diligence, moxie and mental fortitude that goes along with following up a state title by going wire to wire as the #1 seed in District 3’s largest classification throughout the entire season, all while trying to fill the shoes of some of the best players to have ever suited up in the prestigious Red Knight uniform.

“I try not to create any external anxiety or anything like that,” Coach Perez in regards to stepping back into the Giant Center for the first time since that historic night. “You appreciate the day for what it is. We know what it is. I don’t need to mention it or harp on it with them.”

“We just appreciate being here today with this group,” Perez continued. “I want them to seize the moment…The state championship is a beautiful thing. We’ve got the rings and the t-shirts that will hopefully fit us forever if we stay in shape,” he went on to say with a chuckle. “We have to move forward and I think this team has been able to do that.”

One thing quickly became apparent once Tuesday night’s affair got underway. That being that the Blue Streaks were not simply here to be a footnote. They had arrived to play ball with the best in the area.

Aided by a strong start defensively which limited the Red Knights to several one and done opportunities to begin the contest, Township’s Brendan Mellott was able to give the Streaks the first points of the ballgame with a smooth pullup jumper 2:30 into the game.

But just as solid teams left standing at this point in the season are able to do, the Red Knights would have an immediate answer as a sweet step-back jumper popped home by 6’2” senior guard Xavier Starks of Reading knotted things up at 2-2 as both squads were starting to come to grips with all the emotions and physical surroundings that go along with playing on Pennsylvania’s grandest basketball stage.

And although Township was able to get just a little bit of breathing room at 6-2 following a bucket inside Mellott, Reading was able to counter back a few more buckets of their own to get within one of the Streaks at 8-7 with the game nearing the two minute mark of the opening period.

From there however, the Streaks truly started to ascend.

Aided by a quick 4-0 spurt by Tyler Crespo, Manheim Township’s 5’9” junior who only gets better and better with each passing game that he plays, the Blue Streaks were able to look up at large, overhanging scoreboard stationed directly above center court to see that they had suddenly laid claim to a six point lead at 14-8 with roughly one minute left in the quarter.

Yet Township would be able to continue on building their lead from there as a tough hoop inside by 6’3” sophomore Zach Oldac allowed the Streaks to double up the defending state champs by a 16-8 margin before the quarter would eventually expire with MT in front 17-10.

Once the second quarter commenced, it had appeared that Manheim Township would have an entirely different Reading team to deal with as the Red Knights came out the respite in between quarters with an inspired effort in the face of their early hole.

Never more was that on display than with RJ Dixon’s trifecta at the outset of the second stanza that could have easily become an “uh oh” moment for the Blue Streaks.

But as mentioned previously, these Streaks simply would not wilt in the face of adversity. Instead, Township was able to answer back with a Reece Sachs’ triple as the 5’9” senior guard was able to answer the Dixon bucket, calming the seas for MT in the early stages of quarter two.

However Township was able to do better than simply just answering Reading over the course of the next several minutes. They were able to push Reading away.

Aided by an impressive display of work from a host of Streaks inside the painted area throughout the entirety of the first half, yet another bunny from close range, this one cashed in by Brendan Mellott, put the Streaks up 24-15 with the Red Knights having to call timeout with 4:36 left in the first half.

Yet the Township lead only grew to double digit proportions following the second quarter Red Knight timeout as a Zach Oldac bucket, yet again inside, had the Streaks feeling anything but Blue as the MT lead swelled to 26-15 at the four minute mark of the half.

With his team needing some sort of a spark to help engineer a comeback that would hinder Manheim Township from feeling as comfortable as they currently were, Reading gave the ball and the keys to 5’11” junior guard Wesley Butler to take over the show. And as fate would have it, Butler knew exactly what to do when the opportunity presented itself.

As Township continued to play on throughout the latter stages of the first half with a lead that hovered right around the eight point window, Wesley Butler helped take Reading into the halftime break on his back as Butler was able to rattle off a much-needed late-half flurry that was capped off with a gorgeous jumper just before the horn. And although Township went into the break in possession of the 30-26 advantage, the overwhelming consensus inside the mammoth arena setting was one that an entirely different Red Knight would return to the floor for the final 16 minutes.

There was just one problem. No one had run that idea by Manheim Township.

In fact, Township wasted little time to get back into the swing of things following the intermission as Tyler Crespo dialed one up from bonus distance to start the second half, good for 3 of his team-high 15 points on the evening.

From there, the Blue Streaks would continue to play with the lead as a pair of Hilton Ridley freebies from the charity stripe increased the Township lead to five at 36-31 with the third period quickly approaching it’s midway point.

And right on cue, Reading knew that it was precisely the exact time to go about exerting their will.

All game long, Wesley Butler had proven himself to be Reading’s MVP with the rock in his hands, playing with the heart of a lion. And while he primarily did his damage by scoring with consistent acrobatic finishes in amongst the tall Township trees, his late third quarter assist to Bobby Heath proved to be one of Mr. Butler’s biggest plays of the evening.

“Wesley is experienced on this floor,” Coach Perez said glowingly of the Red Knights’ floor general afterward. “The sense of urgency really kicked in when it wasn’t for us in the beginning unfortunately but you go through these situations for a reason,” the Reading head man went on to say. “Wesley was the catalyst. He got things going offensively.”

Providing a spark which in turn spurred on his fellow Red Knights.

“Guys like Bobby Heath and Xavier Starks had an awesome defensive game here today. Once one guy gets going, what’s important is our program is not just who’s leading, but who are the followers?”

And right on cue with his team trailing 36-33 with the clock hovering near the three minute mark of the third, Reading’s diminutive but feisty 5’11” junior point guard was able to penetrate through the lane and kick it out to Heath standing all by his lonesome on the wing as the 5’10” senior was able to tie the game up at 36-36 off the sweet Butler dish leading to the trifecta.

Fittingly, Butler would continue to play with great ferociousness by popping a J shortly thereafter to give the Red Knights their first lead of the ballgame at 38-36 with two minutes left to play in the third.

But Butler would not be finished with his stellar third quarter play as Reading’s sensational point guard was able to tally one more bucket before the third quarter horn which helped send Reading into the final eight minutes in possession of the 42-39 lead.

Yet once again, Manheim Township would continue to be unphased by the locomotion of Reading momentum that was charging hard in their direction. Never more was that on display than with Tyler Crespo being able to hustle down a loose carom, collecting the offensive rebound and proceeding to rise and fire from behind the arc, slicing Reading’s lead down to 44-42 with a critical 3 ball with 6:30 left to play.

But MT would only continue to hang around and pester the Red Knights before a gigantic take to the cup by 6’0” senior forward Larry Wingo improved Reading’s lead to 49-45 with just over three minutes left to play.

The Blue Streak deficit would then continue to remain at four following a successful trip to the line by MT’s Hilton Ridley as the 6’2” junior guard was able to knock down both of his attempts, making it a 51-47 ballgame with just over three minutes left to go.

But unfortunately for those that had made the trip north from Neffsville, that would prove to be all the closer their beloved Blue Streaks would get for the remainder of the night as empty trips besmirched Township late with Reading offering no relief at the other end with sensational free throw shooting down the stretch to help close things out as the Red Knights were able to advance on the District 3 6A final, dispatching a Manheim Township team that very likely could end up in Hershey yet again next season, 57-49 on Tuesday night at Giant Center.

Without question, the 2016-17 Reading Red Knights Boys’ Basketball team will likely forever go down in history as the best to ever do it at the “Castle on the Hill.” However in an interesting twist of irony, the 2017-18 bunch has the opportunity on Saturday afternoon to accomplish something that their historic predecessors were not able to accomplish—bringing home a District title trophy. It’s an achievement that is certainly not lost on Red Knight head man Rick Perez.

“I’m proud of them,” Perez said proudly regarding this year’s team. “They seized the moment. They’ve been here before and they’ve learned from some great people. This is their opportunity and Saturday is their day. I just hope that we can come out and put forth the best effort.”

NEXT UP: As mentioned, Reading will now have prepare for a very impressive Chambersburg ball club in the title fight on Saturday afternoon. It’s a Trojan crew that likely will be geared up and ready to compete given the fact that Chambersburg has already knocked off last year’s finalists in Harrisburg and Hempfield on their road to Saturday.

For Township, the Streaks must now regroup and refocus for a Thursday night tussle with a longtime rival Hempfield in the District 3-6A Third Place Game which will go a long way in determining possible roadtrips or lack thereof for the upcoming PIAA state tournament which gets underway next weekend.

Yet even in defeat late Tuesday night, Manheim Township head man Matt Johns was able to come away with some positives from the game given the fight he saw out of his Blue Streaks.

“You never know,” Johns said in regards to how his team would exactly handle bright lights and big stage that just so happened to go along with the opportunity to knock off the defending state champs in a playoff setting. “(Reading) has been here in this situation a ton of times…You never know what’s going to happen when the lights are on and it’s an 8:30 game and they’ve had all day to think about it.”

