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.

Lampeter-Strasburg Makes History As Pioneers Knock Out Hempfield To Advance To First Ever L-L Championship In Game For The Ages

For whatever the reason, the L-L League Boys’ Basketball tournament has always shown an uncanny knack for producing monumental semifinal games the last few years. In fact, it could very well be argued that some of these games featured head to head matchups that most would have considered to be the de-facto championship games as two prize fighters would enter the ring with only one surviving to play the weekend at Manheim Township in the finale.

Just try a couple of these on for size and see if they don’t spark up memories of yesteryear.

2008: Columbia takes their shot at the king of the hill as the Adam Pittman and Mike Seibert engineered Tide nearly pull off a miraculous comeback against the three-time defending league champs as darn near the entire town of Columbia was in the stands that night at L-S supporting their beloved Crimson Tide, seeing them simply run out of steam to future Pitt Panther and Atlanta Hawk Lamar Patterson alongside his Red Tornado ‘mates to help move McCaskey along into the finals where they would capture the league title later that weekend against Hempfield in the first ever Lancaster Lebanon League championship game contested at the brand-new Manheim Township Arena.

2013: Who could ever forget this one? They might still be trying to leave the traffic jam at Conestoga Valley now five years later. In the ultimate David vs Goliath matchup, the unbeaten Donegal Indians hurled their stone at the McCaskey juggernaut in a game which quite possibly remains the most anticipated game in the LL ever played over the last decade. On that wintry night in Witmer, Donegal fought tooth and nail the entire way, but was never able to capture the lead as McCaskey was pushed to the absolute limit before surviving and living to tell the tale, toppling Donegal by a 72-65 count before going on to defeat Cedar Crest to claim league gold with a 62-41 triumph over the Falcons just a few days later. It would be a game which would later serve as one of the driving forces behind the intense McCaskey/Cedar Crest rivalry that would take shape over the next few years to come.

2015: Hard to do much better than a game between perhaps the two greatest teams in each school’s history when Manheim Central and Cedar Crest got together to duke it out at Lebanon Valley College in a sold-out game between the Section 1 and Section 3 champions where fans without tickets were turned away almost immediately. Some of the names alone stand the test of time. Walsh, Funk, and Wiederrecht for the Barons. Horn, Eberhart, and Bucher for the Falcons. In a grind-it-out kinda game, Cedar Crest was the last one left standing after a 45-40 victory over the Barons, vaulting them into the final round against rival McCaskey where the Falcons would eventually reign supreme for the second straight year in the L-L, adding yet another chapter to an already sensational series that came to life back in 2013.

Hit the fast forward button to L-L Final Four night 2018 and history had a funny way of repeating itself once again when Hempfield and Lampeter-Strasburg squared off to determine who would earn the right to play defending champ Lancaster Catholic on Friday night in the title bout.

Why such an anticipated game that is deserving of being placed among that heralded list? How about why not?

During their 2017-18 campaigns, both the Black Knights and Pioneers were seen running roughshod over the competition in their respective neighborhoods of Section 1 and Section 2. All in all, both Hempfield and L-S came into Wednesday night’s blockbuster with a combined 25-3 mark in their sections during the regular season while boasting a simply staggering shared 42-4 overall record between them.

With such an impressive stretch of basketball being played between the two suburban schools over the span of the last two months, District 3 also had a way of rewarding both the Pioneers and Black Knights for a job well done, placing L-S on the #1 seed line in the upcoming 5A tournament while giving Hempfield the #2 distinction in the 6A field, trailing only the defending 6A state champion, Reading. So not only was this a monster inside the confines of Lancaster County, but other District 3 aficionados likely found their way to Millersville to check out these two sensational teams as both would continue to possess dreams of playing on the gorgeous Giant Center floor in just a couple of weeks, quite possibly for district gold no matter what the outcome on Wednesday night. And just in case you needed further validation as to just how remarkable those accomplishments are, 5A and 6A are the two ‘big boy’ brackets in District 3 where all the big name giants reside.

Add in the fact that two of the best players in the entire league in Ryan Smith of L-S and Ryan Moffatt of Hempfield would be going head to head against one another and you quickly had all the makings of an all-time classic set to combust in front of a raucous, jam-packed capacity crowd at Penn Manor with the Comets’ home floor serving as center stage.

Once the pomp and circumstance finally subsided giving way to the actual game at hand, the game could not have started out any better for L-S even if they were accomplished Hollywood directors trying to write a brilliant script.

It didn’t take the Pioneers long to find their main man as L-S used the tried and true formula of getting the ball into the mitts of their 6’10” towering senior big man Ryan Smith who able to deliver the goods by scoring inside to collect the first points of the ballgame creating a 2-0 L-S advantage with just 40 seconds gone by.

