Cedar Crest Shows Its Mettle As Falcons Squash Warwick Upset Bid

 

Cedar Crest at Warwick boys’ basketball in Lititz, PA on January 19, 2018. Mark Palczewski Photo.

Ask any coach in any sport at any level and they’re bound to tell you that there are certain places where they just don’t like to play. Talk to the head men patrolling the sidelines in Lancaster Lebanon Section 1 Boys’ Basketball and there’s one answer you may get back that could catch you by surprise. Warwick.

It has nothing to do with the facilities themselves mind you. No, pound for pound, the gym on West Orange Street in Lititz is arguably one of the nicest and most spacious around. Look no further than it’s ability to host league, district, and state playoff contests for proof of that. But in between the white lines inside the gymnasium, the Warriors’ home court has proven to be a snake pit over the last handful of years where some of the top teams in District 3 come up short after 32 minutes. Or more.

If you’re fan of white-knuckle games that have the potential to end in big time upsets, Warwick has been the place for you over the last decade. Consider this, last year Warwick pushed Hempfield to the limit and then some before the Warriors ultimately succumbed to the Black Knights 90-85 in a crazy five overtime affair that was one for the ages. That just so happened to be the same Black Knight team that would go on to finish in the Elite 8 in the 6A field of last year’s PIAA State Playoffs. And even this year Hempfield flirted with the razor’s edge yet again in Lititz as a Ryan Moffatt buzzer beater gave Hempfield a dramatic 38-36 victory. Oh by the way if you’re keeping track at home, this year’s Hempfield squad entered Friday night at the #2 line in the District 3 6A standings just behind the defending state champion, Reading.

Even the best program in Section 1 historically, the McCaskey Red Tornado, have not been immune to Warwick’s house of horrors. In 2015, the Red Tornado traveled up to Lititz only to come away on the short end of the stick, 44-43. The resume on that 2015 McCaskey team would go on to read as a state semifinalist as the Red Tornado were eventually turned away by Roman Catholic in the Final Four, a mere three points shy of a state title game appearance.

But that’s not all. There is still one other great program in that resides in Section 1 that Warwick has been able to put on their home hit list in recent years. That being the Cedar Crest Falcons.

In 2008, an 11-1 Cedar Crest team rolled into “The Coolest Small Town,” only to be sent back home to Cornwall shocked following a Chris Neidermyer buzzer beater that gave Warwick one of it’s five wins of the season, 50-48. And just like McCaskey in 2015, Cedar Crest’s trip to Lititz that same year not be fun either as the #1 ranked team in District 3 fell to Warwick as the Warriors’ posted a jaw-dropping upset on senior night over the visiting Falcons. And just for record keeping, that same 2015 Cedar Crest team would go on to finish with a 27-5 overall record and advance to the District 3 final before eventually falling to the same Roman Catholic team that upended McCaskey in the 2015 state playoffs.

Fast forward to January 19, 2018 and the stage felt eerily similar. Warwick, playing their best ball of the season was sitting there waiting in the weeds to spring another headline-stealing upset as the #4 ranked team in District 3 6A came calling fresh off a disappointing loss to rival McCaskey just 24 hours before. But with so much riding on the line, Cedar Crest head coach Tommy Smith knew better than to just sweep the Falcons’ previous Warwick experiences under the rug heading into Friday night. “We talked about it. We said that this is one of the most difficult places to play. Flat out, the most difficult place I’ve had to play as a coach,” the head Falcon said when bringing up previous Lititz road trips to this year’s Falcon squad. “(Warwick) brings a great atmosphere. I think Warwick feels great here and it’s just a tough place to play.”

And just like so many great teams before them, Cedar Crest too would be pushed to the limit Friday night. The key difference being that this group of Falcons had the moxie and mental makeup to stand tall in the face of a Warwick upset bid and return home victorious with a badly-needed victory to keep their dreams of a Section 1 championship alive and well. A victory that may very well turn out to be a defining moment in their season.

One thing became very apparent when the game got underway. Warwick would push all their chips to the center of the table by planning to hit it big from behind the 3 point line. And sure enough, the Warriors were able to do exactly that. Just 50 seconds into the contest, Warwick star freshman guard Joey McCracken knocked down a triple to give the home-standing Warriors the quick 3-0 lead. Although Cedar Crest senior forward Cole Laney would eventually answer back with a 3 ball of his own, Warwick continued to shoot it well from behind the arc as a Clayton Mohler trifecta with 5:30 to go in the first quarter made it an 8-5 Warwick lead in the early going.

To their credit however, Cedar Crest did not flinch as the Falcons promptly answered back with a 4-0 run of their own to take their first lead of the ballgame at 9-8 following a pair of free throws from all-star senior guard Blake Thomson before a pair of freebies converted by Cole Laney followed suit, eventually increasing the Falcon lead to 11-8 with 3:40 left to play in the first period.

But that just so happened to be the time when Warwick would begin to really heat up. Following the Laney free throws, Warwick answered back with two consecutive triples, one from Clayton Mohler, and another from Ryan Shirk as the Warriors retook the lead 14-11. From then on, Shirk continued to have the touch from beyond the arc as the 6’2” junior guard pumped in another trifecta to make it a 19-13 Warwick lead with just one minute remaining in the opening stanza. But there were still time for more heroics from bonus distance by Clayton Mohler as the senior guard knocked down his third triple of the opening quarter to make it a 22-14 Warwick lead when the first frame eventually expired.

As it would turn out, the brief break in between quarters did nothing to cool down Warwick’s hot shooting. Case in point, Ryan Shirk rising up and knocking down yet another triple which saw the Warwick lead swell to double digits at 25-14 just 1:30 into the second stanza.

And even though Warwick was setting the nylon nets ablaze, Coach Smith remained calm and collected knowing his Falcons could weather the storm. “(Warwick) shot great the first quarter,” Smith said of the Warriors’ early punch. “I didn’t think we needed to change anything. Now if they shoot like that in the second quarter, maybe at halftime we have to make some adjustments, but a few tweaks here and there just understanding personnel. I thought in the second quarter we did a better job of getting out and getting after them and that’s really what turned the tide.”

Foul shooting. Foul shooting. Foul shooting. So often it can make or break games. Well in Cedar Crest’s case in the second quarter against Warwick on Friday night, free throw shooting is what helped keep the Falcons afloat amidst Warwick’s early surge.

After a pair of freebies knocked down by Falcon senior guard Jaiden Melendez made it a 26-16 ballgame with over five minutes to go in the second quarter, the Falcons quietly plodded about their business, sneaking back into the game while Warwick was hit by a cold snap in regards to their outside shooting prowess.

Sure enough, Cedar Crest stuck to their gameplan. And after a steal and finish that culminated in an old-fashioned three point play by senior guard Dylan Miller, the Falcons were back within a half dozen at 26-20 with four minutes remaining in the half. Flash forward to the conclusion of the second quarter and practice made perfect for Blake Thomson as Cedar Crest’s senior guard closed the half with four straight free throws from the stripe which brought the Falcons to within five at the intermission, 30-25.

For as much as Warwick had enjoyed prolific outside shooting at the outset of the contest, it would be Cedar Crest who would have the same type of success once the second half got underway as a 3 ball canned by junior guard Logan Horn brought the Falcons to within four at 36-32 with 4:30 left in the third.

But from there, Warwick’s bruising forward Bryan Rottkamp had the answer as the 6’1” senior forward rattled off his own personal 4-0 run to push the Warrior lead up to eight at 40-32 shortly thereafter. And although Cedar Crest would close the gap down to five at 40-35 following a trifecta by way of Dylan Miller, Warwick answered back with a 4-0 flurry to extend the lead back out to 44-35 with 2:20 left in the third.

With the game on the line, Cedar Crest needed their senior leaders to step up. And right on cue, the two-headed monster of Blake Thomson and Cole Laney arrived with bad intentions as Laney promptly ripped off a 4-0 run to close the gap back down to five before Thomson splashed a triple to cut the Warrior lead to two at 44-42 with the quarter winding down.

Fortunately for Warwick, Ryan Shirk was there with the answer to stop the Cedar Crest run as his put back, good for 2 of his team-high 17 points on the night, sent things to the fourth quarter with Warwick clinging to the 46-42 lead.

After Cole Laney put home a stick back that got Cedar Crest to within a deuce on the Falcons’ first trip down the floor to start the final quarter, it seemed like a Falcon tie or lead was all but a certain. But after several trips down the floor that came up empty, Warwick was able to withstand the early quarter pressure before eventually going up by four following a pair of free throws nailed by Ryan Shirk to make it a 48-44 ballgame midway through the final quarter.

But for all the hard luck that Cedar Crest experienced over the previous few minutes, Blake Thomson was there to make that a thing of the past as the senior guard knocked down two enormous triples down the home stretch to give the lead back to Cedar Crest, 50-48, with two and a half minutes to go. A lead the Falcons would never relinquish.

In fact, the Cedar Crest lead would balloon to four right after the Thomson 3 point aerial display as a Logan Horn tough reverse finish at the cup increased the Falcon lead to 52-48 with 1:45 to go, prompting Warwick to call a timeout.

Although the Warriors would come up empty on their ensuing possession coming out of the timeout, their defense was able to come up with a timely stop as a Ryan Shirk steal eventually culminated in a foul and a trip to the charity stripe where the junior guard calmly knocked down the pair to bring Warwick back within a bucket at 52-50 with one minute left to go.

But the dreams for Warwick to draw even or perhaps retake the lead were dashed by Logan Horn as the junior stepped in front of a pass on the ensuing Warrior possession as the Cedar Crest starting quarterback ironically got the chance to play the role of a defensive back on the hardwood, thwarting one of the final Warwick chances down the stretch.

And from there, a pair of Blake Thomson free throws, good for 2 of his game-high 19 points, fittingly closed things out as Cedar Crest came out on top, surviving an upset scare from Warwick, 54-50.

Although it will go down as just one win in record book, it was a big win for Cedar Crest on Friday night for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the Falcons showed off their resolve by putting Thursday night’s disappointing loss to McCaskey behind them, dodging the bullet of having that loss possibly manifest itself into two or more. Secondly, Cedar Crest did not play their best ball, yet it was still good enough to pull out a road victory within the section. Wins that you take no matter how they are presented to you.

Yet even though the Falcons may have appeared off their game somewhat, Coach Smith was quick to acknowledge that their opponent had a lot to do with that. “I think their shooting, knocking down six 3’s early, that’s tough,” Smith regarding the challenge Warwick posed on Friday night. “The way (Warwick) shot, they built that lead and we just tried to play one possession at a time. Grind back, grind back, grind back and eventually I think we did, holding them to four foul shots in the fourth quarter which was inevitably the difference in the game. Give Warwick credit. They fight.”

NEXT UP: With the much-needed win over Warwick now in their back pocket, Cedar Crest gets back to the grind in just a few hours as the Falcons are faced with the unenviable task of playing three games in as many days thanks to the clipper system that rolled through the area earlier this week dumping snow and ice behind in its wake. And for as much as the average person may say they hate the snow, let’s just say that coaches aren’t exactly fans of the havoc the winter season can play regarding scheduling snafus that are just part of the nature of the beast. “It’s difficult to get gameplans together,” Coach Smith admitted Friday night regarding the challenge of facing two section foes in back to back nights before matching up with one Pennsylvania’s best programs in Williamsport on the third day on such a condensed schedule. “Luckily we have a group of seniors that have been through it before so we can gameplan tomorrow morning for Williamsport, but it’s hard playing three games in a row with no practice in between.”