“That’s the beauty and the curse of basketball,” Johns went on to add. “You don’t know what’s going to happen when you go out there. So the fact that we stepped up to that moment, came out and went toe-to-toe with them, I’m really pleased.”

Bishop McDevitt Digs Deep, Knocks Off Persistent Kennard Dale To Punch Ticket To District 3-4A Title Game

Ask any head coach if he or she has a favorite team that they’ve enjoyed coaching over the years more so than any other and chances are that you’re likely to get anything but a clear and concise answer for a response. For most, that’s certainly understandable considering the task would be akin to asking them to pick their favorite noodle out of a bowl of spaghetti. So forgive Kennard Dale head coach Jake Roupe if the smile stays on his face just a little while longer when asked about his 2017-18 Ram squad. After all, the 2008 Kennard Dale grad has grown up alongside this bunch. Both literally and figuratively.

Coming into this season, it’d be fair to say that the basketball scene in Fawn Grove had seen a somber time or two. It certainly did not help matters that the Rams entered this season by lugging a seven year old monkey around on their backs considering that was precisely how many long seasons it had been since Kennard Dale ended the year with more wins than loses in their season ledger. And although they are called the Rams, they have certainly gone ahead and bucked that trend this season, taking the school just north of the Maryland state line to heights that they have not experienced in over 25 years.

When looking to determine what goes into making a successful team, no matter what the sport and no matter what the level of play, there is always that one secret sauce that holds them all together. Chemistry.

And while many teams may try and go about finding that elusive tie that binds in some cliché form or fashion shortly before the season that inevitably falls apart at the first sign of adversity, there is simply nothing phony about Kennard Dale’s close-knit bond. It’s ever-present and it always has been since their junior high days. Certainly doesn’t hurt matters when you’ve just so happened to have one singular voice lead you into battle over that span of time for good measure.

“When I got out of high school and went to college I decided I wanted to come help out,” Coach Roupe said recalling his humble beginnings in the coaching ranks. But little did he or anyone else know at the time that it would be only be the start of a decade-long journey that the coach and present-day Kennard Dale Rams would embark on together.

“I started volunteering when I was 19 and then I started coaching AAU ‘ball when the seniors now were in 5th grade for the York Thunder,” Roupe went on to detail. And whether it was just the stars coming together to align perfectly or some sort of mystical higher power at work, Coach Roupe and his band of Rams moved along up the ladder together. Literally every step of the way.

“I got the 7th & 8th grade job when they were in 7th and 8th grade and then I got the JV job when they became 9th graders, then their junior year is when I got the varsity job,” the Ram boss said prior to Monday’s District 3 4A semifinal game against high-powered Bishop McDevitt.

And for a coach that has seen it all with this senior-laden group, don’t bother coloring Coach Roupe surprised that his Rams have made it this far.

“I did,” Roupe replied without hesitation when pressed if he pictured this core group ever ascending to these type of heights. “I’ve had some high expectations for this group for a while,” Roupe went on to say. “I don’t like to get ahead of myself, I take it one game at a time, but I always told them that the sky’s the limit from the start. I said ‘Why Not?’ ‘Why can’t we be that team?’

Sure enough, here they were. And when you spend just a few minutes with the young KD head coach, it’s easy to understand why he was able to predict from such an early age what everyone else is seeing come to light in the present-day.

“They just all buy in,” Coach Roupe when on to detail regarding the unselfishness of this year’s Ram squad. “We always preach to ‘dominate your role.’ Everyone on the team knows their role and they dominate it. If the last guy on the bench’s role is to go nuts when we hit a big shot, that’s his role and he dominates it. They’re enjoying it, they’re having fun and they’re all best friends. That’s the best part. They just like being together.”

As fate would have it, this group of Rams would continue to enjoy each other’s company regardless of the outcome on Monday night as this year’s squad became the first KD squad to earn the right to play on into the state tournament since 1996. An occasion that Coach Roupe decided to mark in the most appropriate of ways given the timeframe—by “frosting his tips.”

“Heck, Justin Timberlake and the (Super Bowl) halftime show, I figured ‘why not?’ I did it to just give them another incentive and they responded,” Troupe said with a laugh when detailing his zany idea which quite possibly could turn clocks back to the mid 90’s once he actually applies the hair dye before March 9th. And while you won’t mistake him for going out on tour with Timberlake and the rest of N*Sync to sing “I Drive Myself Crazy”, his admitted favorite song from the 90’s pop group, you most certainly will see him at practice pushing all the buttons and concocting all the potions to figure out how these Rams can perhaps go on what they hope turns into a long postseason run. A run that included Monday’s night game against a very dangerous and under-seeded Bishop McDevitt squad.

And while Rams headed into their last film study session to prep for Monday evening’s game, little did they know that they really were about to receive a history lesson.

“I didn’t show them film from now,” Roupe said with a smirk. “I showed them the ‘92 (District 3 quarterfinal) game against Bishop McDevitt and Kennard Dale. They didn’t know I was doing that. That’s what we watched before we came here,” the Kennard Dale coach said revealing his plans. “Kennard Dale was the home team because they had the better record but they were the underdog and Kennard Dale ended up winning by four…It was cool because some of the guys that were on that team are some of our girls’ coaches now so after the girls’ practice, they all came in and watched it too.”

And so with some clearly evident positive vibes that Kennard Dale had packed into their duffle bags shortly before their departure to Penn Manor High School on Monday night, the Rams were out to repeat history when they squared off with one of the bluest of blue-bloods in the area, Bishop McDevitt, for the right to go on to the Giant Center and the District 3 4A title game.

However once the game got underway, it became apparent from the get-go that both teams would have to settle down and find their rhythm as both the Rams and Crusaders were plagued by an icy start in terms of shooting the rock.

However once they did get into a groove, it was fittingly Kennard Dale’s Adam Freese who had the honors of knocking down the first field goal of the contest as the 6’4” all-star senior guard got the Rams within one at 3-2 early near the midpoint of the opening quarter before Bishop McDevitt’s Davon Lee would go on to show why he is one of the best players in all of District 3 as the 6’ sophomore promptly responded by knocking down a triple to answer the Freese bucket in the early going.

Over the next few minutes however, McDevitt only continued to press their foot down to the floorboard.

Aided by a nice bucket inside by 6’3” sophomore forward Jake Kelly, the Crusader lead had suddenly ballooned to a half dozen at 10-4 at the 2:30 mark of the opening period, putting a damper on what Kennard Dale had hoped would be a better start.

But from there, Kennard Dale would respond with a vengeance.

In fact immediately following the Kelly deuce, the Rams retaliated with an answer as a sweet dish from 6’2” senior guard Craig Potts to a cutting Carter Day got KD back within four as the freshman who would play well-beyond his years all night long made it a 10-6 ballgame in the waning stages of the first quarter.

Shortly thereafter, the Crusaders would see their lead be sliced down to slimmest of margins as nice hoop inside by 5’11” sophomore forward Wyatt McCleary got the Rams within one at 10-9 before the quarter would expire with McDevitt in front 12-9.

However the brief intermission in between quarters would do nothing to slow down the hard-charging Crusaders as Kennard Dale soon discovered.

Besmirched by an early 8-2 salvo which was capped off by Davon Lee bucket at the cup for the Crusaders, the Ram deficit had suddenly swelled to 20-11 with Kennard Dale being forced to call a timeout with 4:57 left in the opening half.

And although the McDevitt would continue to roll on after the timeout with yet another bucket, Kennard Dale began to fight back once more.

Thanks in large part to a Donnell Williams jumper which provided some much-needed relief to the Rams who were wandering around in a desert inside the early stages of the second stanza, Williams’ bucket proved to be the very spark that the Rams would need for the next few minutes of the first half in order to make a run at McDevitt.

From there, Adam Freese was able to pop a corner 3 ball with fellow senior guard Joey Thomas following suit as the Rams had scratched and clawed their way back into the thick of things with McDevitt’s lead now standing at 24-19 with the gym erupting with a roar that could have been heard all the way back to Fawn Grove.

Yet before the first half clock finally did expire, Bishop McDevitt had enough time to rattle off a 5-0 jaunt to close the first sixteen minutes as the Crusaders went into the break, holding serve with a double digit lead which stood at 29-19.

And although McDevitt would only continue to sizzle once they came out of the dressing room, thanks a sweet turnaround jumper that was put home by guess-who, Davon Lee, the Crusaders continued to keep the Rams at arm’s length over the course of the next few minutes.

But with Kennard Dale looking up at the scoreboard and quickly coming to the realization that an answer was not only important, but that it was essential, the Rams began to charge.

All night long, Carter Day proved to be worth his weight in gold as the diminutive freshman point guard played with the savvy of a grizzled senior, but most especially when the Rams were looking for answers as for who would step up to the plate in Kennard Dale’s time of need. And while aided by five straight points that were chipped in by Mr. Day, the Rams had quietly crept back into things with the scoreboard showing McDevitt in front 35-25.

But he wasn’t done there.