And although Hempfield’s Elijah Washington would counter back with a bank off the glass to tie things up at 2-2 just over the six minute mark, L-S proceeded to ride a run for the rest of the opening quarter. Or really to be more precise, a tidal wave.

His name is Isaac Beers and if Hempfield didn’t know his name before 7:30 on Wednesday night, rest assured they surely did over the course of the first quarter as Beers proved to be a one man wrecking crew, single-handedly knocking Hempfield back on their heels in this battle royale.

Doing it with a nice mix of his inside and outside repertoire, the 6’2” senior guard proceeded to go on a 9-0 run shortly after the Washington bank shot to catapult L-S into the lead at 11-2 at the 2:50 mark of the opening quarter.

But the Pios weren’t done there.

Wanting to get back into the fray, Ryan Smith was able to do that and then some as Smith was able to shake loose from his post defender, elevating into the thick, humid air inside the Penn Manor gym before finishing with a powerful two-handed jam which only poured salt into the Hempfield wound as the Pioneer lead grew to 13-2 before Beers stole the show once more with a cold-blooded trifecta as L-S had now taken the game over by storm, leading by a jaw-dropping 16-2 advantage once inside the one minute mark of the opening period.

From there, Beers continued to have the hot hand, pouring in yet another bomb from behind the arc as the Pioneers now led 19-2 which would happen to be the score would end after the first quarter of play as the Pioneers finished the quarter on a scintillating 17-0 run with Isaac Beers chipping in 15 to that effort.

Once the second quarter began it was more of the same for the Pioneers.

After a sweet dish from Peyton Denlinger to Zach Kingsley got things underway, the L-S lead had ballooned to 21-2 with Hempfield now staring at a monstrous hole.

But luckily for those that made the trek over from nearby Landisville, it just took the Black Knights a little while to warm to the fight.

Aided by David Martin Robinson jumper which finally stopped the L-S onslaught at 21-4 at the 6:45 mark of the second period, Hempfield was able to continue on their rally as the Black Knights began the second quarter with a resounding 9-2 response that was capped off by an Elijah Washington steal and lay in which made it a 23-11 L-S lead with 4:24 to go in the half, prompting L-S to burn a timeout.

Yet despite the fact that Hempfield was able to continue chipping away as evidenced by a David Martin Robinson jumper which cut the L-S lead down to ten at 23-13 at the three minute mark of the second stanza, the Pioneers fired right back with a 5-0 rebuttal of their own as an Isaac Beers triple kept Hempfield at bay with the score now sitting at 28-13, forcing Hempfield’s hand to call timeout with 2:08 to play in the opening half.

From there, Hempfield was able to score the next four points of the contest, fighting back valiantly to make a game of it at 28-17 as the two teams headed off into their respective dressing rooms for the halftime intermission.

New half. Same ole’ Isaac Beers.

After a pair of Ryan Moffatt free throws got the Black Knights within single figures at 28-19 at the onset of the second half, Mr. Beers had a thing or three to say about that as the Pioneers’ explosive senior guard stuck another 3 ball, vaulting L-S back over the ten point hill at 31-19 just one minute gone by the new half.

And although Hempfield would close back to within ten following yet another Ryan Moffatt bucket, a key offensive rebound that was collected by Zach Kingsley went on to culminate in a Ryan Smith lay in amongst the trees as the Pioneers went back up by a dozen at 33-21 midway through the third.

But Hempfield continued to keep plugging away, eating the elephant bite by bite.

After a steal and subsequent lay in was put home by Black Knight 6’1” senior guard Anthony Alston, Hempfield had trimmed the L-S down to a manageable eight, but not before another pair of Ryan Smith freebies cashed in at the charity stripe upped the Pioneers’ margin back into double digit territory at 35-25 with just one minute left to play in the third quarter.

Yet despite the fact that Hempfield was able to get back within eight following a gorgeous out of bounds play underneath which culminated in a Donovan Green lay in at the cup making it a 35-27 ballgame in favor of L-S, the Pioneers headed off into the final stanza in possession of the 35-27 lead with still only three Pioneers having entered the scoring column.

Sensing that it was now a do or die situation at hand, Hempfield was able to rally the troops and author an early fourth quarter salvo to make L-S experience some late-game playoff nerves in this developing instant classic.

It didn’t take long. All of 1:45 in fact for Hempfield to make their first move. Fueled by an acrobatic finish at the cup by Anthony Alston, the L-S had been cut down to just a half dozen at 37-31 with 6:15 left to play.

Shortly thereafter, the Pioneer cushion had been cut in half following a Ryan Moffatt steal and lay in which made it a 37-34 ballgame with L-S now on the ropes with 4:39 left to go.

But with their backs up against the wall and Hempfield charging full steam ahead, the underlying “team” dynamic that encompasses this L-S outfit showed itself in spades as a gigantic corner triple drilled by 6’1” junior guard Zach Kingsley kept the Black Knights at arm’s length at 40-34 with now four minutes left to tick off the clock.