As far as Warwick is concerned, the Warriors will back in action on Saturday as well, loading the bus to head over to York County to take on Red Lion. Following Saturday’s tussle across the river, Warwick returns back to Section 1 action next week with roadtrips to Lebanon and Hempfield before finally returning home for a date with McCaskey on January 30th.

 

Three Point Barrage Helps ELCO Surge Past Solanco In Saturday Afternoon Thriller

Sometimes all you really need is a spark. In the case of the ELCO Raiders Boys’ Basketball team, any sort of momentum that could be generated following a 2017 calendar year which saw the Raiders post a sub 500 record both overall and in the section would likely do wonders for this young crop of hoopsters from Myerstown as they look to find their footing the always-challenging world of L-L Section 3 basketball as they go up against the likes of perennial powerhouse programs like Lancaster Catholic and Lancaster Mennonite an arduous four times during the regular season. And even though ELCO may not have necessarily gotten off to the quickest of starts, the Raiders have become arguably the hottest team in the entire Lancaster Lebanon League since the calendar has flipped to 2018 as ELCO opened the New Year on a three game winning streak. And just like that, the spark has suddenly turned into a full-out raging inferno.

Ask ELCO head Brad Connors what the difference has been and you’ll get a simple and straightforward answer. “Defense,” the eighth year head man said when going over ELCO’s remarkable start to 2018. “Our defense has gotten better every game. That’s been our focus since the start of the season. I’d say over our last five games, we’re starting to see the little things like ‘helping the help’ and team defense. It’s not always the guy on the ball. Everybody has to do their part and help.”

Oh by the way, ELCO’s offense hasn’t exactly been pedestrian either. During ELCO’s aforementioned three game winning streak that included triumphs over Annville Cleona, Pequea Valley, and Columbia, the Raiders scored no fewer than a mind-boggling 75 points in those three contests, while winning by an average margin of 30 points per game. That all led into Friday night’s game against this year’s early season darling in Northern Lebanon for a whopper of a matchup inside the borders of Lebanon County. But unfortunately for ELCO, their recent success would not translate into a victory over the rival Vikings on Friday night as Northern Lebanon was able to return home to Fredericksburg with the clutch 45-44 victory. It was a painful loss that ELCO felt like they had in their grasp. “Last night was really tough,” Coach Connors remarked when rehashing the game against Northern Lebanon. “We had a lot of confidence going into that game.” And who wouldn’t when you’re playing like that?

Even still, ELCO’s mettle would be put to the test on Saturday afternoon as they welcomed the Solanco Golden Mules up from Quarryville for a Saturday afternoon matinee. A cast of Golden Mules equally as determined to right the ship considering Solanco would be searching for a remedy to wash away the bitter taste of a 71-45 setback to Garden Spot the night before.

In a matchup between two up and coming programs looking to help lay their foundation for years to come, it would be ELCO who would throw the first punch on Saturday afternoon. After a back and forth trading of buckets between the two teams got things underway, ELCO was able to rush out to an early 7-4 lead following a steal and fast break layup by Raider freshman Braden Bohannon which caused Solanco to call an early timeout with 5:26 left in the first.

Although Solanco would come right back following the timeout with a 4-0 run of their own which was capped off by senior guard Jon Rush going 2-2 from the stripe to put the Mules back in front 8-7, ELCO’s answer would come from long range as senior forward Blake Weary had the rebuttal for ELCO with a triple to put the Raiders on top 10-8 at the 2:45 mark of the opening quarter. Hot ELCO shooting from behind the arc would continue to be a theme in the opening stanza as a triple splashed home by sophomore guard Bryce Coletti just before the buzzer would later give ELCO the lead 13-10 at the conclusion of the opening eight minutes.

Although the flu is famous for being contagious this time of year, the only thing spreading between the Golden Mules and Raiders on Saturday afternoon was a shared prolific shooting touch from behind the 3 point line. Case in point, Solanco was able to go back into the lead just 1:10 into the second stanza following a triple cashed in by Jon Rush which put the Golden Mules on top 15-13, but not before ELCO’s sophomore center Asher Kemble went on his own personal 4-0 run to put the Raiders back in command 17-15 over the course of the next 1:30.

From there on out, it largely became an impromptu 3 point shootout between the two squads throughout the remainder of the first half. After a nice bucket inside by Solanco junior center Joey Gote knotted things back up at 17 apiece, Golden Mule senior point guard Aaron Constein rose up and knocked in a trifecta to give the visitors from Quarryville the lead right back at 20-17 at the 4:30 mark of the second quarter.

Fortunately for ELCO, Jeff Lorah was not to be outdone as the 5’11” senior leader fired in a 3 ball of his own to tie things back up at 20-20 shortly thereafter. But Solanco’s Zed Baker was not to be outshined in his own right as the heady 5’10” freshman guard went on to pump in his own trifecta to give the lead back to Solanco at 23-20. And yet despite the fact that ELCO would go on to pour in two more triples to close the half from Blake Weary and Braden Bohannon respectively, the Raiders still saw themselves trailing 28-26 as the two teams sprinted off the floor for the halftime recess. A halftime that seemed apropos in the sense that it included a halftime shootout.

Once the second half got underway, ELCO was able cut their two point deficit at the intermission in half as Blake Weary, you guessed it, popped a 3 ball, which cut the Golden Mule down to the slimmest of margins at 32-31 at the 5:45 mark of the third quarter.

From there however, Solanco was able to find some traction and go on a 4-0 run that included buckets from Carson Kilgore courtesy of beautiful dish from teammate Aaron Constein, and a sweet Jon Rush floater to make it a 36-31 Mule leading prompting ELCO to burn a timeout with 4:40 still showing on the third quarter clock.

But yet again, the 3 ball came to the Raiders’ defense as a timely trifecta dialed up by Bryce Coletti ended the Mule run and simultaneously cut Solanco’s lead down to just a deuce at 36-34. From that point on however, Solanco proceeded to go on another 4-0 blitz which was capped off by an Aaron Constein lay in off of transition to put the Golden Mules back up by a half dozen at 40-34 before the third frame eventually expired with Solanco maintaining the 43-39 advantage.

For an ELCO team that had been used to lighting the scoreboard up with neon in their past few ballgames, time was of essence for the Raiders to rekindle some of that same offensive firepower now staring at a four point hole to open the final quarter against a veteran cast from Solanco. And right on cue, the young Raiders began to hit their stride.

After a 3 ball by Evan Huey got the party started, a transition layup put in by Asher Kemble courtesy of a nice pass from freshman teammate Braden Bohannon put ELCO back in front like a bolt of lightning with the scoreboard now showing 44-43 in ELCO’s favor, as Solanco was forced to call a timeout and regroup.

Undaunted, Solanco was able to come right back and counter with a bucket inside from junior guard Carson Kilgore with senior guard Aaron Constein being credited with the assist to put Solanco back in front 45-44 with 5:30 remaining.

But would ELCO would be able to respond in their own right as a 5-0 Raider flurry ensued over the next minute, punctuated with a triple splashed home by Evan Huey which put the Raiders back in command 49-45.

Yet Saturday’s game would prove to be an instant classic. And in a battle worthy of such an esteemed title, Solanco would not simply go quietly into the bitterly cold afternoon for the one hour bus ride home awaiting them at the conclusion of the contest. Instead, Solanco answered right back, going blow for blow with their hosts as the Golden Mules ripped off a 5-0 salvo of their own to retake the lead at 50-49 following an old-fashioned three point play authored by all-star guard Aaron Constein with 4:02 still showing on the game clock.

But ELCO would have an answer to that too. Following Constein’s momentum stealing play which could have meant a wilting under the bright lights of a pressure-packed situation, this year’s Raider young bunch stepped to the forefront and answered the bell with the game on the line. First to the stage, Braden Bohannon.

After the aforementioned Constein bucket that put Solanco back in front, it would be ELCO’s 5’11” freshman guard who showed the heart of a lion with a fearless baseline drive to put ELCO on top 51-50 with 2:30 remaining before Evan Huey took his turn playing the leading role as the sophomore guard drained a trifecta to put ELCO up by three at 54-51 with just 1:40 now left to play.

And although a pair of Bryce Coletti free throws would follow soon thereafter as the sophomore guard helped put ELCO up by five at 57-52, Solanco was not done fighting. Not by a long shot.

Although time was running out on what had once looked like a promising day for the Golden Mules to pick up their third win of the season, Aaron Constein did everything in his power to will Solanco across the finish line as his beautiful step back 3 cut ELCO’s once almost insurmountable lead down to size at 58-57 with just 12.4 remaining.

But just as they had proved all game long, the stage was not too big for ELCO’s youngsters. Case in point, Bryce Coletti was forced to walk to the other end of the court following the foul on the ensuing inbounds and the sophomore responded with a cold-blooded pair of freebies from the charity stripe to make it a three point Raider cushion at 60-57 with 9.4 left to go.

After a timeout, Solanco drew up their last gasp play while having to navigate 94 feet down the floor. The Golden Mules would get off two tries, the last of which came tantalizingly close before it rattled in and out, signifying ELCO’s gutty 60-57 triumph over a very game Solanco squad as the Raiders improved to a 4-1 mark to usher in 2018.

As mentioned, the emergence of ELCO’s young roster not only on Saturday afternoon but this entire season in general has got to have the Raider fanbase excited about the future that lies ahead. If nothing else, Coach Connors is certainly anxious about what both the short and long term future holds for ELCO basketball. “So excited about these guys,” Coach Connors echoed in the glow following Saturday’s victory. “You talk about ‘it’s hard to win with young guys,’ but we feel like if they’re good young guys you can still win.” And although this season on the whole may come as a surprise to some outside of these parts, it’s clear that Coach Connors had a feeling something like this may have been in the works. “We were optimistic heading into the season. Our summer was really good. So yeah, I feel really good about the future.” And after performances like the one put forth on Saturday, you’d be hard-pressed to find a sound, logical reason to disagree with that sentiment.

NEXT UP: With their win on Saturday, ELCO will begin prep for their second tour of duty through the rugged landscape of L-L Section 3 as the Raiders stare down matchups with two of the biggest headliners in the division this week in Lancaster Catholic and Lancaster Mennonite respectively. And although the possibility of the league playoffs will be an uphill battle this year given the separation that Catholic, Mennonite, and Northern Lebanon were able to establish throughout the first go-around of the section slate, the District 3 playoffs still remain a possibility for this year’s ELCO team with this past week being instrumental in helping to accomplish that task. “We talked about maybe winning two of the three this week,” Coach Connors said on Saturday afternoon regarding the forecast at the beginning of last week. “We got our two so we feel good about that.” It’s an accomplishment that would help lay the foundation for Raider basketball for years to come with the senior leadership of Ryan Woelfling, Jeff Lorah, Blake Weary, and Joe Ginder being the cornerstone pillars for an ELCO team that may long be remembered as the group that helped be the solid bridge between the high flying teams of just a few years ago to the promising future that appears to be brewing in Myerstown. “Just a really good group to be around,” Coach Connors went on to say when describing his 2017-18 Raiders. “They believe in themselves and they compete. That’s the fun part.”