No, from there Day only continued shine by cashing in a pullup jumper to get the Rams within a half dozen at 37-31 only to see Joey Thomas follow that up with a trifecta to suddenly get Kennard Dale back within three at 37-34 with McDevitt now sitting in a precarious position.

When Bishop McDevitt needs a bucket, it’s fair to say that the Crusaders have plenty of weapons for which they can hand the keys of the offense over to with anyone more than capable of helping drive them to the Promised Land. Well, the in latter stages of the third quarter, Davon Lee took his turn in the driver’s seat and right on cue, the sophomore guard proceeded to shift the McDevitt machine into top-gear.

With the Crusaders needing some sort of an answer to quiet an already boisterous and raucous Penn Manor gymnasium that was heavily in favor of the Yellow and Blue colors of Kennard Dale, Mr. Lee responded with a man-sized take to the rack which got McDevitt some much-needed breathing room at 39-34 with 1:30 left in the third, silencing the crowd for the time being.

Yet Kennard Dale would refuse to go quietly into the night as the Rams were able to creep back within three at 39-36 once the third quarter clock did ultimately run out.

Although Bishop McDevitt had been able to play with the lead for the entirety of the night up until that point, it quickly became apparent that Kennard Dale was not anywhere close to raising the white flag. And with persistence being the name of the game all night long for Kennard Dale, the Rams’ patience paid off with an early fourth quarter blitz that knocked McDevitt back on their heels with the game now clearly up for grabs.

The snowball immediately got rolling downhill on KD’s first possession of the quarter as a Craig Potts take to the tin got the Rams within a point before an offensive rebound and stick-back by Donnell Williams gave Kennard Dale their first lead of the ballgame at 40-39 with 6:30 left to go as the atmosphere inside the Penn Manor gym had finally reached it’s crescendo with the decibel level rising to 747-like proportions.

But by now you probably have an idea who answer the dinner bell for Bishop McDevitt in their time of need. If you guessed Davon Lee, you’d be absolutely correct.

Undaunted by Kennard Dale’s sudden surge of momentum, the gutty sophomore guard was able to drive with fearlessness to the tin, collecting a gigantic 2 of his 18 game-high points on the evening, giving the lead back to the Crusaders.

From there, another sophomore would take his turn at center stage as Jake Kelly was able to deliver a big bucket in his own right to help extend the McDevitt lead to 47-42 with just 4:40 left to go.

Yet while Bishop McDevitt had survived one Kennard Dale tidal wave that had come on shore, they surely had to expect that they would see yet another one swell before the game was truly put to rest, especially with Adam Freese being held scoreless to that point in the second half.

And sure enough, Freese was able to step back into the limelight with a pair of free throws successfully cashed in at the line which made it a 49-46 ballgame with four minutes left to go. But the southpaw was just getting started as Freese proceeded to stick a timely 3 ball which got the Rams within two at 51-49 shortly thereafter with 3:32 left showing on the clock.

However that would prove to be the point where the Kennard Dale train would run out of steam as the Bishop McDevitt was able to pass yet another test that Kennard Dale threw at them by ripping off a 4-0 run in the face of even more adversity down the stretch. A run that was capped off with a Jaraud Smith bucket which made it a 55-49 contest with the game now inside of three minutes left to go.

And although Carter Day would continue his impressive play by converting 2-2 from the line en route to a team-high 15 points which eventually made it a 58-51 ballgame with 57 seconds left, Bishop McDevitt would go on to turn away a very game Kennard Dale team 62-53, advancing to the District 3 4A title game.

Even despite the fact that Monday night did not include another happy chapter in Kennard Dale’s storybook season, Coach Roupe was certainly proud and had every reason to be given the fight his team showed over the course of 32 minutes by going chin-to-chin with one of the better programs in all of District 3.

“I said I am 100% absolutely proud of you,” Roupe said when speaking about the postgame message he delivered to his troops. “They played with heart, they played with toughness and they played with class.” Characteristics that stand the test of time, far longer than any score will, that any coach can certainly be proud of even while dealing with the most painful of defeats. And while Kennard Dale would have no doubt loved to punch their ticket to Hersheypark to play in Thursday night’s title game, it was and always be a special night that will be remembered forever as the night where nearly all of southern York County traveled up to Millersville to support their team and help push their team over the top to victory. Something that very nearly were able to do. Together.

NEXT UP: From here, Bishop McDevitt will get right back at it on Thursday night as the Crusaders match up with Berks Catholic at the Giant Center for District 3 4A gold with a tip time set for 7:00 at the palatial confines in Hershey as the Saints from BC advanced after besting Middletown in the game just prior on Monday night at Penn Manor. It’s sure to be a heavyweight fight arguably two of the best teams that District 3 has to offer regardless of classification.

For Kennard Dale on the other hand, the Rams will have to rise up off the canvas as the Rams prepare to battle Middletown in a PIAA state qualifier to determine who will enter the PIAA’s as the #3 and #4 seeds respectively come the start of the tournament next Friday night when the Rams and Blue Raiders duke it out at West York at 7:00 this Wednesday evening.

Hempfield Secures Sweet Return To Chocolatetown As Black Knights Upend Wilson In District 3-6A Quarterfinal Victory

The good thing about playoff basketball is that it can you give matchups like L-S and Hempfield as was the case last Wednesday when the Pioneers and Black Knights squared off in the most-anticipated game of the season for the right to advance to the L-L title game opposite of Lancaster Catholic.

The bad thing about playoff basketball is that it can give you matchups like L-S and Hempfield. Why the change in tone in just one small paragraph? Easy. One team would emerge victorious while another remarkable team would be left standing along the side of the road after an unfortunate and immediate exit from the league playoffs at the conclusion of 32 minutes with both teams emptying the tank, giving it everything they possibly could.

As it relates to this specific example, the team that just so happened to come up on the short end of the stick last week would be Hempfield as the Black Knights battled tooth and nail before eventually running out of time against the eventual league champion Pioneers, 47-45 after fighting back from an early 19 point hole.

It would prove to be a loss that the Black Knights would want to make amends for sooner rather than later.

“Matter of fact coming back, there was a big conversation amongst the staff of ‘Should we bring them back into the gym?”’ Hempfield head coach Danny Walck said when describing the bus ride home from Millersville last Wednesday night. “We decided that on Thursday we needed to get back in the gym and we needed to talk about ‘What have we learned?’ If you learn from an experience like that, as hard as it is and as emotional as it is, then you haven’t failed,” Coach Walck went on to illuminate. “But if we hadn’t learned anything, then we would have failed.”

And so, with a nine day cram session in front of them, Hempfield was eager to prove that they had studied properly from the lessons that the setback to L-S taught them as they set forth on their journey to make a return trip to District 3 6A championship as the Black Knights welcomed Wilson to Landisville for a quarterfinal matchup between two heavyweights. A matchup between two programs that ooze toughness and define the word “gritty” to the nth degree.

Although the excitement that preceded the game was tempered somewhat by a frigid start that besmirched both teams shooting the rock at the beginning of the contest, Hempfield’s Ryan Moffatt would be the first to break the scoring seal on Friday evening as the 6’5” all-star senior forward stuck a 3 ball to give the home-standing Black Knights the 3-0 advantage just two minutes into the contest.

And with the Black Knights’ backline D resembling that of an impenetrable brick wall, the visitors from West Lawn were simply unable to find the living easy against the stingy Black Knight defense from point blank range, coming away with nothing but one and done opportunities with Hempfield being able to build upon their lead as a result as was evidenced by an Anthony Alston layup in transition which made it a touchdown advantage for Hempfield as Wilson was forced to call a timeout and regroup, still scoreless to that point, trailing 7-0 with 3:34 left in the opening stanza.

But fortunately for those that had made the trip down from Berks County, the Bulldogs were able to find their man with the plan as sensational freshman guard Stevie Mitchell proceeded to bring the Dawgs back within a deuce following his own personal 5-0 run out of the timeout as Mitchell was able to single-handedly cut into Hempfield’s cushion at 7-5 with three minutes still left in the first.

However with momentum start to tilt in the direction of the visitors, Hempfield’s bruising senior forward, David Martin-Robinson, was able to put a stop to that as the incoming Temple Owl football signee was able to smash home his first of the three dunks on the night with an emphatic tomahawk flush which made it a 10-6 Black Knight lead nearing the final minute of the opening period.

Yet Mr. Mitchell would prove to have other ideas regarding Hempfield being able to run away and hide as the freshman played well beyond his years throughout his first eight minutes of a District 3 playoff road game as the Bulldogs’ special 6’1” freshman guard was able to put up nine points, helping narrow Hempfield’s lead down to 12-10 at the conclusion of the quarter with a late jumper popped in the lane.

Once the second frame got underway however, Hempfield was not only able to play with the lead, they were able to build upon it.

Aided by a sweet baseline J stroked home by David Martin-Robinson which put the Black Knights up by a half dozen at 16-10 just 1:20 into the quarter, Martin-Robinson was able to take his game out from beyond the 3 point arc by burying a trifecta which made it a 19-10 Black Knight lead, effectively serving as the exclamation point of Hempfield’s initial second quarter punch.