But someone forgot to give Hempfield the memo about closing up shop and calling it a night.

Instead, the Black Knights continued to punch right back as a magnificent dipsy-do lay in at the cup put in by Elijah Washington made it 40-36 L-S lead before a strong take to the rim by David Martin Robinson made it a two point affair with L-S continuing to hang on at 40-38 with 2:40 left to play. But the situation only continued to grow more adverse for L-S after that as a highlight reel no-look laser through traffic from Elijah Washington found it’s way into the hands of Adam Wernoch as the 6’ junior guard finished with a reverse Mikan to cut the L-S advantage down to the slimmest of margins at 41-40.

Still to that point in the game, only three L-S players had their names appear in the scoring column. Luckily for the Pioneers, their fourth would arrive in dramatic fashion as Seth Beers drove to the rack for an enormous bucket to make it a 43-40 L-S lead with just 1:17 left to go and Hempfield coming at L-S full-bore.

From there, Hempfield would come back with an offensive trip that would end in free throws as Ryan Moffatt calmly knocked down a pair of freebies to cut the L-S lead back down to one at 43-42 with 45 ticks left to melt away.

But even though Hempfield tried to squeeze everything they could out of L-S in hopes of breaking them, the Pioneers held steady, finding yet another answer in the face of danger as a beautiful dime inside to Ryan Smith courtesy of Seth Beers put the Pioneers back up by three at 45-42 inside the final minute.

With Hempfield needing to offer some sort of a response and quickly, the Black Knight faithful would unfortunately see their team come away with an empty possession on the ensuing offensive trip. With Hempfield needing to foul to extend the game, Zach Kingsley went back to the stripe where he would be able to split the pair as the Pioneers were able to extend their lead to 46-42 with just over 10 seconds left to play.

However that would prove to be more than enough time for Ryan Moffatt to come right down the floor and sink a key triple, slicing the L-S advantage down to 46-45 with 4 seconds left to play as Hempfield called timeout. The only hang up to those plans was the fact that the Black Knights had already exhausted all of them, Thus, Hempfield was whistled for a technical as a result, giving L-S foul shots plus possession with just 4 seconds left to go.

From there, Isaac Beers proceeded to knock down a pivotal free throw on the exchange, extending the Pioneer lead to 47-45 with Hempfield having time for one last prayer following a turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass.

But the Black Knights’ desires to end the game in walk-off fashion went by the wayside as the last second halfcourt heave ricocheted off the top of the backboard, sending L-S into their first L-L championship game by virtue of their unforgettable 47-45 triumph over Hempfield on Wednesday night.

As mentioned Friday night marks an unprecedented opportunity in the annals of the L-S Boys’ Basketball program. The goal of being crowned the undisputed county champion. And while it’s clear that L-S began the year with that vision in mind, L-S head coach Ed Berryman was quick to point out that this group has truly taken that goal to heart in hopes of turning a dream into reality.

“Oh absolutely,” Berryman echoed after the game. “Even after we won the section and we won our first game against Mennonite, their attitude was that we haven’t done anything yet,” the Pioneer head man stated regarding his team’s mental makeup heading into the rest of the L-L tournament week. “This was a goal for us and they’re mature enough to set that goal and they’re excited about it.”

NEXT UP: It all comes down to this. The Friday night final. Lancaster Catholic in one corner. L-S in the other. Yet ironically, this was a game that was already contested earlier this year albeit back in the very beginning of the season. A time which may as well be considered ancient history in relation to the whirlwind of a season that is high school basketball.

Even still, Coach Berryman and his troops remember that game fondly and certainly hope to replicate some of the same successes that they enjoyed in a 53-41 victory over Catholic way back on December 12th.

“It’s come full circle,” the Pioneer boss said of the impending Friday night affair. “Our first game of the year was against Catholic and now we’re playing them in the league championship,” Berryman said beaming. “Any time you play Catholic you know it’s going to be a tough game. They have a great program but we’ll give them all we have.”

While the dream of playing for league gold was left unfulfilled following their setback to L-S on Wednesday night, Hempfield will go back to the lab to tinker, fine-tune and quite simply regroup in order to learn from their game against the Pioneers as the Black Knights prepare to ship off to the always-loaded District 3 6A field. And once the Black Knights get there, they will square off with either Wilson or Carlisle at home in Landisville next Friday night with the right to move on to Hershey to play in the Giant Center against a Mid Penn foe yet to be determined.

If anything, Hempfield will hope that history repeats itself, looking to rekindle some of that same magic that they were to use last year after coming up shy in the L-L semifinal round as the Black Knights proceeded to roar back with a vengeance by advancing all the way to the District final before moving on to states where they would come up short in the Elite Eight round against Archbishop Ryan hailing from the behemoth super conference known as the Philadelphia Catholic League. It won’t be an easy chore but if anyone would be up to the task, you’d have to think it would be this battle-tested group of Black Knights who refuse to back down from any challenge thrown at them.