For Solanco, the Golden Mules will look to hit the reset button in their second foray through Section 2 as Solanco came up empty in terms of snatching up any victories against their fellow section counterparts with the exception of Manheim Central as Solanco still has yet to face the Barons considering their early December matchup fell victim to a snow and iceout with the date for the makeup game being a late afternoon contest in Quarryville on January 27th. Yet despite the fact that this year has not gone the way anyone in program would have liked up until this point, there’s no denying that if Solanco continues to show the resolve and mental fortitude that they displayed on Saturday afternoon against ELCO by answering the dinner bell time and time again, the Golden Mules will always battle until the final second ticks off. And behind a core group of seniors that are hungry to end their senior year on a high note, Solanco cannot and simply will not be written off throughout the remainder of the season. Key features that any senior class can be proud of while passing the torch off to those that will follow in your footsteps.

Suffocating Second Half Defense Helps Manheim Central Pass Another Test As Barons Nip Garden Spot

On Saturday afternoon the Garden Spot Boys Basketball team boarded the bus in New Holland and set their sights on Manheim Central where the Spartans would venture to play a basketball game. But no, the Spartans wouldn’t be matching up with the hometown Barons on this day. Instead, Garden Spot looked across at the other bench and saw the Kennard-Dale Rams, their opponent put in front of them for this year’s War of the Roses competition, an annual showcase which pit teams from across the L-L and YAIAA landscape against one another for an 11 game all-day battle royal of hoops held at West York and Manheim Central with regional bragging rights being up for grabs between the two leagues. A matchup by the way where the L-L was able to prevail, coming out on top after a 7-4 overall decision against their neighbors to the west. And part of those seven victories posted by the Lancaster Lebanon League on Saturday also just so happened to come by way of Garden Spot.

In Saturday’s late afternoon battle against Kennard-Dale, Garden Spot was able to lean on their talented and battle-tested backcourt comprised of Javi Westmoreland, Jordan Shewbridge, and Keontae Nunn to get the job done as the Spartan trio combined for a 39 point outburst as the Spartans went on to post an impressive 50-38 victory over the Rams from Fawn Grove. A team headlined by one of the most talented players across the entire York-Adams league in smooth southpaw senior guard Adam Freese.

Unfortunately for Manheim Central, this year’s game in the War of the Roses spectacle was not quite as successful. Although the Barons would be taking center stage on their home floor in the finale on Saturday night against Gettysburg, MC would see themselves come up short against a white-hot Warriors team that has now won five of their last six ballgames with their only defeat ironically coming to an L-L opponent in Solanco in a 1 point defeat over the Christmas break. A victory that would serve as the Golden Mules’ first of the season.

Even still, all was not lost in Saturday night’s defeat. After all, when the Barons returned to live action by welcoming Garden Spot back to the friendly confines on Tuesday night, Manheim Central went into the evening with the unique distinction of being the lone unbeaten team in section play inside the hectic world known as L-L Section 2.

And while Garden Spot came in into Tuesday night jostling for position alongside the likes of L-S, E-Town, Ephrata, Donegal, and those same Barons for a spot in the league playoffs, a theme that will likely continue to take place over the course of the next month, every team wants a shot of knocking the king off his throne. A task that this year’s feisty pack of Spartans would certainly welcome with open arms while hoping to rekindle some of that magic they had enjoyed in same building just a few days earlier.

Once the game got underway, it was evident from the get-go that Manheim Central’s Chase Marquette had come to play. The 5’11” junior got things started in a big way for his Baron teammates as Marquette went on to score the first four Baron points before Garden Spot’s Andrew Zenter would go on to give the Spartans their first lead of the contest on an easy bunny from point blank range. But yet again, Garden Spot would have to answer to Mr. Marquette as #32 of the home-standing Barons pumped in a triple right after the Zenter chip shot to put Central back in front 7-6. However this time it would be Garden Spot’s opportunity to answer.

Following the Marquette 3 ball, Garden Spot would go on a 5-0 run that was engineered behind a Javi Westmoreland trifecta and a beautiful dime inside from Matthew Sharp to Zenter which made it an 11-7 Spartan lead, prompting a Manheim Central timeout with 2:23 left in the opening quarter. And although Garden Spot’s lead would be trimmed somewhat at the conclusion of the first eight minutes, the Spartans were still were able to maintain control of the scoreboard as a free throw cashed in just before the horn sent Garden Spot into the second stanza with possession of the 12-9 advantage.

At the onset of the second quarter, Connor Hostetter did not seemed phased by his team’s early second quarter deficit as the 6’2” senior guard immediately cashed in a 3 ball to start the period to knot things back up at 12-12. But unfortunately for the maroon-clad Barons, that largely would prove to be the last of the Manheim Central momentum for the remaining minutes of the first half.

After a Cam Roth follow put the Spartans back on top 14-12, Garden Spot turned to their guards to help turn defense into offense which is precisely what the Spartan backcourt was able to do. Following a sweet posterization-type rejection on a Manheim Central 3 point attempt that was negated by Garden Spot’s Jacob Arndt, the 5’9” senior guard raced right to the hole with his theft for the easy deuce to put GS up 18-14 with 3:45 left in the opening half. From there, it was Keonate Nunn’s opportunity to get out and run in the transition game as back to back lay ins from Garden Spot’s 5’6” junior guard donning #20 put the Spartans up by a half dozen late in the half by the score of 22-16.

But Manheim Central was able to keep within shouting distance to close the half as a Chase Marquette floater just as the buzzer rang out sent both teams into the locker room with Garden Spot leading by the 22-18 score.

As it would turn out, one Manheim Central team went into the locker room and an entirely different cast of Barons returned to play the second half. It didn’t necessarily look that would be the case early though as Javi Westmoreland was able to extend the good vibes that Garden Spot was able to enjoy at the conclusion of the first half in the opening stages of the second as a Westmoreland hoop plus the harm on Garden Spot’s second possession just added more salt to the Baron wound.

Some wounds are covered by bandages and gauze. For Manheim Central on Tuesday night, the remedy for what ailed them was defense. And lots of it.

Much in the same way as they were able to do in their game against Cocalico last week, Manheim Central’s defense would prove to alter the entire narrative of the contest. More specifically, by way of an air-tight halfcourt trap. And just like the Eagles were forced to experience last week, the midcourt line ended up being the point of no return for the Spartans as well.

With Garden Spot now being smitten with a bad case of the turnover bug courtesy of Manheim Central’s punishing defensive effort, a 6-0 Baron run would ensue which sliced the Spartan lead down to just 1 at 26-25 with 5:53 left in the third quarter as Garden Spot burned a timeout to regroup. It then took them just 23 seconds to go in front and never look back.

Following an out of bounds lob play which saw Connor Hostetter on the receiving end following a Garden Spot technical foul, the Barons went ahead 27-25 and would never relinquish the lead from there. But the Baron blitzkrieg was only just beginning.

Following the Hostetter lob play, the Barons found their outside shooting touch and then some. After a Drew Mummau triple got the party started, Cameron Sell was there to join in on the fun as two late third quarter 3 balls dialed up from the 5’9” junior guard helped send Manheim Central into the final frame, now suddenly in command by way of the 39-25 advantage heading into the final stanza.

But unfortunately for the visitors from New Holland, the break in between quarters did nothing to cool down the hot-shooting Barons as evidenced by back to back triples splashed home by Drew Mummau and Chase Marquette for 3 of his game-high 22 points got things underway in the final eight minutes.

Even though the hill appeared to keep getting steeper and steeper to climb with time going against them, Garden Spot continued to fight as a fourth quarter Baron turnover saw the ball end up in the hands of Jacob Arndt who promptly raced home for the easy bucket to bring the Spartans to within 12 at 46-34 midway through the fourth.

And although an Andrew Zenter 3 ball in the corner pocket trimmed the Manheim Central lead down to ten at 52-42, then later to nine after a Zenter lay in which made it 54-45 contest with just 1:30 left to play, Manheim Central would go on to close things out at the foul line as two 2-2 trips from the chairyty stripe cashed in by Cameron Sell and Jake Novak respectively, put the finishing touches on Manheim Central’s remarkable second performance as the Barons remained perfect in section play by posting a 60-47 victory over Garden Spot.

NEXT UP: Following their win on Tuesday night, Manheim Central now at long-last has a date with arguably one of the best in the entire L-L League, the Lampeter-Strasburg Pioneers, as the Barons make a house call down to Lampeter. It was a matchup that was originally supposed to have taken place twice already but thanks to snowouts and iceouts in the winter wonderland known as Central Pennsylvania, both Manheim Central and L-S backers are hoping that the third time is indeed the charm as both squads are finally set do battle in a Section 2 heavyweight fight set for Wednesday night at L-S.

Garden Spot on the other hand will now go back to work as the Spartans begin their preparations for Solanco on Friday night and an early afternoon visit immediately following on Saturday when Red Land comes calling before the Spartans jump right back into section play against Cocalico. But as in the case in the upside down world of Section 2 this season, it’s most important for teams to handle their own business and worry about what they can control. And although Garden Spot is currently on the outside looking in, the Spartans have the talent to rise up and strike even the best of them, making them anything but an easy out for every team that lines up against them the rest of the year. And if the Spartans can do exactly that, don’t be shocked to see Garden Spot enter the 2018 edition of the L-L Playoffs. A matchup that would make even the most experienced a little restless when they see Garden Spot staring at them in their bracket.

Reading Outlasts McCaskey As Red Knights Author Latest Chapter In Historic Rivalry

When talking about the Reading Red Knight Boys’ Basketball program, there may never be a night quite as sweet as the one on March 25, 2017. By now, you’re probably well aware of the story. That after all, was the night where the entire city of Reading descended upon the Giant Center to watch their beloved program shake a 118 year old monkey off it’s back when they held off the Pine Richland Rams 64-60 for the school’s first ever state title. But as is the case every year in the hustle and bustle go-go world of high school hoops, time waits and celebrates for no one. A lesson that Reading head coach Rick Perez and his cast of Red Knights knew they would have to learn quickly as the always large bullseyes on their backs had now grown to mammoth-sized proportions. But so far, so good.

Coming into Saturday’s contest against McCaskey, a foe that the Red Knights have seen for over the last century, Reading had accumulated a 7-2 overall mark in the AL era. After Lonnie. “Lonnie” of course being the Red Knights’ transcendent catalyst who helped rejuvenate Red Knight basketball, capturing the hearts of young and old alike along the way before eventually turning his hometown success story into McDonald’s All American honors and a basketball scholarship into the prestigious and historic ACC conference at the University of Miami. A Hurricanes team that oh by the way just so happened to be residing in the Top 10 rankings just a few short weeks ago.

And even despite their hard-charge out of the gates to open the 2017-18 campaign, it could be argued that this year’s group of Red Knights have yet to hit their ceiling. And so, after a few days of sitting idle thanks to this week’s winter storm system, Reading finally took to the floor at the historic Geigle Complex to see if Saturday night against McCaskey would be their best 32 minute stretch of basketball yet to date.

For the visitors hailing from the Red Rose city, the Red Tornado needed just any sort of spark to ignite their season as McCaskey entered the weekend with a surprising 2-7 overall mark, dropping a home contest to Warwick just the night before. And what better way for the Red Tornado to find a possible surge of momentum than to take the down the reigning 6A state champion on their home floor, a feat that very few ever get to tell.

Once the game got underway, it was evident that this would be an all-out, in your face type of 94 foot basketball game. Attributes that likely suited both squads just fine being the fiber of both the Red Tornado and Red Knights’ shared DNAs. Sure enough, the frenetic pace yielded the first points of the contest just seconds in when an offensive board and stick back was put home by Reading’s Ricki Lopez which saw the Red Knights get on the board first.