Yet even though Wilson was able to cut back into the Hempfield lead after a pair of Stevie Mitchell freebies from the charity stripe made it a 19-14 ballgame, the Black Knights would have an answer for that as a trademark, patient, Hempfield offensive possession ended with success as a sweet David Martin-Robinson dish to Ryan Moffatt standing alone in the corner upped the Black Knight lead to eight as Moffatt sunk a 3 ball from the corner pocket.

From there, Hempfield would see their lead swell to double digit proportions as an Adam Wernoch layup in transition gave the Knights a 24-14 lead with Wilson having to call another timeout, in the midst of yet another scoring drought at the 3:38 mark of the opening half.

And just like they were able to do following their first timeout of the ballgame, Wilson was able to author another rebuttal to the early Hempfield salvo.

Aided by solid contributions put forth by 6’4” senior forward Josh Figura, the Bulldogs were able to close the gap down to five at 24-19, only to see Hempfield’s dynamic two-headed monster switch roles at the conclusion of the first half as a Ryan Moffatt laser to David Martin-Robinson inside just before the second quarter horn sent Hempfield into the intermission with the 26-19 advantage.

Coming out of the halftime break, one thing quickly became apparent–Hempfield had discussed that a return trip to Hershey’ Giant Center was just sixteen minutes away. And with an added jolt of enthusiasm in their step, the Black Knights were able to push Wilson down an even greater hole to climb out of.

You things were bound to get off to a good start when 6’1” senior guard Anthony Alston was able to drain a floater in the lane on the Black Knights’ opening possession of the half which helped set the tone over the ensuing few minutes.

It all would eventually culminate with a strong take to the rack by David Martin-Robinson who would go on to finish with team-high scoring honors by posting a yeoman’s 20 point night of work, putting the final punctuation on Hempfield’s 6-0 sprint out of the gates, as the Black Knights saw their lead grow to 32-19 at the 5:10 checkpoint of the third frame.

From there however, Wilson’s Logan Horst was able to counter that with a blitzkreig of his own as the 6’1” senior forward rattled off the game’s next five points, trimming the Hempfield lead down to eight at 32-24 with just over three minutes left remaining on the third quarter clock.

But Hempfield would go on to play the role of unaccommodating hosts from there as the Black Knights would not let the ‘Dawgs get any closer over the next few minutes, as evidenced by a 4-0 Black Knight march which was sparked by an Elijah Washington take to the tin before being capped off in the most dramatic of fashion thanks to a steal and subsequent thunderous dunk by David Martin-Robinson as the Black Knights went back up by a dozen at 36-24.

And although Wilson would scrape and claw their way back into things by scoring the next three, Hempfield’s Teagan Hazel was there for the offensive board and stick-back, pushing the Black Knights back up over the double digit hill, making it a 38-27 lead with just 1:20 left in the third.

As it would turn out, Hazel’s bucket would help write the preface for the final few minutes of the quarter as Hempfield proceeded to push Wilson away even further as the third quarter continued to wind down.

In amongst that very stretch included a steal and nifty Euro-step finish by Elijah Washington before a Ryan Moffatt tip in, coming just before the third quarter horn, would increase the Hempfield lead to a dozen at 42-30 heading into the final eight minutes.

However with the chocolate so close they could almost taste it, Hempfield wasn’t about to show any signs of stopping.

Never was that more apparent than with Elijah Washington’s back door cut within the flow of the Hempfield offense as the 5’11” junior guard’s bucket from close range put the Knights up by a baker’s dozen at 45-32 with Hempfield just six minutes away from formally booking that trip back to Hershey.

But that would prove to be more than enough time for Hempfield, in particular David Martin-Robinson, to offer one last signature moment in his final career game at Buchannan Gymnasium as the do-it-all Black Knight senior threw down one last highlight-reel dunk of the night, dramatically making it a 50-38 Hempfield lead with just 2:20 left to go.

And although Wilson’s superb freshman phenom Stevie Mitchell would go on sink two more free throws from the foul line which got the Bulldogs back within ten at 50-40, his 23 point effort would prove not to be enough on this night as a Drew Groft free throw down the final stretch proved to be a fitting conclusion as the 6’ senior forward helped send Hempfield back to Giant Center with a 59-49 wire to wire victory over the always-scrappy Bulldogs from Wilson.

A Wilson team that would make even the most-seasoned of coaches a little timid to see in their bracket.

“They’re so well-coached,” Coach Walck said praising his team’s opposition on Friday night. “They’re so deliberate that if they get a lead on you, it can be single digits but it feels like double digits because they’re so disciplined on the offensive end,” Hempfield’s head man went on to say of the Bulldogs and their signature offense. “You don’t want to find yourself trailing (Wilson) because then you have major problems. We said that we have to start fast and finish strong and we were able to accomplish that.”

NEXT UP: From here, the dream of playing at the palatial Giant Center becomes a reality once again for Hempfield as the Black Knights made good on snagging their second consecutive trip the District 3 semifinal round with their Friday night triumph over Wilson after effectively regathering themselves following the sharp sting of last week’s L-S defeat.

An achievement certainly not lost on the Hempfield head coach.

“I’m just really thrilled for this group of seniors because they’ve invested so much,” Coach Walck went on to add in the glow following Friday night’s victory. “As a coach, you know what these guys have done… I have no eligibility left but I can still come back and coach another one. They can’t go back and play that again so I’m just really thrilled for them. Very thrilled for them.”

And while Hempfield will eventually have to also put this one aside while making preparations for their semifinal round opponent in Chambersburg, a team that emerged victorious over District 3 blueblood Harrisburg on Friday evening, this group of Black Knights have shown their ability to be quick and studious learners—an invaluable trait that makes up only the best of teams this time of year. So it really should be no coincidence that here the Black Knights stand once again on the precipice of making it back to back appearances in the district finals as Hempfield readies for a 7pm tipoff on Tuesday against the Trojans of Chambersburg inside Giant Center. A task that is certainly holding serve at the very top of the Black Knights’ To Do list.

Although Wilson fell short of making their goal of playing in the Giant Center this season, make no mistake about it, there is still plenty of meat on the bone for the Bulldogs left to chew this year. On Tuesday night, Wilson will get right back at it when they meet the aforementioned Cougars of Harrisburg in a consolation semifinal game with state playoff ramifications with a tip time set for 5pm inside Milton Hershey’s beautiful Spartan Center.

Dominating Defensive Performance Helps Lift Berks Catholic Into Semifinal Round As Saints Handle Northern Lebanon

When talking about the top high school athletic programs in the midstate, it is downright impossible to have any such conversation without including the Saints of Berks Catholic. No doubt about it, any list that would be devoid of having Berks Catholic mentioned would simply be incomplete at best. If nothing else, it’d certainly be fair to say that the school on located on the western banks of the Schuylkill River in Reading have not just won in a handful of sports over the last few years, they’ve downright dominated.

On the gridiron, the Saints’ achievements truly stand on their own merit. Over the course of the last half decade alone, Berks Catholic has appeared in five consecutive district title games at Hersheypark Stadium, coming away with the gold hardware the last three years, before eventually bowing out in the PIAA Western 4A Final the last two seasons. And although the Saints’ postseason football romps have come up just shy of the ultimate prize, it’s really no surprise to see that Berks Catholic has gone on to achieve remarkable success on the hardwood as well. A fact that becomes crystalized when considering what the Saints’ core group of hoopsters consists of.

Venture over to the Forino Sports Complex on a crisp fall Friday evening sometime and you’re likely to hear just a few of these very same names being blared over the loudspeaker as they game-changing plays all over the field for the Saints–Luis Garcia, Brandon George, Tre Dabney, and Terry Derr just to name a few.

The scary part about that list? That doesn’t even include everyone who makes the transition of turning in the oblong-shaped pigskin for the smooth leather of the roundball at the start of the winter months where more often times than not, Berks Catholic has gone on to enjoy the same type of success no matter what the playing surface.

Without question, the mindset and DNA of a winner is an intangible factor that teams either simply have or they don’t. And when speaking about Berks Catholic on the basketball floor, it’s become pretty apparent that the Saints have that exact moxie by the boatload. And when you add in talented ingredients such as Casey Jack and Keba Mitchell who just so happen to be among the best in Berks County to a mix of already-proven footballers, you certainly come away with a dish that is deserving of fine-dining acclaim during hoops season.

For most teams, last year for the Saints would be considered a banner year that most would celebrate and regard as the best in a generation. But as we have come to discover, this season has morphed into a mission of completing some unfinished business as far as Berks Catholic was concerned.

Yes, although Berks Catholic would come up empty in terms of capturing the Berks, District 3 or PIAA titles, the Saints did not exactly make quiet exits for each of those three tournaments during the 2106-17 campaign.