Ephrata Starts Fast, Holds Off Hard-Charging Cedar Crest To Advance To L-L Semifinal Round

Without question, the number one goal for each and every team LL team that reconvenes every fall for the start of preseason practices is to play beyond their regular season slate and make the playoffs whether it be leagues, districts, or for even more select few, having the opportunity to take part in both. On Monday night at Warwick High School, two of the hottest teams in the entire league that fit the latter description met at long last for arguably the most anticipated game on the opening night of the league playoffs as both Ephrata and Cedar Crest made the short trips into Lititz to do battle.

While Ephrata first year coach Jon Treese and eighth year Cedar Crest head man Tommy Smith each began the season with the challenge of managing lofty expectations for both of their clubs respectively, both the Mounts and Falcons have been able to handle their business and then some as both squads had authored their own brand of dominating basketball for key segments during the regular season campaign with each ending the regular season with impressive final statements.

If anything, Monday’s night affair felt more like a collision course wrapped in a basketball game. Ask any coach who is fortunate enough to play on into the postseason and chances are you’ll likely tell you that they want to being playing their best ball heading into survive and advance territory. Well, as far as both Cedar Crest and Ephrata were concerned, that description rang true in spades.

Cedar Crest came into the evening as winners of six of their last seven ballgames with their only hiccup coming against eventual Section 1 champion Hempfield on the road in Landisville while Ephrata entered the postseason scorching-hot.

Look around and it’s hard to find an LL squad that had a better closing argument than the Mounts. Winners of their last six contests and eight of their last nine overall, Ephrata would finally get their first shot of the season at raising some eyebrows if they could take down a perennial Section 1 power with absolutely everything riding on the line. And boy did they ever.

Once the game finally got underway, things couldn’t have started off much better for Cedar Crest. Aided by a Cole Laney dunk on the Falcons’ first offensive possession of the ballgame, Laney proceeded to step outside and sink a 3 ball to put Cedar Crest out in front 5-0 at the 6:15 mark of the opening quarter with the Mounts first few possessions being maligned with turnovers against the stingy Falcon D.

Once Ephrata did settle down and get into the flow of the game, the Mounts found success by dialing up the long ball. As it would turn out, Ephrata would continue to be calling collect all night long.

Faced with the early 5-0 deficit, the Mounts turned to the savvy veteran duo of Brad DaBella and Zach McGillan to help lead them through the choppy waters. And luckily for Ephrata, the two-headed monster was able to come through just when the Mounts needed it most as back to back triples cashed in by DaBella and McGillan respectively gave the Mounts their first lead of the game at 6-5. It would prove to be a lead they would never relinquish.

But the party didn’t just stop there. In fact, the Mounts were able to pour in two more trifectas shortly thereafter to get out to a somewhat surprising 12-5 lead midway through the opening quarter before a Jaiden Melendez jumper for Cedar Crest took just a little bit of wind out of the Ephrata sails in the early going.

However the Ephrata snowball would only continue to roll downhill after that as another triple stuck by 6’ senior guard Sam Cable put the Mounts up by ten at 19-9 before a pair of Zach McGillian 3 balls would close the opening eight minutes, the last of which came by way of a halfcourt heave just before the first quarter buzzer as Ephrata was able to head into the second stanza in possession of the 25-11 lead aided by a sensational first quarter shooting display of seven, count ‘em seven, knockdowns from behind the arc in the opening eight minutes.

Unfortunately for those that traveled south from Cornwall, the break in between quarters did nothing to slow down the purple-clad Mounts as Ephrata only continued to show off their long-range capabilities by pouring in two more trifectas to start the second period before the Mounts’ Dilyn Becker drove hard to the tin, coming away with a tough layup inside as the 6’ senior guard put Ephrata up 35-15 at the 5:20 mark of the second quarter, prompting Cedar Crest to call a timeout staring at what felt like a gargantuan hole.

And although Cedar Crest would continue to play hard throughout the remainder of the second quarter as evidenced by Cole Laney’s old-fashioned three point play which trimmed the Ephrata lead down to 41-22, Ephrata continued to torch the nets at Warwick High School as two more triples over the course of the second quarter put in by 6’2” junior guard Zach McGillan gave the Mounts a 20 point lead at 44-24 with just over one minute remaining in the opening half.

But before the final curtain would fall on the opening half, Ephrata’s Dilyn Becker was there to cash in a sweet stepback jumper to send the Mounts into the break with the 46-25 lead, likely turning plenty of heads across the Lancaster Lebanon League basketball landscape in the process.