Playing a stifling brand of defense down on the other end, Reading was able to see their early-game lead increase when Red Knight senior leader RJ Dixon buried a trifecta that was all cotton, as 5’10” point guard put Reading up by a 10-2 mark with 4:40 left in the opening quarter.

But with the game sitting at such a critical juncture early, McCaskey would have to rise to the challenge. Fortunately for pro-Tornado backers, their team was able to do exactly that as McCaskey responded by going on a 6-2 run following the Dixon triple to get back within four at 12-8 following a steal and finish by 6’3” sophomore forward Makai Ortiz at the 3:30 mark.

Although Reading would be able to push their lead back up to half a dozen following a baseline jumper by Kahari Whitfield, the Red Tornado came right back as a sweet dime laid off to Tallian Lehr inside courtesy of energetic junior guard Brian McKenzie got the McCaskey back within four at 16-12 just moments before the first quarter clock expired.

Coming out of the brief respite between quarters, it was hard to envision a much better beginning for Reading than the used to start the second stanza. The Red Knights exploded for a 4-0 blitz out of the chute that was capped off with a bucket inside by Kahari Whitfield which knocked McCaskey back on their collective heels to start the second quarter.

But once again, the Red Tornado refused to flinch, answering back blow for blow with one of District 3’s better outfits. And before everyone knew it, McCaskey could look up and find them themselves within a deuce at 24-22 at the 3:30 mark of the second quarter following a strong take to the rack by Red Tornado junior forward Jahsaan Greaves.

However the Red Knights would end up having a rebuttal of their own as a 6-2 Reading flurry would follow suit. A run that was finished off by Reading’s dynamic junior dynamo Wesley Butler which made it a 30-24 Reading advantage, prompting a McCaskey timeout with just 1:18 left in the opening half.

From there on out however, the aforementioned 6-2 run would see itself grow into a 9-2 salvo to close the half as bucket inside just before the horn by Ricki Lopez made it a 33-24 Reading lead at the break.

In many ways, the 3 ball that was popped by McCaskey’s Brian McKenzie at the 6:19 mark of the third quarter should have served as an indication of things to come as both the Red Knights and Red Tornado found themselves living quite lavishly from behind the arc in the third frame.

After McKenzie’s triple got the Red Tornado within eight at 35-27, another 3 ball dialed up Makai Ortiz of the Red Tornado kept the deficit at eight with the Red Knights still in front 38-30. But Reading would have an answer at the 4:30 mark of the third quarter as a triple splashed home by Wesley Butler saw the Red Knight lead eventually swell to nine at 41-32.

Although the name of the game in the third quarter would prove to be outside shooting from both squads, it would ironically be a bucket in the paint that would get the Geigle crowd up on their feet with excitement which is precisely what happened when Wesley Butler went behind his back en route to the hoop to put the Red Knights up 43-34, as the 5’11” guard put home 2 of his prettiest 23 points on the night.

From there, backcourt mate RJ Dixon was able to take the baton and run with it as Dixon himself put home a triple which got Reading’s first real snowball rolling downhill with Red Knight lead now standing at a dozen, 46-34.

Yet again though, McCaskey was able to answer the bell when put in a precarious position. After a triple knocked in by Brian McKenzie got the Red Tornado back into single digits at 46-37, Reading would see their lead grow into a baker’s dozen in the waning moments of the third period before another 3 ball, courtesy of guess who, Mr. McKenzie, made it a 50-40 Red Knight lead heading into the final frame. On the night, McKenzie would go on to capture team-high scoring honors by chipping in 17 to the Red Tornado effort.

However much in the same vein that Reading was able to have an early swing that knocked McCaskey back to start the second quarter, the Red Knights were able to do the same and then some at the start of the fourth quarter as critical Red Tornado turnovers at the onset of the final stanza helped pave the way for a 7-0 Reading charge, punctuated by a steal and lay in put home by Wesley Butler, forcing McCaskey to burn a timeout to stem the tide.

Although McCaskey would eventually come up short on this night, it was certainly not for a lack of fight. Never more was that evidenced than by the immediate 10-3 retaliation that ensued following the timeout that was highlighted by a 3 ball popped by one of the L-L’s most lethal shooters, junior guard Ajani Simmons, which made it a 60-50 ballgame with four minutes left to go.

But just as he had all game long, Wesley Butler proved to be the straw that stirs Reading’s drink as the junior point guard rattled off his own personal 5-0 scoring run to push the Red Knight lead up to a now insurmountable 15 with time starting to run out on a possible McCaskey charge.

Even though McCaskey was able to get back around the 10 point window with time beginning to run out, a pair of free throws cashed in by 6’4” junior forward Juan Matos grew the Red Knight advantage to 16 at 69-53 with 2:15 left to play. And although McCaskey would indeed get it back to within 10 at 73-63 following a triple rained down by veteran senior guard Isiah Speller who would go on to finish with 15 on the night, it was not enough in order to travel home on Route 222 with a victory as Reading went on to close things out 77-66, moving to 8-2 on the season.

It wasn’t a masterpiece by any means for Reading on Saturday night, but a win is a win is a win. Especially when trying to build off of a historic year that will never be forgotten and will never be replicated. Yet once again, here they are, hovering at the top of the District 3 6A standings. Even still, it appears that this year’s group of Red Knights have yet to truly hit their stride. A dangerous thought for the rest of District 3. “We have some work to do,” Reading High head coach Rick Perez admitted after the Red Knights’ triumph over McCaskey. “They have to learn the grit and the grind of the season. It’s hard to ask a young man to be at top of his game every single day, but they have to understand the importance of seizing every single day,” last year’s Pennsylvania 6A Coach of the Year went on to add regarding this year’s squad. “We’re not quite there yet. We’ll go back, review film, and try to give them examples and visuals of what we need.” But when they do get to operating that their maximum level, look out. It could all amount to another winter of having to make more room in an already overcrowded trophy case at the Castle on the Hill.

NEXT UP: Following their nonconference victory on Saturday night, Reading will once again reenter Berks conference play again on Monday night when the Red Knights take on the Blazers from Daniel Boone back home at the Geigle. After that, Reading look off onto the horizon and see fellow Berks heavyweights Exeter, Wilson, and Mifflin all waiting in the wings to get their first crack at the Red Knights so far this season.

Much like their counterparts on Saturday night, McCaskey will jump back into conference play again this week with the three main headliners in L-L Section 1 waiting on them as the Red Tornado will tangle with the likes of Manheim Township, Hempfield, and Cedar Crest in their upcoming L-L games. As if that schedule wasn’t hard enough, McCaskey will do battle with Williamsport, a Millionaire squad that made it to the 6A PIAA Sweet 16 last season before getting knocked out by Hempfield, in a Saturday night affair sandwiched in between the Hempfield and Cedar Crest contests.

Last Second Kortright Bucket Ends Chaotic Final Minute As Lebanon Upends Conestoga Valley

This week, every L-L basketball team was preparing for the same opponent. Mother Nature. Turn on the news or venture outside and it’s easy to see why.

As this week’s nor’easter traversed up the eastern seaboard, leaving a dumping of snowfall and sub-artic temperatures behind in it’s wake, odds were high that several high school hoops games would fall victim to this winter’s first unwelcome visitor. And for many of the teams that make up Lancaster Lebanon Boys’ Basketball, that was indeed the case. Throwing game preps and scheduling through a loop along with it. However there were a few hearty souls who braved the elements and decided to start the buses and lace up the sneakers on Friday night. Two of them being the Conestoga Valley Buckskins and the Lebanon Cedars.

For CV the message was simple. Keep it rolling. Dating back to before the holiday season, you’d be hard pressed to find a team playing better ball than the Buckskins. Using the knockdown, dragout victory over McCaskey as their catalyst, the Bucks took off, going on to win Wyomissing Holiday Tournament their last time on the court heading into Friday night’s affair on a three game winning.

As far as the Cedars were concerned, they were just looking for any sort of spark heading into the new calendar year following a season of memorable highlights. Among them, a Section 1 championship, a trip to the Giant Center, a game against Reading in which the eventual 6A state champions received all they wanted from the gritty Cedars, and a trip to the inaugural PIAA 6A state tournament just to top it all off. And while this season has not been nearly as joyous to this point with Lebanon entering the weekend with a 3-6 overall record while standing at 1-3 in the section, there was no time like the present to go ahead and reverse their fortunes, possibly changing the entire outlook of their season in the process. While we will have to wait and see what the immediate future may bring for Cedar basketball, Lebanon certainly got off to a solid start in going about that task as the Cedars displayed all their mental resiliency, fighting tooth and nail against a scrappy bunch of Buckskins from CV.

With CV opening the game in a 2-3 zone defensively, the Cedars were stymied somewhat on the offensive end by the methodical pace at which they forced to play. In fact, the Buckskins were able to keep the home-standing Cedars off the scoreboard entirely until the 3:40 mark of the first quarter before a trifecta was dialed up by sensational Cedar junior Sincere Scott. From there however, CV was able to respond with a 4-0 rally of their own which culminated with a bucket inside by CV junior Jordan Ransing to give the visitors from Witmer the early 9-5 advantage. But the Bucks weren’t finished there.

No, the Buckskins only grew their initial from that point on as back to back triples cashed in by Bradley Stoltzfus and Logan Monroe saw the Buckskin lead swell to 15-7 in the waning minutes before the first period finally concluded with CV holding serve by way of the 17-9 lead.

Coming out to start the second quarter, the Buckskins picked up right where they had left off. Throwing the ball inside to Logan Monroe proved to be a sound decision as the star senior converted the bunny from point blank range to put CV in front by double digits at 19-9 in the opening stages of the second frame.

But Lebanon would be able to get back inside that double digit barrier as a triple knocked in by Sincere Scott, good for 3 of his game-high 21 on the evening, made it a 22-14 contest with 5:50 to go in the half. The Cedars’ somewhat small deficit would not stand for long however as an easy deuce inside by CV sophomore guard Ethan Bredeman proved to be the immediate answer for the Buckskins, putting CV back in front by 10.

However the Cedars kept pressing on as a traditional three point play administered by Sincere Scott closed the gap to a half dozen at 26-20 with 4:10 left in the half. Little did anyone know it at the time, but that would be the last time the ball go through the net for either team for quite a while.

After a nearly four minute scoring drought left both teams famished, it would be guess who, Sincere Scott, who would have the answer for Cedars’ offensive woes against the 2-3 Buckskin D as a his strong, physical three point play inside through contact narrowed the gap to just three at 26-23 which also just so happened to be the halftime score when the remaining 23.5 ticked off the first clock.

For as much as the first half narrative felt like it was written by CV, Lebanon proved immediately out of the intermission that this was a different group of Cedars ready to do battle in the second half.

After a nifty Euro-step to the tin was put home by Lebanon star senior guard Luis Aquino-Rios to trim the CV lead down to just a point, the Cedars were able to take their first lead of the ballgame shortly thereafter courtesy of a 3 ball knocked in by Lebanon senior big man Felix Kortright to make it a 28-26 ballgame in Lebanon’s favor with 5:35 left in the third.

And for just as much good work as Lebanon was putting in on the offensive end to begin the second half, the Cedar defense was equally if not more impressive. For proof of that, consider that CV’s first points of the second half did not come until the 2:23 mark of the third quarter following back to back freebies cashed in at the line by Bradley Stoltzfus to make it a 32-28 Lebanon lead.

Although the deficit would be four following the Stoltzfus free throws, the Cedar advantage was then pushed back up to seven at the expiration of the third quarter as 5-0 Sincere Scott rally put Lebanon in front 37-30 with the Cedars holding the Bucks to just four total points in the third frame.

