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.