And once the dust finally settled, it showed Ephrata pumping in an eye-popping 11 triples through the first 16 minutes of action. A simply astounding feat that Ephrata head man Jon Treese truly had his team prepared for. “We talked about matchups, especially in the playoffs and you have to figure out which matchup you have the best chance on. We kind of had it in our minds where if they would leave Zach (McGillan) open, we were going to let Zach shoot,” Treese said of the junior’s sharpshooting display, most specifically in the opening half. “He just stepped up and made a lot of big shots.”

But make no mistake about it, it simply wasn’t just the Zach McGillan show for Ephrata in the first half. Rather, the entire team stepped up and pulled their weight in a big way throughout the first 16 minutes of Monday night’s game to knock Cedar Crest back in their tracks. Something Coach Treese was certainly excited to see out of his battle-tested Mounts.

“Our guys did a really nice job of executing sets which gave us different looks to keep them off balance, so we were getting set up looks, and natural drives and kicks,” Treese said when eluding to his team’s offensive execution at the onset of the contest before stating simply, “It just seems like our offense gelled the right way tonight.”

And once the second half got underway, Mr. McGillan continued to be a painful thorn in Cedar Crest’s side as the junior donning #54 proceeded to knock down yet another trifecta in the opening moments of the second half as the Ephrata lead had ballooned to 51-27 with Cedar Crest looking desperately for answers. And fast.

And while the scoreboard may not have given a true indication on what was happening out on the floor over the ensuing few minutes, Cedar Crest began to test Ephrata’s will by driving relentlessly to the tin in hopes that the constant body blows would help amount over time as Falcons kept chomping away bit by bit.

Instrumental to that cause was 6’ junior guard Logan Horn who just kept pushing and pushing with persistent man-sized drives to the rack over and over again to keep the Falcons within reach with still plenty of time left to go.

But the brick wall that Ephrata had built up over the first half was proving to be a tough barricade for Cedar Crest to crack as a Zach McGillan reverse at the cup made it a 20 point Ephrata lead at 55-35 with five minutes still left to tick off the third quarter clock.

Yet despite the fact Cedar Crest continued to push and push as evidenced by a 4-0 Falcon run that was capped off by a bucket inside by Cole Laney who finished with a team-high 20 points, to draw the Falcons to within 55-39 with four minutes left in the third, another Ephrata 3 ball spelled doom for Cedar Crest as this time it was Brad DaBella who popped a 3 to increase the Mounts’ advantage to 62-41 before the third quarter would eventually expire with Ephrata in control, taming the Falcons 64-43.

To their credit, the level of fight that Cedar Crest continued to display albeit while playing in a deep hole continued to remain a remarkable storyline. And once more, the Falcons simply continued to make Ephrata earn everything they down the stretch as an 8-0 Cedar Crest rally to begin the fourth cut the Ephrata down to just a dozen at 64-52 following a hoop plus the harm put up and in by 6’1” senior forward Brandon Showers at the 5:34 mark.

But from there, Ephrata would continue to have the answer, from bonus distance no less, as Ephrata’s ultra-talented wing weapon-extraordinaire Brad DaBella continued to set the nets ablaze with another trey, good for 3 of his 22 points on the evening, to put Ephrata back in front by 15 at 67-52 with five minutes left to play.

Yet once again, Cedar Crest simply refused to make living easy the rest of the way for the Mounts as a pair of Dylan Miller freebies at the line cut Ephrata’s lead down to sizeable 11 at 69-58 considering there was still 2:55 left to tick off a clock that simply could not move fast enough for the Mounts.

But unfortunately, the frustration of the night would finally come to a head as the Falcons were whistled for an ill-timed technical foul call shortly thereafter with the margin still within reason and momentum clearly swinging the way of Cedar Crest.

Following the free throws after the dead ball technical, Ephrata was able to increase their lead to 16 at 76-60 with time quickly running out on the Falcons comeback efforts.

However once again, Cedar Crest continued to scrap and claw their way for everything as a 5-0 run authored by Jaiden Melendez cut the Mounts’ lead down to 78-67 with 1:15 left to play.

Once Cedar Crest played the foul game to send Holden Haws to the line on the ensuing Ephrata inbounds, the 5’9” senior guard stepped up the plate valiantly by converting 1-2 on the trip to help keep Cedar Crest at bay in the midst of a herculean effort being engineered by the Falcons.

And despite the fact that Cedar Crest would close the gap down to as few as ten in the waning minutes following a strong take to the cup by Dylan Miller who would finish with 18 on the night to make it a 79-69 lead in favor of the Mounts, a pair off Zach McGillan free throws down at the other end immediately after helped close the book on Cedar Crest’s comeback effort as the junior dynamo helped seal the deal with a monstrous 30 point night of work to vault Ephrata into the LL semifinal round with a 84-69 victory over arguably the LL’s greatest program the last handful of years.