Despite the fact that CV was staring at a seven point hole to start the final quarter, it took next to no time for them to climb back out of it.

After a nice move inside by Logan Monroe sliced the Cedar lead down to three at 37-34 just one minute into the quarter, the Buckskins were then able to regain the lead shortly thereafter following a pair of free throws thanks to brother Austin Monroe which made it a 39-38 CV lead with 6 minutes left to play. But that lead would be short-lived.

After a Felix Kortright hoop inside gave the lead back to Lebanon immediately following the Monroe free throws, a beautiful assist from Jessy Martinez to Jahlil Young inside made a three point Cedar bulge at 41-38.

Even though it felt like Lebanon was on the cusp of taking the game over once and for all following a beautifully executed out of bounds play that ended in a Luis Aquino-Rios bucket which made it a 45-42 Cedar lead with 1:40 left to play, the Buckskins proved yet again that they were not done fighting.

Following the Aquino-Rios deuce, the Buckskins were able to retaliate with a 4-0 charge culminating in a Logan Monroe bucket which put CV back in front 46-45 with just 39.6 left to play. Following an empty trip from the Cedars on the other end, Austin Monroe was then on the scene to go 1-2 from the stripe to push the Buckskin lead back up to two at 47-45.

This time down for Lebanon, nearly everyone in the gym thought they knew who would be getting a touch. And sure enough, Luis Aquino-Rios got his hands on it, immediately going hard to rack and getting fouled in the act. No surprise for someone with the mindset of a warrior. Although there would be no And 1 opportunity on this trip, Lebanon’s senior leader was able to go 1-2 to cut the CV lead down to the slimmest of margins at 47-46.

Needing to play the foul game, Jordan Ransing got himself open for the Buckskins on the ensuing inbounds and was forced to walk the length of the floor with ultra-important foul shots waiting at the other end. No matter. The Buckskin junior calmly knocked down both, including being iced in between the first and second attempts due to a Lebanon timeout.

Now needing to score with time of the essence, it seemed simple. Set something up for #23. That’s precisely what Lebanon was able to do as Luis Aquino-Rios put the team on his back with the game on the line, earning the hoop plus the harm to make it just a one point game. And although the foul shot was unsuccessful on the backend, there was still plenty of time left to go.

After a backbreaking 0-2 trip to the line left CV unfulfilled, a defensive rebound secured by the Cedars instantaneously put the Buckskins back on their heels while needing to maintain the razor-thin one point lead.

Ask any basketball aficionado and they’ll tell you that good ball movement is one the biggest keys to successful offense. As far as Lebanon was concerned on Friday, that same type of stellar ball movement could not have come at a better time. On the final Cedar possession, the ball was worked around like a hot potato with every pass serving a purpose before it eventually landed in the mitts of Felix Kortright at the elbow-extended, using that as his starting block. From there, the 6’1” senior stretch 5 for the Cedars attacked the rim, coming away with a beautiful up and under move to give Lebanon the lead at 50-49 just in the nick of time with 1.8 remaining.

Faced with the task of being 94 feet away and being behind on the scoreboard with just one second remaining, CV opted to try the long baseball pass. But the low roof in the Lebanon High gymnasium proved to have the best defense of the night as the ball bounded off the ceiling tiles, giving the ball back to the Cedars underneath their goal.

Felix Kortright would be fouled on the ensuing inbounds play, going 1-2 from the line, still leaving the door ajar albeit with not much light coming through for the Buckskins. CV would then see the door close as the last second Buckskin halfcourt heave bounced off the glass sending Lebanon into the winner’s circle with the 51-49 triumph over Conestoga Valley in a Section 1 dandy.

NEXT UP: Lebanon will now look to ride this wave of momentum from Friday night into the Rhoades Foundation Classic with a tip opposite of Lebanon County foe Palmyra Saturday evening at 5pm on the campus of Lebanon Valley College. After Saturday’s backyard nonleague scrap, the Cedars will return to Section 1 play against arguably the three biggest heavyweights in the division with Cedar Crest, Manheim Township, and Hempfield coming down the pike in that order.

For CV, it’s time to get back to work on short notice as well. On Saturday afternoon, the Buckskins will head across the Susquehanna River bound for West York to take part in the annual War of the Roses battles which pits the L-L against the YAIAA in a head to head competition for conference supremacy with the Buckskins drawing Eastern York in their matchup. Once Section 1 play resumes for the Buckskins, CV will face off with Warwick and Penn Manor before making their second trip through the section. A road that starts off with Hempfield and Manheim Township.

Smith, Lampeter-Strasburg Stand Tall Amid Late Lancaster Mennonite Surge

The playoffs. One simple phrase that can pack quite the punch. For some, offseason aspirations of playing in the postseason have already been squelched, if not already in serious jeopardy for others. And while we have to wait until mid-February to formally kickoff the postseason in L-L Boys Basketball, Wednesday night at Lancaster Mennonite promised to be more than a bountiful appetizer of what was to come when the Blazers welcomed the neighboring L-S Pioneers into their loud house for a matchup between the two section title hopefuls.

For the mighty Pioneers who hail from Lampeter, the 2017-18 season has seen pretty much nothing but smooth sailing amid the white-capped choppy waters of Section 2. Coming into the midweek, L-S had rightful ownership of a 7-1 overall record, posting an average margin of 24 points in their victories. A list of victories which included impressive triumphs over Lancaster Catholic, Garden Spot, in addition to capturing the Middletown Holiday Tournament to boot. But even with all of their successes this season thus far to date, the Pioneers did have one hiccup this season, dropping a home contest to E-Town in the hyphen bowl. A loss which still haunts L-S in the sense that it currently keeps the Pioneers off the #1 line in the Section 2 standings despite their impressive start.

As far as Lancaster Mennonite is concerned, it’s looked like business as usual. When assessing the last half decade, it’s hard to find a program around these parts with a much better resume than the Blazers. A laundry list of recent accomplishments that includes trips to the last five league playoffs, the last three district playoffs, and a spot in the dance of all dances, the PIAA state tournament, three of the last four seasons. And although we haven’t even started to think about the finish line just yet, the Blazers appear to be on a direct path towards punching tickets to a handful of postseason tournaments, possibly hanging some banners along the way.

After getting out to a 2-2 start to usher in the campaign, the Blazers have been on a tear ever since, storming through Section 3 play with an undefeated mark thus far, winning by an eye-popping average of 31 points per contest. And just for good measure, the Blazers have already earned the right to be called champions this season as Mennonite traveled over to the West Shore and took care of Twin Valley and Boiling Springs respectively to go home with some early-season hardware in the Mechanicsburg Holiday Tournament.

So, all the pieces seemed to be there. This one figured to be a playoff-type game and boy did it deliver.

Playing in front of a raucous crowd supporting both sides, Mennonite’s Roman Ali would be the one to break the scoring seal on this night as the 6’3” senior wing splashed a triple to give the Blazers the early 3-0 advantage. But L-S would counter right back by going into 6’10” Ryan Smith. A gameplan that would prove to be greatly beneficial the entire night.

But Mennonite would be the ones to throw the first early volley in this game as a steal and finish by 5’9” junior guard Elijah Bynum coupled with an Ali lay in all culminated to a 9-3 Blazer advantage with 3:20 left in the opening stanza. But then Ryan Smith arrived to the party with bad intentions.

A 4-0 Smith run would ensue following the Ali bucket which trimmed Mennonite’s lead down to size, making it 9-7 before a trifecta dialed up from arguably the league’s best sharpshooter, L-S’ Chase Broderick, gave the Pioneers their first lead of the game at 10-9 with 1:30 left on the first quarter clock.

But LMH simply had no answer for which to contend with Ryan Smith. When the action in the first quarter had finally come to a close, it L-S was in front 16-10 with Mr. Smith already tossed in a baker’s dozen.

For as much as Ryan Smith helped lead the charge in the opening eight minutes, his teammates were to pick up the slack at the onset of the second quarter as the Pioneers began to distance themselves from their hosts.

Following an old-fashioned three point play authored by L-S junior guard Zach Kingsley, a strong drive to the cup by Peyton Denlinger followed suit and the Pioneers had suddenly opened up a 13 point bulge on the scoreboard.

From there on out, L-S would be able to keep Mennonite at arm’s length the rest of the way in the opening half with the game being played right around a 12 window for the remainder of the half. Ironically, 12 points would be prove to be the deficit exactly following Elijah Bynum’s triple just before the horn which made it a 35-23 Pioneer lead. Also in it’s own ironic way, 23 just so happened to also be the first half point total for one Ryan Smith.

Not much then changed in the third quarter of play concerning a Mennonite dip into the Pioneer advantage. L-S kept feeding Ryan Smith with post touches inside early and often and the talented and well-rounded supporting cast surrounding him was there to make up the difference as evidenced by a determined baseline drive midway through the third quarter by L-S’ Jordan Swegar which put the Pioneers up 14 at 43-29. And just for good measure in the third quarter, Ryan Smith also showed off his outside prowess as well when the multi-skilled big man tallied 3 from behind the arc en route to his game-high 34 point night, helping usher L-S into the final quarter with ownership of the 48-37 lead.

Needing to organize some kind of late-game charge, the Blazers would respond accordingly in the early moments of the final quarter. After a Cole Forte drive to the rack, Mennonite was able to snatch up a loose ball steal with Elijah Terry converting on the other end by way of the Euro-step to cut L-S’ lead down to seven at 48-41 with 6:13, forcing the Pioneers to call a timeout to halt the impending danger.

But Mennonite would only continue to push on from there as a Carter Hurst turnaround jumper got the Blazers even closer with the gap now standing at six at 49-43 with 6 minutes left to play.

Things would only continue to get more precarious for L-S from there as a Cole Forte bucket inside made it just a four point deficit at 51-47 with 4:10 left to play and momentum, not to mention the decibel level, unequivocally on Mennonite’s side.

But just as good teams are able to do, L-S found a way to have the final answer in the face of adversity. Following an ill-timed Mennonite turnover, Jordan Sweger continued to show off his fearlessness with a strong take to the cup for a much-needed bucket that pushed the L-S lead back up to six at 53-47. From there, a bucket inside by guess who, Ryan Smith, made it a seven point L-S cushion before Isaac Beers splashed home a backbreaking trifecta which put the Pioneers well on their way as L-S eventually went on to close things out by posting a 60-49 victory over Lancaster Mennonite.

“I’m very proud of them,” L-S head coach Ed Berryman stated once his team could finally exhale after holding off Mennonite’s late game charge. “We’ve got some good seniors and good experience from last year so they can step up in those situations and they did tonight.” And not a moment too soon.

NEXT UP: With their big time midweek game against Mennonite now out of the way and more importantly in the win column, L-S will shift their focus back to Section 2 when the Pioneers entertain the Barons from Manheim Central. A Manheim Central team that is the lone unbeaten remaining in section play. A crucial game that will certainly go a long way in determining who will eventually be the section champ as things play out over the course of the next month.

Much in the same vein that L-S will go back to work prepping for an old familiar section foe, Mennonite will do the same as the Blazers look to regroup when they play their third home game of the week when they entertain Annville-Cleona on Friday night. It’s a Dutchmen squad that is sure to be determined in making amends for Tuesday night’s overtime slipup at home to ELCO.