In a game that will forever go down in history as one of the greatest “tall tales” in Berks County sports history in terms of it’s almost-unthinkable circumstances surely for years and decades to come, the Reading Red Knights were able to turn the lights out on Berks Catholic both literally and figuratively as Reading went on to be crowned the king of Berks after besting the Saints 61-39 in a game that will forever be remembered as the night defined by an infamous power outage that left everyone inside Santander Arena in the dark for quite some time.

After their second-place finish in the county title game a year ago, the Saints proceeded to roar their way through the District 3 playoffs before eventually stubbing their toe against Middletown in the semifinal round by the narrowest of margins, 44-43. From there, Berks Catholic set their sights on the state tournament before their stellar season would come to an end in a second round defeat at the hands of Audenried.

But with a rejuvenated and refreshed outlook on this season, the Saints have been on a tear proving to everyone that they are most certainly out to make amends for their playoff shortcomings.

After soaring through the regular season with a 20-2 overall record and going undefeated in Berks play, Berks Catholic would make it a successful return trip to the BCIAA Tournament this year as the Saints navigated past Governor Mifflin and Conrad Weiser where they would be able to exact some payback against an old nemesis, as BC went on to unseat mighty-Reading from the throne, 51-46 in the championship game.

Ironically, for a team that was expected to be a postseason fixture yet again this year at the start of preseason practices like that of Berks Catholic, the same might not be said for their opening opponent in the 2018 District 3 4A tournament.

When trying to prognosticate and project each year in Lancaster Lebanon League Boys’ Basketball, there are inevitably your prohibitive favorites that you can take to the bank along with a certain few that exceed the preseason expectations set forth by the general public and surprise the masses. When touching on this year’s edition of the Northern Lebanon Vikings, the latter is more apt the description.

Yet in many ways, we probably should have seen this coming. Bolstered by a nine man senior class that has paid their dues and then some over the course of their careers, the Vikings have shown themselves to be the most-talked-about squads in the L-L this season.

But make no mistake about it, this group of Vikings has been more than just a feel-good story. These Vikings have consistently shown the ability to rise up and bite even the best of them.

When talking about L-L Section 3 basketball, the conversation more often times than not is centered around two main programs—Lancaster Mennonite and Lancaster Catholic. And while it is generally apropos to do that given the way that both programs tend to rise to the up above the fray on an annual basis, let’s just say that both the Blazers and Crusaders have to be overjoyed in knowing that they do not have to gas up the bus and venture north to Fredericksburg any time soon.

While the Vikes started out this season with a bang by racking up the wins in bunches, it still somewhat felt like Northern Lebanon was playing amidst the drone of persistent naysayers. But those very same skeptics were forced to be silent following the night of January 9th. That would prove to be the moment where NL would put the rest of the league on notice.

On a night that may have seemed like any other, the Vikings welcomed the Blazers from Lancaster Mennonite to their impenetrable den, coming away with a dramatic 63-62 triumph that kept the Vikes unbeaten in Section 3 play up until that point as NL would then be tripped up on the road at Lancaster Catholic the very next night. A game that would prove to stick in the Vikings’ craw for the remainder of the season.

To their credit, the aforementioned setback to Lancaster Catholic did nothing to deter NL’s hot start as the Vikings went on to post victories in seven of their next eight contests which set up Northern Lebanon v Lancaster Catholic Part II.

In a game that was defined by it’s palpable levels of pregame excitement and anticipation, the Vikings and Crusaders proceeded to battle it out over the course of the next 32 minutes and then some inside the renowned yellow walls of Northern Lebanon’s cozy confines.

In the end, it would come down to a Johnny Besecker trifecta over several outstretched arms of Northern Lebanon defenders just as final seconds ticked off the clock, still much to the chagrin of those in Viking Country as the Crusaders made it a happy bus ride home to Lancaster city with the 55-54 thrilling victory in their possession.

But all was not lost for Northern Lebanon following their last second loss to Catholic. No, far from it in fact.

Although the Vikes went on to drop their last two regular season games against Mennonite and ELCO respectively, Northern Lebanon’s body of work was solid enough for the Vikings to earn their first trip to L-L League Playoffs for the first time in four seasons for an opening round game at Hempfield. Once there, the Vikings would give Section 1 champ Black Knights all they could handle in the early going before eventually running out of steam against the solid all-around weapons maintained by one of the best 6A teams in all of District 3. A remarkable achievement of reaching the league tournament that was certainly deserving of praise and recognition no matter what the outcome would decide that night in Landisville.

Immediately following their abrupt exit from the L-L tourney, the Vikings were then able to right the ship and exact some revenge in their own right against fellow Lebanon County foe ELCO as the Vikes were able to climb out of a seven point halftime deficit, topping their rivals from Myerstown by a 74-65 count, in front of a raucous sell-out crowd in Fredericksburg.

And with it, Northern Lebanon was able to latch onto their underdog collar yet again as the Vikings made their second trip of the year across the Berks County line, this time of the upmost significance, for a Thursday night date with the high-flying display known as Berks Catholic in the second round of districts.

At center court of Berks Catholic’s gymnasium floor lies a painted caricature of a Saint Bernard’s likeness. And ironically enough, that would prove to be a fitting indication of how the opening quarter would play out as the Saints began the game by hounding their guests relentlessly on defensive end.

The Saints wasted little time in taking command of the scoreboard as Berks Catholic opened up the game with a quick 4-0 spurt following a nice move inside by 6’4” senior center Keba Mitchell only to see Alex Yeager answer back with an early triple for Northern Lebanon which cut the lead down to one at 4-3 just two minutes into the contest.

But from that point on however, Berks Catholic was deemed clear for takeoff.

Aided by a persistent, tenacious level of defense that led to more than it’s fair share of Northern Lebanon turnovers, the Saints proceeded to string off a 8-0 run which made it 12-3 in favor of the home-standing Saints at the 3:50 mark of the opening period as the Vikings were forced to call a timeout and adjust in the face of the early Berks Catholic salvo.

Yet once Northern Lebanon was able to find their footing and settle into a groove offensively, the Vikings started chipping away at BC’s advantage.

Aided by a 3 ball that was splashed home by 5’11” senior guard Caleb Light, the Vikes had cut the deficit in half at 12-6 before a knockdown jumper stuck by Alex Yeager got NL within four at 12-8 as the Vikes closed the books on the opening quarter of play with a 5-0 blitz.

Once the second quarter got underway, the Vikings were able to cut it to within three at 14-11 following another jumper by Caleb Light who would go on to finish with team-high scoring honors for the Vikes by posting a 14 point performance.

After his early second quarter jumper, Light helped cut the margin down to just one at 14-13 following a pair of freebies from the charity stripe at the 5:20 mark, helping serve notice to Berks Catholic that Northern Lebanon was here for the fight.

And just as they had all season long, the Vikings just kept pushing and pushing as they would eventually meet Berks Catholic on the scoreboard at 16-16 at the five minute mark thanks to a Cameron Gensler trifecta before the 6’2” senior big man would go on to convert from the free throw line shortly thereafter to give NL their first lead of the night at 17-16.

But unfortunately for those who made the trek from Lebanon County, that brief, fleeting moment would prove to be NL’s first and only lead for the remainder of the contest.

Ignited by the adversity of which they were facing, Berks Catholic responded with a championship-like rebuttal as the Saints went on to close the half with a scintillating late-half volley.

Sparked by a floater in the lane that was converted by BC senior forward Tre Dabney, Keba Mitchell went on to record his first highlight-reel play of the night as BC’s towering senior center rose above the crowd huddled around the rim anticipating a rebound as Mitchell plucked the ball out of the air and finished above the fray with an emphatic two-handed put-back dunk which clearly put momentum on Berks Catholic’s bench near the conclusion of the first half.

When all was said and done, the Saints were able to shut Northern Lebanon out for the remainder of the quarter as Berks Catholic bounded into the dressing room with a noticeable extra pep in their step as BC went into the break leading 26-17.

Although the first half clearly did not end the way Northern Lebanon had originally intended, the first few minutes of the final half allowed the Vikings to have the opportunity to find some momentum and perhaps inch back closer to their hosts on this night.

However Berks Catholic would have none of that. In fact, not only were the Saints able to continue keeping NL at arm’s length, they able to expand upon their lead even further from there on.

It didn’t take Berks Catholic very long to regain the same traction that they enjoyed at the end of the opening sixteen minutes. No, in fact it only took just a few seconds to be precise as a sweet back door layup scooped up and in by BC’s Luis Garcia on the Saints’ opening possession helped set the tone for the next few minutes which would clearly be defined by Berks Catholic’s hot-start.

After the early Garcia bucket, BC’s leading scorer for the night, 6’4 senior guard Casey Jack, got in on the action as well with a strong take to the tin that was followed up with a steal and lay in on Northern Lebanon’s ensuing offensive possession that helped open the floodgates as the Vikings were forced to call another timeout, now facing a 34-17 hole right out of the chute.

However Northern Lebanon’s second half thirst would not be quenched until near midway through the third quarter as an Alex Yeager jumped finally gave relief to the Vikings as Yeager’s bucket made it a 34-19 ballgame with 4:30 left in the third frame.