All in all, it was a resounding triumph for Ephrata on Monday night. Arguably one of the Mounts’ biggest wins in years. And while Ephrata certainly played extraordinarily well over the span of 32 minutes against Cedar Crest, Coach Treese was quick to point out that efforts like this are truly built well in advance. “I think first of all, these kids have put in a ton of work to get us to this point,” the Mounts’ head man stated after the game on Monday night. “We talk about all the minutes we’ve logged and the things we’ve done and I said to them, ‘This is an opportunity that you’ve truly earned. You shouldn’t let anybody take something away that I feel you’ve truly earned,” Treese went on to detail. “I think they were focused on that the whole time, like this was their opportunity to come out and show exactly what they were capable of. I think in terms of a program-wide thing, it shows how much hard work pays off. It shows what kind of athletes we have here at Ephrata and as a head coach, you want to use that as a springboard to keep going.”

And without question, Ephrata does not find itself in it’s current situation without the leadership and guidance set forth by their stellar core of upperclassmen leaders. Ironically a group that found themselves in the exact same situation just one year ago. Yet even though the Mounts have now made it back to the LL playoffs for yet another go of it, Coach Treese explained that it’s vital for teams to recognize and appreciate the fact that every team starts the postseason off with a clean slate and the basketball gods do not look upon anyone with any more favor based upon what you have done historically once the postseason gets underway.

“Like I explained to them, there’s only one way to approach any playoff tournament,” Treese said regarding the message he delivered to his squad before this week. “You can’t get too caught up on ‘Have you been there before?’ You can’t concern yourself as much with that. If you prepare yourself every practice, every time you’re in the gym to get ready for the next 32 minutes and you just focus on those 32 minutes, the rest takes care of itself… So opposite of that. We kind of got away from saying who’s experienced what,” Treese explained. “I’ve been a part of district runs, state runs and all that kind of stuff and I’ve found that the less you talk about those sorts of things and the more you just talk about being prepared for these 32 minutes, it just makes it simpler for kids,” as Treese went to elaborate before adding with a chuckle, “The less they think about the better.”

NEXT UP: Without question, Ephrata has earned the right to revel in its victory over Cedar Crest. But once that celebration ceases, the Mounts must prepare to go full-steam ahead for a battle against the defending league champs from a year ago in Lancaster Catholic on Wednesday in the league semifinals which will be contested at Penn Manor. And it’s a matchup that Coach Treese and his squad are certainly excited for. “I’m really happy they only get 48 hours too,” Treese said with a laugh describing his opposition and having to prepare for them in just in two days. “I’m sure they were watching the game also so there’s going to be a whole lot of coaches trying to play chess and not so much checkers,” Treese said previewing Wednesday night’s clash. “It’s a game of matchups. They have some really good pieces and good things they can do offensively and defensively,” the Ephrata boss said of the impending challenge offered by the Crusaders. “My guys are confident and they have every reason to be confident. I think it’s going to come down to someone getting that matchup or someone exploiting something just a little bit better than the other team and that’s who’s going to end up on top.”

As far as Cedar Crest is concerned, the bid for a league title is now off the board but make no mistake about it, there is still a lot left out there for the Falcons yet to tackle. First and foremost, Cedar Crest will have to right the ship before next Friday night as they welcome an LL Section 1 foe back to The Cage in either Manheim Township or Conestoga Valley after those two square next Tuesday evening at Township. And should the Falcons get past either the Streaks or the Buckskins on the 23rd, Cedar Crest will find themselves right back inside the palatial confines of the Giant Center against more than likely the defending 6A state champions, the Reading Red Knights. And while it may take some time for Cedar Crest to rebound following the bitter taste left in their mouth from their Monday night defeat at the hands of Ephrata, the Falcons have consistently proven to be one of the grittier, hard-nosed, no-nonsense teams that reside in the LL, making their ability to rise up off the canvas all but a certain.

Solanco Fights Til The End Before Succumbing To DeAngelo, Sun Valley In Season Finale

In many ways, it’s fair to say that Saturday afternoon in the Lancaster Lebanon League basketball community was date that many had been anticipating for quite some time. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you know full-well by now that Saturday officially marked the beginning of postseason play as Manheim Township and Garden Spot help raise the curtain on this year’s playoffs in the LL play-in game held at Hempfield.

However there was still one other squad in the league that had some unfinished business left to attend to. That being the Solanco Golden Mules.

While a great majority of LL teams that did not survive to play into the second season have likely already had discussions about when the dreaded uniform return day will be, Solanco saved one of their stiffest challenges yet to date in the final contest of the season as the Mules went on an hour long bus ride before unloading and then squaring off against the Sun Valley Vanguards of the Chest-Mont League. A school which is nestled in the quiet town of Aston, just a stone’s throw north of the Pennsylvania high school hoops hotbed of Chester.