Stifling Defensive Effort Allows Manheim Central To Remain Atop Section 2 As Barons Tame Cocalico In Key Division Clash

There’s no denying it. There’s just something different about rivalry games. Practices leading up are more intense, players and coaches are a little more dialed in, and the fans are a little more rabid. For both Manheim Central and Cocalico, all those elements and more came together on Tuesday night in Manheim as the Barons and Eagles renewed acquaintances for the latest chapter in their rivalry. But not on the football field however. This time on the hardwood.

Talk about a rivalry game in any sport and you’re likely to hear this old, belabored, token phrase. “Throw the records out.” Well in the case of Tuesday night’s matchup, those very records were almost impossible to ignore.

It’s been the dawn of a new day for Manheim Central basketball this season under the direction of new head man, but familiar face, Charlie Fisher. And so far, it’s looked like the recent days of old when he was helping call the shots on the Baron bench as an assistant to Chris Sherwood just a few short years ago, fielding some of the best teams in the school’s history.

After a somewhat shaky start to the year which saw the Barons start the year by going 0-2 against Lebanon County foes in Cedar Crest and ELCO respectively, Central was able to turn a complete 180 in their ensuing three games, winning all three contests to ascend the catbird’s seat in the topsy-turvy division known as L-L Section 2. The only squad mind you, that could boast an unbeaten Section 2 record entering the evening. And while Central came in scorching-hot, Cocalico had been equally as impressive in their most recent stretch as the Eagles came in riding nearly an identical wave of momentum.

After also starting off their campaign with an identical 0-2 record, albeit against a brutal field in the two day Hershey Tip Off Tournament, Cocalico would be able to respond accordingly after their grueling opening weekend slate by grinding out a physical, tough-minded, affair to knock Exeter from the ranks of the unbeaten for a crucial early-season triumph. Despite the fact that the Eagles would go 0-2 thereafter, dropping games to Wilson and Garden Spot, the Eagles once again showed their resiliency displayed under coach Seth Sigman’s leadership by promptly bouncing right back and rattling off a three game winning streak entering Tuesday night’s monster affair after dispatching Solanco, Ephrata, and Palmyra in that order to set the stage for what promised to be a surefire classic when Barons and Eagles tipped off with a spot for a share of the Section 2 lead up for grabs.

Whether it be big game nerves or just the side effects of a long layoff which was shared between the two squads with neither team having played since before Christmas, both the Eagles and Barons were plagued by somewhat sloppy starts as evidenced by their opening possessions which were mired with turnovers and cold shooting from the field. It’s the type of layoff that Manheim Central head coach Charlie Fisher said has both its pros and cons. “The positives are guys can heal and we can go over things,” Fisher went on to detail when describing his team’s nearly two week hiatus from live action. “We were without some of our starters at the start of the preseason because of football and everything, so that’s a positive. A negative to that is you’re smacked with a game 14 days after your last one and it takes some time.”

When the ball finally did go through the net for either team Tuesday night, it was Manheim Central’s Carson Brenize having first honors as the 5’9” junior guard splashed home a triple to put the Barons on board first 3-0 with a 1:30 having gone off the first quarter clock.

But Cocalico would waste little time answering right back as a sweet spin move inside by Eagle big man Trey Griffin was followed by a tough Aidan Trynosky lay in which put the Eagles on top 4-3 with five minutes still left in the first quarter.

Central would prove to have the answer over the course of the next minute however as a trifecta dialed up by star senior guard Connor Hostetter capped off a 5-0 Baron blitz which saw MC go back in front 8-4. Yet once again in the opening stanza, Cocalico would have an answer for an early Baron upper cut.

Following a 3 ball that was popped by 6’ junior guard Connor Mack of Cocalico, a drive to the tin by Nick Lucky followed suit and just like that, the Eagles had charged back in front at 11-10 with 1:30 left to go in quarter numero uno. From there, Cocalico would go on to see the opening eight minutes expire in their favor as the Eagles carried a 13-12 advantage with them into the second stanza.

Little did either team know it at the time, but an emphatic rejection by Cocalico’s Nick Lucky on the opening possession would help set the tone for a second quarter which was still in it’s infant stages. No doubt about it, the second eight minutes played between Manheim Central and Cocalico would prove to be one of a deliberate pace with defense being the overriding factor.

Even still, the second stanza was not without a smattering of offensive fireworks as a triple knocked home by Central’s Cameron Sell knotted things back up at 15-15 with just a shade over a minute having been expired off the second quarter clock.

In many ways, it seemed apropos in a quarter where both teams struggled to put the ball through the net that the difference in the half would come by way of the foul line in order for someone to claim a halftime lead. But that was precisely the case when Aidan Trynosky sank a pair of freebies from the stripe to put the Eagles up 19-17. And after Manheim Central’s last second halfcourt prayer was nearly answered, but ultimately went begging off the back rim, Cocalico went into the halftime break maintaining that same lead at 19-17.

Although Cocalico would go into the dressing room with positive vibes leading the lone undefeated team in Section 2 on their homecourt at halftime, it didn’t take long for the tide to turn once the second half began as a triple knocked home by lethal junior sharpshooter Chase Marquette put the Barons into the lead at 20-19 just two minutes into the new half.

From there, the teeter-totter of momentum went back and forth between the visitors from Denver and the home-standing Barons. Following a nice bucket inside that was put up and in by Cocalico’s 6’3” senior forward Brad Heck, the Central lead was sliced down to one at 22-21. Manheim Central senior guard Jake Novak would see the Heck deuce and match it as a strong take to the tin put the Barons back up by three before an offensive board and stick back by Cocalico sophomore big man Trey Griffin again cut Central’s lead down to the slimmest of margins at 24-23.

But just when it had appeared that Cocalico had finally found their spark of energy following a hoop plus the harm by star senior guard Aidan Trynosky which put the Eagles back in front 25-24, Evan Hosler was there to fan the flames for MC as a the junior guard completed the tough drive, finishing through contact to put the lead back in Central’s favor at 26-25 with just 1:28 to play in the third. Yet again however, Cocalico would have an answer that as well as a late quarter Eagle bucket sent Cocalico into the final frame with the slim one point cushion at 27-26.

Although Cocalico’s third quarter lead could hardly be described as “comfortable,” the Eagles were able to breathe a little easier once the fourth quarter got underway as a pullup jumper followed by a sensational drive through traffic en route to the hoop all culminated in an old-fashioned three point play by Connor Mack as the Eagles’ junior guard started the final frame on his own personal 5-0 run to make it a 32-26 ballgame, forcing Central to call a timeout. That’s when the dialed got turned up to the maximum level.

Needing a spark, any kind of spark, in order to generate some momentum and ignite a fourth quarter charge, Manheim Central turned to it’s roots. Defense.

Speaking of spark, it would be impossible to overlook Carson Brenize’s contribution to the effort as a the junior guard rose up and was all net from behind the arc in the corner, directly in front of the Baron bench, to put the Barons within a point at 32-31. But more importantly, the Brenize trifecta allowed Manheim Central to set up their 94 foot defense. An ingredient that would turn out to be the Barons’ secret sauce when concocting Tuesday night’s victory.

“When we called timeout down six I just said to them ‘Guys, we are playing flat.’ For you seniors, this is the last time you will play Cocalico at home in a basketball game.” Whether it was the message about picking up the energy level or the idea of succeeding over a rival one last time in the friendly confines, the Barons bought in. Hook, line, and sinker. An impromptu speech that Coach Fisher went on to humbly describe with a chuckle as “nothing mind-blowing.”

Whatever the case may have been, the Barons’ defensive intensity was ratcheted up to a level not yet seen in the ballgame. For Cocalico, the halfcourt stripe might from there on out may have appeared like the Bermuda Triangle for the rest of the way as the Barons began to promptly trap right around the timeline, giving Cocalico fits for which it would not be able to solve.

Following one of said turnovers, a Connor Hostetter put back gave the Barons the lead for good at 33-32. From there, Central would go on to ride it’s defense as the Barons only aided their cause the rest of the way. Perhaps the backbreaker in the whole ordeal would come by way of Chase Marquette spraying his second 3 ball of the night to give Central the half dozen point advantage at 38-32 with four minutes still left to go.

With Cocalico only coming away with empty trips offensively, the Barons only put more salt in the wound down the final stretch as a pair of free throws cashed in by Connor Hostetter who finished as MC’s leading scoring with a team-high 12 points, suddenly had the Baron lead flirting with double digits at 41-33 with just 1:48 left in the contest.

Despite the fact that a Tyler Keppley bucket inside would trim the Baron lead down to a half dozen at 41-35 with 1:30 left to play, the Barons were able to close things out in style as a breakaway lay in by senior guard Jake Novak put the finishing on touches on Manheim Central’s almost instantaneous fourth quarter comeback as the Barons were able to take game one of the season series with Cocalico, 48-40.

NEXT UP: With their win on Tuesday night, the Barons remain undefeated and all alone on the #1 line in the Section 2 standings. And although the Barons are undefeated, the bad news for the rest of Section 2 is that these Barons haven’t even hit their stride yet. “We said that before the game,” Coach Fisher went on mention after Tuesday night’s triumph. “We haven’t reached our peak. We still haven’t. We want to put together 32 minutes. When you put together 32 minutes, that’s when you’re where you need to be.”

For Manheim Central, the next opportunity to put that so-far elusive stretch of 32 minutes into one solid performance will be on Friday night when the Barons travel down to Lampeter for a headline matchup with Lampeter-Strasburg. An L-S team that will likely be chomping at the bit to get their shot at the unbeaten Barons. For the rest of this week though, the message appears to be pretty straightforward and simple coming out of the Manheim Central camp.

“We have a tough one on Friday,” Fisher said matter of factly when looking at the next game looming on the horizon. “It’s one day at a time. Tomorrow we’ll talk about some things we messed up on, but we’ll also start preparing for L-S. That’s the fun part about playing in Section 2.”

Speaking of Section 2, that is exactly where Cocalico will remain when they pick things back up on Friday night with another road tester at Donegal. And although Tuesday night’s affair is undoubtedly a game that Cocalico would already love to have a mulligan on, it is vital that the Eagles do not let Tuesday night’s defeat hinder them in their preparation for Friday night’s slugfest with the Indians as Cocalico is, and will likely remain, a key central figure in what promises to be a hectic, fun, and crazy Section 2 playoff race the rest of the way.

Dramatic Fourth Quarter Comeback Propels Bishop McDevitt To Claim Allen Restorations Tournament Title Over E-Town

When people typically think of the word “championship,” chances are they’re harkening back to those titles that are achieved during postseason play. And while those certainly may be the ones that garner the most attention and prestige, they should not take away from those that are won during the regular season. Without a doubt, even having the word “champion” placed upon a team can do wonders for its internal confidence and mojo as it treks across a season-long journey. For some in high school hoops, that extra boost of confidence can come by way of winning a season-opening tipoff tournament, or as was the case for the E-Town Bears on Friday night, a holiday tournament.

Get to know the names and faces on this E-Town roster. If you haven’t yet, don’t worry. You’ll still have a few years. Between this season and last, the Bears will have said goodbye to a grand total of just 5 graduating seniors these past two seasons. So needless to say, having such a young and inexperienced bunch on the roster can make for some long nights at the office for second year E-Town head man Rocky Parise inside the rough and tumble neighborhood known as L-L Section 2 basketball. But coming off a season which saw the collective core of the E-Town basketball roster for years to come take their lumps to the tune of a 5-21 overall record last year, the Bears have looked the better for it so far this season. Among the evidence to support their improvement, one only needs to look at the Bears’ December 18th victory at L-S. One that is arguably the best across the entire L-L League so far to date. A victory that if nothing else, proved to the rest of the league that these Bears are no longer to be taken lightly.