But even that proved to be too close for comfort as far as BC was concerned as the Saints would later see their lead swell to 20 points after an old-fashioned three point play authored by Casey Jack along the baseline with the free throw added on top gave the Saints a 42-22 lead with one minute left on the third quarter clock before the clock would eventually expire with Berks Catholic in command, leading Northern Lebanon 42-24.

As mentioned, Casey Jack would go on to finish with game-high scoring honors for the Saints with a 17 point night at the office.

New quarter, same ole’ Saints.

Yes, Berks Catholic was able to continue laying their foot on the accelerator as yet another Luis Garcia backdoor move, good for 2 of his 14 on the night, made it a 20 point bulge in favor of BC once again at 48-28 at the 4:30 mark of the final period.

And although Michigan Daub would be able snatch his first points of the evening by knocking down a pretty baseline jumper almost immediately after the Garcia bunny from close range, it remained a 20 point lead in favor of the home team as the Saints were on the precipice of officially securing their ticket to the District 3 4A semifinal round as BC looked out over their perch with a 50-30 advantage.

Yet to their credit, Northern Lebanon played every last second over the course of the 32 minutes for which they were guaranteed as evidenced by Spencer Mullins checking into the contest and delivering solid minutes. An effort that would eventually be rewarded with a nice post move inside which made it a 52-34 ballgame which would also happen to be the score at the conclusion of the contest as Berks Catholic made good on their quest to advance to the Monday night semifinal round at Penn Manor, handling their business over a gritty Northern Lebanon squad.

“Give them a lot of credit,” Northern Lebanon head coach Chris George said after his team’s defeat at the hands of Berks Catholic. “They’re one of the best defensive teams in the area. We knew it. We preached it to them the last few days… We did a nice job in spots being patient and at other times we just didn’t,” George added bluntly. “Almost all their points came off turnovers in the first half. It’s a backbreaker. Offensively just to be sloppy like that really hurt us.”

NEXT UP: Although Northern Lebanon’s quest for a District title came to an end against Berks Catholic, the Vikings still have a chance to qualify for the state tournament. Something that should not get lost in the shuffle even despite the sting of Thursday’s setback.

“Obviously the ELCO win was really big for us at home and big from the program,” Coach George detailed regarding the week that was for the Vikings. “This was a really good experience for us, playing games like this for our program, George went on to say. “Our program hasn’t been in this spot for a long time so you just try to focus on the positive of tonight… I think you can take a lot of positives from today.”

For Berks Catholic, the redemption tour continues on as the Saints look forward to an anticipated rematch with Middletown in the semifinal round, just like one year ago as the Saints and Blue Raiders begin their preparations in earnest for one another with tipoff set for 6:30pm at Penn Manor High School in Millersville on Monday night.

Lower Dauphin Hustles Into District 3 5A Quarterfinals As Falcons Power Past Ephrata

The arrival of postseason basketball no matter what the level–high school, college or professional can mean only one thing. Brackets. And when District 3 released their brackets last week, there were plenty of intriguing matchups to go around. But perhaps no contest was as tasty as the opening round 5A matchup between #9 seed Ephrata traveling to #8 seed Lower Dauphin.

But don’t let Lower Dauphin’s 17-5 record and misleading #8 distinction fool you. This group of Falcons entered the postseason with the ability to inflict a ton of damage on the 5A field. In fact, one opposing coach went so far as to say without trepidation that Lower Dauphin was “arguably the best team in our division this year.” Certainly high praise when speaking about a team hailing from the Keystone Division of the “big bad” Mid-Penn Conference. A prestigious conference that historically tends to reign supreme over all the rest in District 3 tournament action.

However if anyone would be up for the challenge of going chin-to-chin against one of the Mid-Penn’s best, it was likely to be this year’s Ephrata Mounts. After all, Ephrata had to be itching to get back on the floor given the way things ended their last time out.

Hit the rewind the button to last Wednesday night in the waning moments of the first L-L semifinal game between Ephrata and Lancaster Catholic and you would have found the Mounts and Crusaders locked in a dead-heat at 42-42 with Lancaster Catholic coming out of a timeout with possession on their end of the floor with just a couple of seconds left to go in regulation.

As it would turn out, seconds would not be the issue. No, the real issue would be a tenth of a second. Literally.

After Lancaster Catholic got the ball down low to sophomore big man David Kamwanga following the late-game timeout, Kamwanga went to work in the post before hoisting up a shot from point blank range amongst the tall trees of Ephrata. The shot proceeded to bounce off the glass thanks to the stifling Ephrata defense, but just then a shrill rang out that pierced through the deafening roar that was reverberating off Penn Manor’s gymnasium walls as the Mounts were whistled for having just a little “too much” defense, sending Kamwanga to the stripe with 00.1 left on the clock.

From there, the young Crusader proceeded to sink the ensuing freebies with the game on the line to send Catholic into the title match where they would eventually fall to Lampeter-Strasburg, the team that would likely await either Falcons or Mounts at the end of Monday night as the top-seeded Pioneers had a home date with Northern York in the game opposite of Ephrata/Lower Dauphin.

So with the Mounts eager to get their shot at redemption, Ephrata headed west with their sights set on Hummelstown to flip the script on Wednesday night’s heartbreak while starting the journey of capturing an even bigger prize than last week’s league title.

However if ever a game could be defined by it’s opening possession, it was Monday night’s LD and Ephrata affair.

On Lower Dauphin’s opening trip, the Falcons were able to attack the glass with ferociousness, coming down with a handful of offensive rebounds, which subsequently forced the high-flying Mounts to dig in and grind out a defensive possession for over a minute.

And although they would not score on their opening trip, LD’s Luke Hedrick was able to tickle the twine from behind the arc to give the Falcons the early 3-0 advantage just 1:40 into the contest.

With LD continuing to stay patient on the offensive end along with employing a zone defensively which stymied the Mounts’ attack all game long, the Falcons were able to extend their lead over the visitors from Ephrata as Hedrick stopped and popped for a jumper which made it a 7-2 ballgame in favor of LD.

However once Ephrata did figure out how to shake loose from LD’s defensive gameplan, the Mounts were able to find their old, reliable formula of knocking down shots from behind the arc as a Sam Cable trifecta cut Lower Dauphin’s lead down to 8-5 just past the midway point of the opening quarter.

But even though the Mounts had closed to within three, Lower Dauphin would be able to keep Ephrata at bay the rest of the way for the remainder of the opening quarter as the Falcons proceeded to go on a 4-0 run from there as a steal and layup in transition by Luke Hedrick made it a 12-5 Falcon lead to answer Ephrata’s early momentum swing.

From that point on, Lower Dauphin proceeded to double up their guests as a hoop plus the harm negotiated by Casey Caruso made it a 14-7 Falcon advantage now at the two minute mark of the opening quarter.

But the hole only continued to grow bigger for Ephrata as a litany of turnovers besmirched the Mounts in the first half, translating to yet another 4-0 Falcon run as a pair of free throws cashed in by junior guard Ryan Becher made it an 18-7 LD lead before the Mounts would make it a ten point ballgame at the conclusion of the opening period with Lower Dauphin holding serve by virtue of the 18-8 count.

However the little stoppage in between quarters did nothing to deter the hot-starting Falcons. Instead, LD proceeded to rattle off the first four points of the second stanza to go ahead 22-8 before a Dilyn Becker whirling-dervish at the cup got the Mounts within a dozen at 22-10 shortly thereafter.

If there was one thing that became noticeable about LD’s defensive strategy in relation to how Ephrata was forced to go about their business, it was the fact that the Falcons’ D made it extremely hard for Ephrata to find good looks in their normal offensive flow. However when they did, they were able to find junior sharp-shooter Zach McGillan knocking down a triple from behind the arc to get Ephrata within single digits at 24-15 at the 4:35 mark of the opening half.

But Lower Dauphin’s size and length continued to be a problem for Ephrata all night long as evidenced by Brian Swist’s baby hook just two minutes later as the 6’5” junior gave the Falcons the 28-17 advantage. And from there, Lower Dauphin continued to keep Ephrata at arm’s length for the remainder of the quarter as a Luke Hedrick Euro-step finish in transition made it a 32-19 Lower Dauphin lead as the 6’4” junior guard finished his stellar opening half of action by chipping in 10 points to contribute to the 32-21 Falcon advantage.

Although Ephrata would start the second half off well in terms of getting back within ten of the home-standing Falcons, a pretty spot up jumper which was splashed in by 6’6” junior forward Will Bowen got the Falcons back over the ten point bulge at 34-23 at the 6:30 mark of the third period.

But from there, the Mounts would mount a charge.

Ignited by a 3 ball that was stuck by 6’3” senior Brad DaBella which made it a 34-26 Lower Dauphin advantage, Ephrata continued to press on as a beautiful find from Dilyn Becker to Xavian Rodriguez underneath cut it to 34-28 at the 5:30 mark of the third quarter.