Despite the fact that the Golden Mules came into the weekend sporting just a 4-16 overall record, Solanco was coming off their first Section 2 victory of the year last week when the Mules were able to knock off Manheim Central before giving aforementioned Garden Spot plenty of fits their last time out before ultimately falling to the Spartans by a 59-42 count. And with that late added burst of momentum in tow, Solanco was eager to end the year with an exclamation mark if they could upset the playoff-bound Vanguards hailing from the District 1 ranks.

But their opposition would be anything but a leisurely stroll through suburban Philadelphia with Sun Valley coming into Saturday with even more momentum than their counterparts considering the Vanguards were winners of their last five contests, including a 70-61 victory over future LL member Octorara on Friday evening.

Once the game got underway, things couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start for the Golden Mules if they would have scripted it themselves. With Sun Valley opening the contest by employing a 2-3 zone defensively, 6’1” senior guard Aaron Constein was able to rise and fire, knocking down a trifecta on the Mules’ opening possession of the ballgame.

And although Sun Valley 5’10” senior guard Shair Brown Morris would counter that with a 4-0 run of his own, Solanco would be able to regain control of the scoreboard following yet another triple, this one cashed in by 5’10” junior guard Dawson Kreider, as Solanco surged back in front 6-4 in the early going.

Once again however, Solanco would have to continue to deal with the exploits of Brown Morris over the course of the next several minutes as the Vanguards’ floor general was able to pilot another personal advance, this one of the 5-0 variety, as Sun Valley charged back to the lead at 10-6 with five minutes still left to tick off the first quarter clock.

But the back and forth battle would only continue to rage on from there as Solanco would answer the Brown Morris salvo with a 5-0 blitz of their own which was capped off by an Aaron Constein 3 ball, putting the Golden Mules back on top 11-10 at the 4:15 mark of the opening quarter of play.

The Solanco lead would only improve from there as another 3 ball, this one splashed in by 6’ senior guard Jon Rush, gave the Mules their fourth triple of the opening quarter while simultaneously increasing Solanco’s lead to four at 14-10.

And although Solanco would see their sliced down to just one following a Shair Brown Morris triple, the Golden Mules were able to play with the lead for the remainder of the opening quarter as a sweet dish inside from the senior connection of Aaron Constein to Braden Redcay gave the Mules the 18-15 advantage just before the first quarter horn rang out.

Fortunately for Sun Valley, their knight in shining armor donning the #14 jersey would then proceed to check into the contest at the onset of the second quarter and help carry the Vanguards across the finish line the rest of the way.

His name is Vinny DeAngelo. And if Solanco didn’t know his name at the beginning of Saturday afternoon, they certainly knew of it after. After giving way to a senior-laden lineup which more than held their own in the opening quarter of action, DeAngelo wasted little to no time taking the game over.

In fact, it took all of 1:10 off the second quarter clock before Solanco would quickly see their lead vanish after a 5-0 DeAngelo blitzkrieg which knotted things up at 20-20, forcing the Golden Mules to call and try and muster an answer.

Unfortunately for those that traveled east on US Route 1 from Quarryville on Saturday, that would prove to be the closest Solanco would stay within the Vanguards for the remainder of the game.

Over the span of the next two minutes, Sun Valley would promptly go from being in a tie ballgame to leading by a touchdown as a steal and runout by 6’1” junior forward Lance Stone put the Vanguards in charge at 28-21 at the 3:12 mark of the second quarter, forcing Solanco to call yet another timeout to stop the bleeding.

Yet just as they would throughout the entirety of the contest, Solanco simply refused to quietly go back home on this rainy Saturday afternoon.

After a pair of Vinny DeAngelo freebies from the line gave Sun Valley a double digit lead at 31-21 following the Solanco timeout, the Golden Mules continued to scrap and claw their way back to within single figures as an old fashioned three point play put up and in by Aaron Constein cut Sun Valley’s lead to 33-24 with just one minute left in the first half. On the day, Constein would go on to close the book on his all-star caliber season and Golden Mule career by netting a team-high 24 points.

But just when it had appeared that Solanco would be able to go into the intermission with the game still within shouting distance, Mr. DeAngelo continued to have alternative plans for his guests as the stellar 6’2” junior guard continued to show why his is one of the better players in the greater Philadelphia area by collecting an offensive rebound and having the presence of mind to come down with it and score the goal just before the halftime buzzer, sending Sun Valley into the break with the 37-26 advantage.

Once the third quarter got underway, it was apparent that the underlying game of cat and mouse being played between Solanco and Sun Valley would only rage on into the second half as well.

With Sun Valley continuing to own a double digit lead, Solanco’s Jack Boomsma was there to say not so fast as the 6’2” Golden Mule senior tallied a tough bucket inside to draw Solanco back within single figures, cutting the Vanguard lead to 39-30 at the 4:10 mark of the third.