And with such a young group, nothing would mean more to truly validate their progress than to rightfully be labeled as champions. Add that to the fact that a victory on Friday night would come against one of the most highly-respected programs across all of District 3 in Bishop McDevitt and you suddenly had one of the most compelling games across the region in the Allen Restorations Winter Classic final held on E-Town’s home floor.

Although McDevitt would go on to score the opening bucket of the contest, things could not have started out much better for E-Town. Following a pair of early free throws from junior guard Amos Kollie which put the home-standing Bears up by a 4-2 count, a drive to the rack by 6’5” Larry Locker increased E-Town’s lead to 6-2, putting McDevitt in an early hole as the Crusaders were forced to call a timeout with 4:25 left in the first.

From there, McDevitt would answer right back. Following a trifecta rained down from sophomore guard Jake Kelly, the Crusaders would return to the lead at 8-7 following a bucket inside by talented big man, senior center Zach Weigl with 2:30 left in the opening quarter.

But E-Town would show off their moxie as the first quarter reached it’s final stages as a nifty dipsy-do lay in at the tin by Amos Kollie tied things up at 8 apiece before an Eddie Myers runner to beat the first quarter buzzer put the Bears back on top 10-8.

Once the second quarter began, E-Town continued to keep the snowball moving downhill. After another Myers drive to the hole, E-Town now found themselves by half a dozen at 14-8, but only to see that lead immediately be cut in half thanks to a timely 3 ball from Crusader marksman Jake Kelly.

With McDevitt sitting back in a 1-3-1 zone defensively, E-Town suddenly found themselves playing without that same reckless abandon, now taking the time to slow things down and evaluate what they were looking at in front of them. Precisely when McDevitt saw their opportunity to pounce.

Sure enough, a 4-0 run would ensue which was punctuated by a steal and lay in put home by Jake Kelly to put the Crusaders up 15-14 with 2:32 left in the half as E-Town called time to regroup.

Whatever was said during the timeout by Coach Parise seemed to work wonders as a 5-0 E-Town would follow, capped off with a bullseye triple that was all-net from junior guard Dylan Sweger as E-Town regained the lead at 19-17 with 1:30 left in the first half. But McDevitt would go on to have the final say as a Crusader deuce tied things up at 19-19 as the two teams headed into the halftime recess.

Coming out of the break, E-Town was able to not only retake the lead, but build upon it as the Bears lived lavishly at the foul line to start the second half. When the Bears finally did score from the field, they did so thanks to a sensational spin move attack to the glass by sophomore Elijah Eberly which saw the E-Town lead increase to 27-21, forcing McDevitt to call a timeout with 4:57 left in the third.

But the Bears weren’t satisfied there. After another triple by Sweger and stifling defense on the other end which was highlighted by Larry Locker rising up to make an emphatic swat on a McDevitt shot attempt late in the third quarter, E-Town looked up at the scoreboard and saw themselves leading by a 34-25 count.

However when dealing with a program the caliber of Bishop McDevitt, you know better than to ever count the mighty Crusaders out. And right on cue, another Jake Kelly triple, his third of the contest, shrunk the E-Town lead down to a manageable six point deficit at 34-28 when the third period concluded.

It’s known around the world as the fourth quarter. But on Friday night at E-Town, it may have been more appropriate to call the last eight minutes between Bishop McDevitt and E-Town The Devon Lee Show.

With McDevitt turning up the dial defensively, the turnover bug started to rear it’s ugly head again at the worst possible time for E-Town. Fortunately for McDevitt, they had Mr. Lee on the scene to help create the chaos as his back to steals and subsequent lay ins knotted things up at 34-34 within the blink of an eye or perhaps more precisely 1:30 having ticked off the fourth quarter clock. But Lee wasn’t done there.

En route to a game-high 17 points, a performance more than deserving of the tournament MVP honors that were bestowed upon him in the aftermath, yet another Davon Lee bucket now put the Crusaders up 36-34 with momentum undeniably on the visiting bench.

Needing an answer to desperately keep things from getting out of control too quickly, E-Town would respond and calm the choppy waters with an old-fashioned three point play administered by Elijah Eberly who would go on to finish with team-high scoring honors with 11 to put the Bears up 37-36.

But Davon Lee wasn’t about to let E-Town steal the spotlight. Needing a big bucket in their own right, McDevitt called upon their 6’ sophomore guard to help lead them home as he promptly knocked home a trifecta to put the Crusaders up by a 40-37 margin before proceeding to knock down a long deuce to put E-Town at arm’s length with the clock starting to melt away.

Although the McDevitt cushion would grow to ten at 48-38 following a free throw by yes, Davon Lee, E-Town would trim the deficit down somewhat following a drive to the tin by senior Cade Robinson, but it was too little too late as Bishop McDevitt went on to post a dramatic come from behind 50-42 victory over E-Town in a game where the underclassmen shined brightest for the Crusaders. Something that no doubt bodes well for the Crusaders’ long-term outlook likely keeping McDevitt a perennial power in District 3 for years to come.

NEXT UP: With Friday’s win now in their back-pocket, Bishop McDevitt will look to continue their scintillating early-season start as the Crusaders look to improve to 7-2 overall when they match wits with Hershey at home on Tuesday night.

For E-Town, it’s understandable if this one comes with a little extra sting to it as the Bears saw a late second half lead evaporate almost within a flash. Make no mistake about it though, this E-Town group is on the precipice of putting something together here which could be pretty special. And for a game that transpired in the manner that Friday night’s affair with McDevitt went down, the Bears will only grow and learn from this as they prepare to make the jump back into Section 2 play starting on Friday night with a game against Garden Spot. When they do, the Bears are likely to remain right in thick of things as far as contending for an L-L playoff spot coming out of Section 2 in early February. A reward that comes with the right to try and fight again for the glory of being called a champion. This time, for a much bigger prize.

Lebanon Catholic Battles But Falls Short To Faith Christian Of West Virginia In Opening Round Of Mount Calvary Holiday Tournament

Every year during the quiet time between Christmas and New Year’s, many will often look back and reflect on the year that was, hoping that the upcoming year on the horizon will serve as the best one yet to date. For the Lebanon Catholic Beavers, that same promise of optimism and good fortune likely cannot come soon enough as they look ahead to 2018, putting an unforgiving 2017 calendar year behind them.

After the long and winding road of L-L Section 3 Boys Basketball concluded last February, it saw the Beavers come up short in all of their Section 3 contests albeit while playing with unquestionably the shortest-hand in the entire Lancaster Lebanon League. And up until Friday night’s opening round game of the Mount Calvary Holiday Tournament, this year’s edition of Lebanon Catholic Boys Basketball entered the evening with just two overall wins, none of which had come against fellow Section 3 opponents. Yet to be fair, the Beavers’ overall win total could have very well been higher had it not been for a small handful of unintended cancelations with early season opponents, creating another set of unforeseen circumstances placed upon a Beaver program that had unfortunately fallen on hard times of late.

But all was not lost for the school on Chestnut Street in downtown Lebanon during 2017. This past summer saw the arrival of new head coach Wee Sanchez. A young and energetic head coach eager to take his shot in leading the Beaver bench who brings with him a renewed sense of energy, enthusiasm, and pride to a Lebanon Catholic program hungry to return to the same sort of successes enjoyed just five short years ago when the Beavers were crowned district champions.

And while programs are never rebuilt overnight, each and every game on the schedule presents an opportunity to grow, learn, and help lay the blueprint for years to come. For Lebanon Catholic on Friday night, that meant loading up the bus and heading to E-Town to meet up with Faith Christian of Martinsburg, West Virginia in the penultimate game of 2017 for a Beaver squad looking to spring forward into 2018 on a high note.

Despite the fact that Faith Christian would break the scoring seal to begin the contest, Lebanon Catholic went on to respond with a vengeance. After spotting the opening deuce to the out of state Falcons, the Beavers went on to post a 9-0 run that concluded with Devin Root triple which put Lebanon Catholic up 9-2, leading to a Faith Christian timeout with 4:31 to go in the opening quarter.

Seemingly right on cue, the Falcons were able to reap the benefits of their early timeout as Faith Christian stormed back to get within two of the Beavers as a Dontrez Yates trifecta made it an 11-9 ballgame with three minutes left in the opening quarter.

But Lebanon Catholic would be able to expand their lead as the first quarter chugged along as a quick 4-0 run saw the Beavers up by a half dozen at 15-9. As it would turn out, that run would prove to be all the difference when the dust from the first quarter finally settled as a 5-0 response authored by Faith Christian ensued, bringing the first quarter to a close with Lebanon Catholic in front 15-14.

Unfortunately for the Beaver faithful, the stoppage in between quarters did nothing to cool off the hot-shooting Falcons. With Lebanon Catholic sitting back in a zone, Faith Christian was able to exploit it as triples knocked home by sophomore sensation Telryn Villa and Isaiah Battle saw Faith Christian go back in front 22-17 after just two minutes had expired off the second quarter clock.

With the game now sitting at a critical juncture, the Beavers were faced with a fight or flight situation. In year’s past, an early salvo such as the one put together by Faith Christian early in the second period which put the Beavers in an early hole may have spelled doom for Lebanon Catholic’s comeback chances. But this is a different team and not to mention much improved Beaver squad this season, both on the court and between the ears. One that takes after the fighting, never say die attitude displayed by their first year head coach. And sure enough, the Beavers came roaring back.

Ignited by a bucket inside by junior big man Andrew McCafferty coupled with a baseline drive by the diminutive but tough as nails Hummy Valerio, the Beavers had crept back to within a point of Faith Christian at 22-21.

Over the course of the next few possessions however, the Falcons were able to see the Lebanon Catholic flurry and match it with a run of their own that was capped off by a 3 ball popped home by Telryn Villa which put Faith Christian back in front by five at 28-23 with half the quarter left to play.

But yet again, Lebanon Catholic’s fighting spirit continued to shine through as a hoop plus the harm by senior forward Nate Hatzfield, good for two of his 15 points on the evening, put the Beavers back within a point at 28-27.

That would turn out to be all the closer the Beavers would be able to get during the remainder of the first half however as a 6-0 Falcon run would ensue over the next few minutes, culminating with a bucket inside by Telryn Villa to help send Faith Christian into the break with the 34-29 advantage.

Coming out of the halftime recess, it was more of the same for Faith Christian. Big time buckets by Telryn Villa. When the curtain raised on the second half, Villa was there to fill the leading role with back to back deuces to start the half which put the Falcons up by a touchdown at 38-31. On the evening, Villa was handful all game long for Lebanon Catholic to match up with as he significantly hindered the Beavers’ chances for a win by pouring in a game-high 24 points.

But just as they had in the first half, Lebanon Catholic would be able to circle the wagons and come back with a blitzkrieg to get back within shouting distance of Faith Christian. After a trifecta was splashed home by junior Devin Root, accounting for three of his 15 point night, the Beavers were back within six at 40-34 with 5:45 to play in the third frame.

But for just as much as Lebanon Catholic kept scratching and clawing back each and every time they found themselves down in the first half, Faith Christian was always there to turn the Beavers away and gain some much-needed breathing room. A theme that would carry over into the second half as well.

Following the Root 3 ball, Faith Christian proceeded to rattle off a 7-2 run that ended in a, you guessed it, Telryn Villa lay in to put the Falcons up 47-36 before the quarter went on to expire with Faith Christian staying in front by double digits at 47-37.