And although Ephrata would cut it down to as few as five, Lower Dauphin’s Josh Saufley was there for the answer as the 5’11” senior guard knifed his way through the Ephrata defense en route to a critical bucket at the tin which put LD up 37-30 with now 2:50 left to play in the third.

However to their credit, Ephrata continued to keep on keepin’ on for the remainder of the third quarter as a corner 3 ball knocked in by Zach McGillan got Ephrata back within a half dozen at 39-33 which was the score as the game headed into the final eight minutes.

If there were two tangible factors that proved to be the difference between the Mounts and Falcons on Monday night it was Lower Dauphin’s relentlessness to attack the offensive glass along with their ability to create havoc defensively. Well, that and trying contain Will Bowen underneath. And as the final quarter got underway, Bowen continued to be a 6’6” thorn that would stick in Ephrata’s side.

On the Falcons’ first offensive possession of the final period, Bowen was again seen yet again gobbling up the offensive boards, earning himself a stick-back finish to push the Lower Dauphin lead to 41-33 to get the action underway. But Bowen wasn’t done there.

On the very next offensive trip, Bowen lurked behind the defense before suddenly rising up along the baseline and finishing with a nifty reverse at the tin, effectively knocking Ephrata back on their heels in the process. On the night, Bowen would go on to finish with game-high scoring honors by posting a dominating 23 point performance in the opening round of districts.

However once again, Ephrata was up to the fight as a gorgeous spot up jumper cashed in by Xavian Rodriguez closed the gap to 43-37 with the game now inside the five minute mark with Ephrata needing to make one last rally.

It was not to be.

From there, Lower Dauphin would let Ephrata get no closer as the Falcons proceeded to rattle off a 5-2 rebuttal which made it feel like a gargantuan advantage now sitting at a 48-39 Falcon lead with just 2:42 left to go. Shortly after that, Will Bowen continued his stellar night by going on his own personal 4-0 run as the Falcon advantage suddenly increased to 52-39 with the Mounts now searching for answers with their district title dreams now hanging in the balance.

And although Ephrata would close to gap to eleven at 52-41 following a Xavian Rodriguez jumper, the Falcons were able to navigate past the ensuing Ephrata press as Brian Swist was able to finish with an easy bucket at the tin with the game now inside of one minute remaining before Casey Caruso would finish out the scoring with a pair of free throws to send Lower Dauphin onto the next round by virtue of their 58-41 decision over Ephrata.

Although it was not the result that Ephrata was hoping for on Monday night, it is evident that the Mounts intend to bottle this up and make the most of this affair as they move onward and upward. Much in the same vein that they were able to do coming out of the game against Lancaster Catholic last week as well.

“We had a very emotional week last week,” Ephrata head coach Jon Treese admitted following his team’s setback to Lower Dauphin on Monday night. “You take this long bus trip and at times I would just say that I don’t know if it was as much physical mistakes as it was more mental mistakes of being a little bit tired and putting a little pressure on ourselves because we gave up a lead early,” he went on to say regarding his team’s play. “We’ve dug back from leads, but we have not had to dig back on a night like this, in a game of this magnitude in districts. We’re going to look back on it as a learning experience and move on to play 32 minutes to earn another 32 minutes.”

NEXT UP: With their defeat on Monday night, Ephrata now enters into the 9th Place bracket in District 3 5A where the Mounts will have a home game on Thursday night as they entertain the Polar Bears of Northern York who succumbed to L-S in their opening round game 55-35. But even though Ephrata’s bid for a district title fell by the wayside of the opening night of play, it certainly does not diminish the fact that Ephrata emptied the tank against Lower Dauphin. Signs that any first year coach would be excited to see as he witnesses the foundation of his program begin to take shape. Most specifically in the postseason.

“The opportunities were there when we got it down to six to maybe hit a big shot but you’ve got to give credit to Lower Dauphin,” the first year Ephrata coach went to add praising the opposition. “We punched at them and got it down to six and they got a timely offensive rebound or one their big kids made a nice move inside. They did something that teams do to win games in this type of tournament…I’m proud of the way my guys punched back but I have to give credit to Lower Dauphin too. They stopped our runs when they needed to.”

For Lower Dauphin, the Falcons will look to make it two consecutive wins over L-L Section 2 competition as LD heads east to tangle with the L-L champs in Lampeter-Strasburg. And although the Pioneers have seemingly been in a different stratosphere this season given the manner in which they have taken care of their competition, Thursday night appears to be one of the Pioneers’ stiffest challenges yet to date as these Falcons upon further examination are anything but a #8 seed. Not only will they keep attacking the offensive glass like unchained Dobermans, but they are also not afraid to get on the floor and risk some “floor burn” diving after loose balls. All in all, Thursday night in Lampeter appears to be one for books with someone becoming the rightful owner of a ticket to the Giant Center in District 5A semifinals next Monday night.

Blue, White And Gold: Lampeter-Strasburg Dethrones Lancaster Catholic For First L-L Championship In School History

In sports, the general rule of thumb is that the defending champion earns the right to be considered king of the hill until knocked off their lofty perch and proven otherwise. Don’t bother trying to sell this year’s Lampeter-Strasburg basketball team on that notion however. They’re simply just not buying it.

Rewind the clock all the way back to December 12th, the first night of the Pioneers’ season, and L-S made quite a first impression. On that night, L-S sent shockwaves across the county and ripples throughout District 3 as a result of their 53-41 triumph over the reigning L-L and District 3 4A champions, Lancaster Catholic. But make no mistake about it. The Pioneers quickly proved that their opening night victory over one of the perennial powers on the eastern side of the state was by no means a fluke.

From that point on, the Pioneers only continued to roll, going 22-2 the rest of the way. And just in case you were wondering, L-S’ two setbacks this season all amounted to a grand total of 3 points. So yeah, it’s fair to say that L-S had taken care of business this season en route to a Section 2 title, their third in a row, before entering the L-L playoffs at the beginning of the week. Once there, the Pioneers only continued to sizzle in their initial pair of postseason contests.

Fending off a very game effort from Lancaster Mennonite in the opening round, L-S looked up to star center Ryan Smith both literally and figuratively as the 6’10” senior proceeded to ticket the highest scoring game to date in the L-L this season by netting a 39 point effort to stave off the persistent Blazers on Monday night to follow up Smith’s 34 point outburst in the first matchup between the two neighboring schools back on January 3rd, as L-S lived to fight another day where they would meet Hempfield in the semifinal round on Wednesday at Penn Manor.

In a game that was circled dating back to before the Christmas holiday, L-S jumped Hempfield early as a blistering first quarter effort put forth by senior guard Isaac Beers set the tone following an early 2-2 stalemate as Beers’ 15 first quarter points propelled L-S to an astounding 21-2 lead after one. A lead which the Pioneers would never relinquish despite a frantic second half rally mounted by the Section 1 champs as L-S would go on to hold off Hempfield 47-45, advancing to the program’s first ever league title tilt.

Facing them on the opposite bench on Friday night would be a program certainly more than accustomed to the bright lights and big stage of postseason basketball, the Lancaster Catholic Crusaders.

It’s fair to say that last year was a good season for Catholic. Historically good mind you. For the first time since their much-ballyhooed 2003 state title team which took everyone on a unforgettable ride before stopping the bus at 35-0, 2017 marked the first time that the Crusaders were able to lay claim to both the league and District 3 titles in the same season since that much-celebrated squad from 15 years ago.

And although Catholic came into this season with more question marks than a cartoon character’s thought bubble, this new and improved version of Crusader basketball has been able to author yet another impressive chapter in the school’s long and storied history.

After the loss to L-S which put a smudge on their early-season resume, Catholic has simply been out of this world. From December 12th on, the Crusaders tasted defeat just one other time in a January 6th nonleague affair against York Catholic by a 61-58 count, en route to a 20-1 record since the first L-S matchup with the Crusaders having their sights set on the Pioneers and redemption in Friday night’s L-L title fight.

And just their counterparts on Friday evening, Catholic was forced to survive and advance past stern challenges in their opening games of the L-L playoffs as well.

Monday night saw the Crusaders take to their home floor as a reward for running through Section 3 unbeaten this season, finishing as the undisputed champions, where they would welcome a very dangerous Garden Spot squad to the friendly confines fresh off an emotional win of their own on Saturday in the play-in game against Manheim Township hailing from Section 1. And although the Spartans would give it everything they had, it was simply not enough as Catholic’s laundry list of reliable talent all the way up and down the bench proved to be too much as the Crusaders bested Garden Spot 55-45 to move on to play Ephrata in the first game of Wednesday’s semifinal twin bill at Penn Manor.

The task was nearly a mirror image of Monday night’s assignment as the Crusaders’ well-known lockdown D would certainly need to have their T’s crossed and I’s dotted against an Ephrata outfit that loves to pour it in from bonus distance. Look no further than their opening round win over Cedar Crest on Monday where the Mounts were able to tally 14 trifectas for proof of that.