But yet again, Sun Valley would have none of that.

Following the Boomsma bucket, Sun Valley’s rangy 6’4” wing in Marvin Freeman stopped and popped from bonus distance, putting the Vanguards up by a dozen at 42-30.

And although Sun Valley would continue to enjoy a double figure lead following a tough, gritty drive to the cup by Vinny DeAngelo, Austin Daniels was able to check into the game and deliver a 3 ball to aid the Mules’ cause as the 5’11” senior guard trimmed the Sun Valley advantage to a 44-36 count after his immediate trifecta in the waning minutes of the third period.

When the third quarter clock finally did expire, it would show Sun Valley continuing to hold serve, leading Solanco 48-38 heading into the final eight minutes of the Mules’ season.

But just as he had all game long, Vinny DeAngelo refused to yield anything to the visiting Golden Mules. Aided by his 5-0 spurt to begin the final quarter, the Vanguards increased their lead to a baker’s dozen at 53-40 just 1:10 into the fourth as DeAngelo was well on his way to claiming game-high scoring honors by posting a marvelous 31 point effort.

And although Solanco would mount one last charge after back to back triples cashed in by Aaron Constein and Jon Rush respectively, Marvin Freeman was there to put the exclamation mark on the afternoon for Sun Valley as the Vanguards’ matchup nightmare completed the transition opportunity with a two-handed throwdown in the face of the final Solanco advance.

However to their credit, Solanco continued to play all 32 minutes without giving an inch as evidenced by the late game triples dialed up Austin Daniels and Zach Wiker respectively as the Golden Mules went down swinging to Sun Valley, 65-56.

Coming into the contest, it was evident that third year Solanco head coach Scott Long knew that Saturday’s game would be one of Solanco’s stiffest challenges yet to date given the length and pure talent that Sun Valley possesses across the board this season. “They would be a team that would be right there with everyone else. They’re just as good as an Ephrata, L-S, or Garden Spot,” Long stated when describing the Vanguards in comparison to other LL Section 2 heavyweights this season. “They’re so tough because they have that elite level guard who can just make a play. We struggled with him,” Long admitted when referencing Vinny DeAngelo’s 31 point outburst. “They’re definitely one of the better teams we’ve seen.”

NEXT UP: Not only did the final buzzer on Saturday afternoon indicate the end of Solanco’s valiant effort against the home-standing Vanguards, it also marked end of the road for Solanco this season. And although the Golden Mules finished the year with a 4-17 overall record, Coach Long was still quick to point out that even despite the win/loss record, there were still positives from this year that he will be able to take away from this team for years to come.

“Our win at Gettysburg was a fun one,” Long said looking back on the year that was. “We go away for the holidays and go to Gettysburg to play in their holiday tournament. It was just a fun game because the end was back and forth and we actually hit a shot at the buzzer to win the game, so that was a fun one.”

Wins and losses aside, it’s also crystal clear that Coach Long will remember this year’s senior class fondly for the upstanding individuals they were away from the hardwood as well. “Our senior group that’s graduating, they’re all great kids,” Long detailed regarding the upcoming 2018 graduates. “They’re fun to be around, they’re respectful kids, and they work hard. Even tonight, they were down by about ten at half and they fought their tails off.” A feature of this year’s edition of Golden Mule basketball that goes well beyond just Saturday afternoon. “I was happy with how they continued to play even though they weren’t getting the results they wanted,” the Solanco head man said regarding his team’s resiliency in 2017-18. “I think that’s a life skill that translates further than just basketball.”

And even despite what may have appeared to be a long winter on the surface this year down in Quarryville, it was impossible to ignore the optimism in Coach Long’s voice as he knows what is brewing for the future of his program next year and beyond. “We’ll bring back some experience so that’s exciting,” Long explained regarding what lies ahead for Golden Mule hoops. “Our JV team finished with a winning record so we’re really excited about them… I think just getting that group on the court more knowing there’s some pieces there that are good players, that really energizes our whole staff.” And with a revamping of the entire LL landscape next season, don’t forget about the Golden Mules. If you do, you’ll likely regret it.

With their victory over Solanco on Saturday afternoon, Sun Valley advances on to play in the District 1 tournament, earning the right to play a home game as the #6 seed in the 5A bracket opposite of #11 seeded Marple Newtown in a Wednesday night opening round game with a tip time set for 7pm in Aston. Should the Vanguards advance past the Fightin’ Tigers in the midweek, they may very well have a date with the most historic program in all the state next weekend as the Chester Clippers will tangle with Academy Park in the game opposite them in their bracket. And with players such as Vinny DeAngelo, Shair Brown Morris, Marvin Freeman, and Issac Kennon leading the way, don’t be surprised to see Sun Valley continue to hang around longer than some may anticipate as the Vanguards possess all the tools to be a serious threat in the District 1 tournament.