With the game now delicately hanging in the balance, Lebanon Catholic turned to one of their unquestioned leaders in Hummy Valerio to help light a spark and possibly fuel a late-game Beaver charge. And to his credit, the 6’ senior guard did everything he could do to will his team back into it as back to back Valerio floaters in the lane cut the Falcon lead down to seven at 52-45 with 3:37 left to go. Fittingly, Valerio was able to lead the Beavers in scoring by posting a team-best 16 points on the night.

Scoring the ball is one thing, but putting your teammates in a position to be successful is quite another. Something that Valerio was able to do equally as well on Friday night. After the Lebanon Catholic starting point guard was able to lay off a sweet assist to Devin Root, the Beavers were now suddenly within five at 52-47, undoubtedly knocking Faith Christian back on their heels.

Things only grew more precarious for the Falcons from there as an NBA 3 dialed up by Root made it just a two point affair at 52-50 with now 2:30 showing on the game clock.

But just as they had all game long, Faith Christian had one last run up their sleeve. After a hoop plus the harm was put home by Falcon junior big man Cameron Daub, the Faith Christian lead had swelled to five at 55-50 with 1:40 left to go. And although Lebanon Catholic would get it back to within four following yet another Devin Root triple at 59-55, the Beavers would get no closer as Faith Christian went on to close things out for a hard-fought 60-55 triumph over a scrappy bunch of Beavers from Lebanon.

Although Lebanon Catholic had their sights set on a victory Friday night which would have put them in the championship game of this weekend’s Mount Calvary’s tournament, there are still things that first year head man Wee Sanchez can take with him both in the short and long term as he tries to help resurrect the Beaver program back to its rightful place, among those competing for section titles on an annual basis, with this group helping lay the foundation. “I told them in the locker room after the game that we didn’t give up,” the first year coach said of his team’s effort and resiliency. “That’s a positive. The kids could’ve folded being down ten in the fourth quarter. That’s something that we need to build on. We just need to get over the hump right now,” Sanchez went on to add. “We build from here and move on to tomorrow night.”

NEXT UP: With their win on Friday evening, Faith Christian will now look to take some hardware back with them when cross the West Virginia state line as the Falcons look to come away with the Mount Calvary Tournament title on Saturday night.

As Coach Sanchez mentioned after Friday night’s game, it’s time to get back to work. Work that will start with a Saturday evening game in the consolation round at Mount Calvary before the Beavers jump back into Section 3 play with a game against always-tough Lancaster Mennonite.

And even despite the fact that Lebanon Catholic came out on the short-end against Faith Christian, Coach Sanchez is starting to see the fruits of the Beavers’ labor help sharpen a mentally-tough ballclub, arguably the most important goal when trying to instill a new culture. “Although we didn’t get the W, I was happy with what I saw today,” Sanchez reiterated in the postgame Friday night with an optimistic view of things to come. But not before issuing a lasting challenge to his Beaver squad for anyone willing to answer the call the rest of the way. “They’re competing. We just need someone to man up here and see what we can do to get some W’s.”

Dallastown Holds Off Hard-Charging Manheim Township For Key Nonleague Road Victory

Without a doubt, the Manheim Township Blue Streaks have gotten off to a red-hot start this year. And like any good story, it’s appropriate to start at the very beginning.

After winning their season-opening tip-off tournament to start the campaign, the Streaks went on a streak. Literally. After Township sailed past Mid-Penn blueblood Central Dauphin 59-42, the Streaks dispatched fellow Section 1 foes Lebanon and Conestoga Valley by a combined total of 52 points to start 2-0 in section play and 5-0 overall. But last Wednesday night in Landisville is where the narrative took a bit of a turn.

Playing in front of a packed house on the home floor of their foremost rival last week, Hempfield had clearly arrived with bad intentions as Black Knights jumped on the Streaks early, en route to a 39-15 halftime lead, before going on to post a resounding 67-36 victory that sent shockwaves not only around the Lancaster Lebanon League, but District 3 as well in the immediate aftermath of the highly-anticipated matchup between two of the best teams this side of the Susquehanna.

And whether you consider it fair or foul, some may likely hold that Hempfield game over the Streaks’ collective heads like an ominous dark cloud hovering above for quite some time. But not a game does a season define. A lesson that Township proved to those very same skeptics just 48 hours later as the Streaks traveled north to Cedar Crest and came away with a momentous 77-71 triumph, knocking the Falcons off their unbeaten section perch, all in the face of arguably the toughest home-court atmospheres in the entire league, the vaunted “Cage” in Cornwall.

On Thursday night, Township returned home for the first time since last Monday looking to build upon their aforementioned late week momentum against a tenacious Dallastown team in a nonleague tester. A Wildcat squad that was already 1-0 against LL competition this year as Dallastown came away with a 71-62 road win at E-Town earlier in December. But for unfortunately for those who call Neffsville home, it would not be a happy homecoming.

It would take Dallastown all of 15 seconds to break the scoring seal on Thursday evening. On the game’s opening possession, Dallastown sophomore point guard Nike McGlynn knocked down a trifecta to put Wildcats up very early, sending a message in the process.

Defensively, Dallastown employed a 2-3 zone defensively to start things off and while it did stymie Township offensively at least at the beginning of the contest, back to back spot up jumpers by MT senior guard Reece Sachs over top of the Dallastown zone made things a stalemate once again with the score gridlocked at 6-6 with 3:30 left in the opening quarter.

Although forward Ben Ward would go on to have an immediate answer which put the visitors from Dallastown back in front, an old-fashioned three point play authored by Township’s Brendan Mellott gave the Streaks their first lead of the contest at 9-8.

Over the course of the next few minutes however, Dallastown would regain the lead and then some as a 7-0 Wildcat run which culminated in a Ben Writer jumper made it 15-9 Dallastown advantage with two minutes left in the opening stanza.

Fortunately for Township however, Tyler Crespo was there to stem the tide as the star junior guard popped a 3 ball to cut the Dallastown lead down to three at the conclusion of the opening period with Dallastown in front 15-12.

Picking up right where he left off at the conclusion of the opening act, Crespo began the second quarter in style as well, dialing up another trifecta before a nice offense board and stick back by Township’s Cameron Mulcavage to put the Streaks back in the driver’s seat at 18-17 with 6:30 left to go in the half.

But once again however, Dallastown would promptly rip off another salvo to create some distance between themselves and their hosts. Ignited by a triple splashed home by Nike McGlynn that returned the lead back to Dallastown at 20-19, a nifty drive to the tin by senior guard Braden Caldwell saw the Wildcats suddenly balloon to 24-19. And aided by a late half drive to the rack plus the foul by Dallastown’s Brandon McGlynn, the Wildcats were able to head into the halftime dressing room with ownership of the 27-21 lead.

After a first half that largely went Dallastown’s way, it seemed only fitting that the Wildcats would open the second half with a bang as well. And thanks to Brandon McGlynn getting open after a sensationally conducted out of bounds play, the Wildcats were able to start the second half with a nine point cushion as McGlynn’s early triple put Dallastown up 30-21.

But Township was not about to go quietly into the bitterly cold night. After Brendan Mellott was able to get the hometown bounce off of the forgiving Township rims, the Streaks had come back to within five at 30-25 with still six minutes remaining in the third frame.

Just as they had done at the start of the contest, Dallastown returned to their 2-3 zone to open the second half as well. Only this time around, Township appeared to have the teacher’s answer sheet as Tyler Crespo and Brendan Mellott were not exactly timid, penetrating the D-Town zone and finding high percentage buckets from close range. Although Township would close the gap to four at 35-31 midway through the third quarter, a reverse finish at the cup by Dallastown’s Will Barton upped the Wildcat lead to 37-31, prompting a Manheim Township timeout with 3:20 left in the quarter.

From there, the Dallastown lead would grow to as large as seven following a pair of free throws knocked down by Brandon McGlynn, good for two of his 14 on the night, which made it a 39-32 Dallastown advantage. But Township would again respond. After a 3 ball was answered in the corner by junior guard Will Greiner, a hoop plus the harm was awarded to Brendan Mellott as Township once again found themselves within a handful, down just 44-39 before the margin would increase to six when the quarter expired with Dallastown in front 46-39.

With the game on the line, an immediate start to the final stanza was sure to do wonders for Township in their comeback efforts. Fortunately for them, they were able to find their man who would aid their cause as back to back buckets inside from senior forward Cameron Mulcavage got things started on a high note for the Blue Streaks at the onset of the final period. And shortly thereafter, Township found themselves trailing by the slimmest of margins at 49-48 following a sweet spin move en route to the hoop put home by Brendan Mellott. On the evening, both Mellot and Crespo would share in team-high scoring honors as the Blue Streak backcourt tandem accounted for 15 points apiece.

But just as they had all game long, Dallastown would refuse to flinch just when Township appeared to be making a final push to overtake the lead once and for all. Over the span of the next few minutes, the Wildcats marched off a crucial 4-0 run to go extend their lead before a badly-needed triple was nothing but string music for Township guard Will Greiner, trimming the Dallastown lead to 53-51 with 3:50 left to play.

And yet again, Township would cut the deficit down to four, but another backbreaking bucket, this one laid up and in by Dallastown senior forward Ben Ward following a steal, pushed the Wildcat lead out to six at 57-51, causing Township to burn a timeout with 2:50 left on the board.

Coming out of the timeout, Dallastown was able to work their version of “stall ball” like a charm, and after a minute had elapsed off the fourth quarter clock, Ben Ward found himself at line. With ice water in his veins the 6’5” Wildcat big man knocked down a pair of critical freebies from the charity stripe, upping Dallastown’s lead to 59-51 with 1:24 to go. From there, the Wildcat lead grew to a monumental ten points following a layup in transition by Braden Caldwell with just one minute left to play at 61-51. That’s also where the fun began.

For many teams, staring down the barrel of a double digit hole with just seconds to play could lead to an early raising of the white flag in terms of finishing things out. But not for Township and not tonight. After Dallastown failed to convert an easy bunny which would have more or less added late-game cosmetics, the Streaks saw a sliver of daylight behind the door with Tyler Crespo there to run right to it as the 5’9” point guard raced end to end for the lay in to close the gap down to six at 61-55 with 29.9 to go, forcing Dallastown to call time. After the timeout however, it was more bad news for the Wildcats as a steal by the Blue Streaks would follow with junior guard Hilton Ridley scoring the bucket plus the foul after the theft to make it a four point ballgame at 61-57.

From there, Braden Caldwell marched to the opposite end of the floor after being fouled on the ensuing inbounds, going 1-2 from the stripe. But Township was not done fighting yet as a strong drive to the cup by Brendan Mellott incredibly sliced the Dallastown lead down to just three at 62-59 with 9.6 to go.

But that would prove to be the end of the Township magic on this night as a 2-2 trip to the line from Brandon McGlynn would close things out, putting the closing argument on Dallastown’s gritty 64-59 road victory over a strong Manheim Township outfit.

NEXT UP: Dallastown will pick up with YAIAA action once again next week as the Wildcats prepare to do battle with the South Western Mustangs next Friday night before a quick turnaround as Dallastown will face their third LL opponent, Warwick, in the annual War of Roses series being contested at West York throughout the day next Saturday.

For Township, although the Blue Streaks did not close the 2017 calendar year in the way they would have hoped, there is still much promise with the bulk of their season left in front of them. The Streaks’ next opportunity to have a go at it will come next Friday night as Township entertains Penn Manor at home before turning right around and heading to West York as well on Saturday where the Blue Streaks will also compete in the War of Roses.