And although Ephrata would push Catholic to the brink, the Crusaders proved to be championship game worthy after rallying back from a ten point deficit before 6’6” sophomore forward David Kamwanga coolly knocked down a pair of clutch free throws with 0.01 left on the clock to push Catholic past a very game Mountaineer squad 44-42, prompting a dog-pile celebration once the last tenth of a second blinked off the clock as the Crusaders sprinted off the bench to mob their underclassman hero.

Funny thing how momentum seems to carry over from one game to the next.

Whether it be a case of carrying over the good vibes from his late-game heroics on Wednesday night or by simply taking advantage of the matchup presented against him defensively, Kamwanga started off Friday’s league title game razor-sharp by pocketing the first four Crusader points of the contest as the reigning champs established an early 4-0 cushion at the 5:20 mark of the opening quarter.

With the Crusaders packing the paint defensively, thwarting the driving efforts of the crafty Pioneer ball-handlers from penetrating into the lane, points were at premium in the early stages of this year’s title bout as both teams took a while to settle in and get a feel for each other.

Even still, L-S was able to cut Catholic’s lead in half at 6-3 at the 2:40 mark of the first quarter following an offensive board and stick back by senior guard Isaac Beers which made it a 6-3 Crusader advantage before yet another Kamwanga jumper gave Catholic the 8-3 lead, forcing L-S to call a timeout with 2:14 left in the first.

Just then, L-S got their groove back.

Following their early timeout, the Pioneers came out and gave the ball to the always-reliable Ryan Smith as the 6’10” senior center went on to score the next five L-S points to knot the score back up at 8-8, giving the blue-clad Pioneer faithful good reason to stand up and cheer.

And even though RJ Van Tash would counter back with a jumper for Catholic giving the lead back to the Crusaders, an Isaac Beers triple put the exclamation point on the late 8-2 L-S first quarter charge as the Pioneers secured their first lead of the night at 11-10.

From that point on, the Pioneers took things to another level and never looked back.

Aided by two early triples that were cashed in by Ryan Smith and Zach Kingsley respectively, the L-S senior duo was able to put the Pioneers up by a half dozen at 19-13, knocking Catholic back on their heels after the first three minutes of the second period, prompting Catholic to call a timeout of their own.

And much like the weather across the area earlier in the day, L-S only continued to make it rain.

The Pioneers then proceeded to flirt with a double digit lead following the Crusader timeout as an Isaac Beers triple kept the L-S snowball rolling downhill as the Pioneers had jumped out to a 22-13 lead with 4:20 left to go in the half.

With L-S sitting back in a 2-3 zone defensively, Catholic soon discovered that the points would be much harder to come by than they were at the outset of the contest.

In fact, a Jordan Sweger drive to the cup following an RJ Van Tash O-board and stickback for the Crusaders kept the Pioneer advantage at nine, 26-15, with the first half winding down.

But perhaps there was no better microcosm for L-S’ second quarter effort defensively than Ryan Smith’s emphatic rejection of late-half Catholic drive to the rack, erasing it with ease as the Pioneers sprinted off into the halftime intermission in possession of the 28-17 advantage.

Despite now getting down by double digits to start the second half, it appeared that Lancaster Catholic may have been able to steal some momentum and possibly ride along with it as a Dwyane Caine layup in transition plus the harm at the end trimmed the L-S lead to ten at 30-20 with 5:55 left in the third.

But Isaac Beers would have something to say about that as the underrated senior guard continued his stellar postseason play by knocking in pretty jumper off a curl cut on an underneath out of bounds set to push the L-S lead to a dozen at 34-22 now under the five minute mark of the third quarter. On the night, Beers would go on to finish with game-high scoring honors by posting a 22 point night of work which came on the heels of his identical 22 point performance against Hempfield just 48 hours prior.

From there, L-S continued to play with the bulge on the scoreboard as 6’2” junior Patrick Holmes put his defender on skates along the baseline, finishing through contact at the cup to maintain the 12 point L-S lead at 36-24, now midway through the third quarter.

When he wasn’t scoring, Holmes had no problem getting his teammates involved either. After collecting an offensive board following a missed carom off the rim, Holmes promptly fired off a quick pitch to Ryan Smith who was waiting underneath all by his lonesome, as Smith’s deuce from point blank range put L-S up by two touchdowns at 38-24 now with two minutes remaining on the third quarter clock.

But as L-S would soon discover, knocking off a defending champ with the title belt riding on the line is a task that is simply easier said than done.

Needing to find that elusive spark offensively, Catholic turned to junior sharpshooter Johnny Besecker who promptly dialed up a 3 ball right on cue to cut into the L-S lead before an RJ Van Tash bucket in transition got the Crusaders back within single figures at 38-29 with the third quarter starting to come to a close.

And although it had appeared that Catholic’s rally had run out of steam following a charge taken by Ryan Smith on a later Crusader possession, Miles McCaskey was able to flip and hit from just outside the painted area, cutting the L-S lead down to seven at 38-31 just before the conclusion of the third period with momentum clearly residing on the Lancaster Catholic bench following their 7-0 run to close the quarter.

With Isaac Beers and David Kamwanga trading buckets back and forth to start the fourth and final quarter, someone needed from L-S needed to put their foot down if the Pioneers were to make this a historic night that will be remembered forever.

Fortunately for them, they had their man in Isaac Beers who was up to the task at hand as Beers swiped the ball away on the defensive end before going on to finish with a layup at the hole on the other end for the monstrous momentum swing, giving L-S the 44-33 lead with 4:10 left to go.

But as most can imagine and L-S likely knew all too well, the Pioneers were not out of the woods just yet.

Although the L-S had now pushed their lead up over the ten point mark following the Beers theft and bucket, Catholic still had one last charge to mount.

They would go on to cut the gap down to as few as six following an RJ Van Tash jumper, making it a 46-40 ballgame with 1:10 left to go as Catholic called timeout to set their defensive for the ensuing out of bounds scenario.

Without question, RJ Van Tash was the key cog on Friday evening for the Crusaders as the 6’2” senior nabbed 16 points, all of which seem to come at critical junctures, enabling Lancaster Catholic to take their final march.

But it was not to be on this night as Patrick Holmes was fouled on the immediate inbounds play, calmly walking the length of the floor where he would knock down the pair before Isaac Beers would proceed to follow suit with two more of his own as the villages of Lampeter and Strasburg began to rejoice as their hometown Pioneers made history, winning the school’s first ever league title, while unseating Lancaster Catholic from the throne, 50-40.

In the immediate aftermath, there were plenty of smiles to go around. None of which may have been bigger than the one on the face of second year L-S head coach Ed Berryman who had just helped lead the Pioneers to the promised land.

“Just really proud of these boys,” a jubilant Berryman stated matter of factly amidst the chaotic scene behind him. “They came together and did a great job as a team all season long.”

And while Friday night would have been an exciting victory standing on it’s own merit, it was even bigger in the sense that it was the culmination of a dream that had been left unfulfilled before 8:30 Friday night as the Pioneers were finally able to capture that elusive first-ever L-L crown. A dream that this year’s group knew was a possibility way before the ball ever tipped off in early December.

“Yes we did. We saw this back then,” Berryman went on to say about the Pioneers’ preseason aspirations. “This was one of our goals. We said at the beginning of the year to win the section and we wanted to win the league championship….Seeing these guys, they’re unselfish and they play together. We have size with Ryan (Smith), and we have shooters. We just have a good combination.”

A combination that would prove to unlock the trophy case of the school on Book Road with the 2017-18 Pioneers being remembered for the rest of the time by virtue of the gold trophy they are now able to place inside.

NEXT UP: From here, the task takes on a somewhat unique turn for L-S. The Pioneers will now have to find that delicate balance of appreciating, celebrating and recognizing school history, all while knowing that there is an even bigger tournament on the horizon as L-S is set to tip off the 5A District 3 tournament on Monday night as the #1 seed with a home game against the Northern York.

“It’s my first time doing this so I’ll have to figure it out as I go along,” Berryman quipped regarding the quick turnaround and refocus. But even still, it’s clear that he trusts this year’s team to do exactly that. “It’s a smart group of kids. They’re heady. They know we’ll celebrate, maybe take tomorrow off (Saturday), but get back to work on Monday.”

As far as going up against the Polar Bears on Monday? “I have video to watch of Northern York,” Berryman said of the task at hand. “We played them earlier in the year but I know they’ve improved.”

Just like their counterparts on Friday night, Lancaster Catholic will also move on to the District 3 tournament with a #1 seed to their name as the Crusaders open up against either Susquehanna Township or Bishop McDevitt at home next Thursday night.

Even despite the fact that the road to Hershey remains a tough chore no matter who are or what your classification, this year’s Crusader certainly seems to have all the pieces and added dynamics to not only make a run for Chocolatetown, but perhaps bringing back a second straight District 3 4A title back home along with them. And with Friday night’s defeat likely to stick in their craw for quite some time, you just have the feeling that this year’s Crusader club will continue adding to their chapter in regards to their program’s legendary pedigree considering the 2017-18 team has not yet finished writing their story. Not by a long shot.