Ask any head coach if he or she has a favorite team that they’ve enjoyed coaching over the years more so than any other and chances are that you’re likely to get anything but a clear and concise answer for a response. For most, that’s certainly understandable considering the task would be akin to asking them to pick their favorite noodle out of a bowl of spaghetti. So forgive Kennard Dale head coach Jake Roupe if the smile stays on his face just a little while longer when asked about his 2017-18 Ram squad. After all, the 2008 Kennard Dale grad has grown up alongside this bunch. Both literally and figuratively.
Coming into this season, it’d be fair to say that the basketball scene in Fawn Grove had seen a somber time or two. It certainly did not help matters that the Rams entered this season by lugging a seven year old monkey around on their backs considering that was precisely how many long seasons it had been since Kennard Dale ended the year with more wins than loses in their season ledger. And although they are called the Rams, they have certainly gone ahead and bucked that trend this season, taking the school just north of the Maryland state line to heights that they have not experienced in over 25 years.
When looking to determine what goes into making a successful team, no matter what the sport and no matter what the level of play, there is always that one secret sauce that holds them all together. Chemistry.
And while many teams may try and go about finding that elusive tie that binds in some cliché form or fashion shortly before the season that inevitably falls apart at the first sign of adversity, there is simply nothing phony about Kennard Dale’s close-knit bond. It’s ever-present and it always has been since their junior high days. Certainly doesn’t hurt matters when you’ve just so happened to have one singular voice lead you into battle over that span of time for good measure.
“When I got out of high school and went to college I decided I wanted to come help out,” Coach Roupe said recalling his humble beginnings in the coaching ranks. But little did he or anyone else know at the time that it would be only be the start of a decade-long journey that the coach and present-day Kennard Dale Rams would embark on together.
“I started volunteering when I was 19 and then I started coaching AAU ‘ball when the seniors now were in 5th grade for the York Thunder,” Roupe went on to detail. And whether it was just the stars coming together to align perfectly or some sort of mystical higher power at work, Coach Roupe and his band of Rams moved along up the ladder together. Literally every step of the way.
“I got the 7th & 8th grade job when they were in 7th and 8th grade and then I got the JV job when they became 9th graders, then their junior year is when I got the varsity job,” the Ram boss said prior to Monday’s District 3 4A semifinal game against high-powered Bishop McDevitt.
And for a coach that has seen it all with this senior-laden group, don’t bother coloring Coach Roupe surprised that his Rams have made it this far.
“I did,” Roupe replied without hesitation when pressed if he pictured this core group ever ascending to these type of heights. “I’ve had some high expectations for this group for a while,” Roupe went on to say. “I don’t like to get ahead of myself, I take it one game at a time, but I always told them that the sky’s the limit from the start. I said ‘Why Not?’ ‘Why can’t we be that team?’
Sure enough, here they were. And when you spend just a few minutes with the young KD head coach, it’s easy to understand why he was able to predict from such an early age what everyone else is seeing come to light in the present-day.
“They just all buy in,” Coach Roupe when on to detail regarding the unselfishness of this year’s Ram squad. “We always preach to ‘dominate your role.’ Everyone on the team knows their role and they dominate it. If the last guy on the bench’s role is to go nuts when we hit a big shot, that’s his role and he dominates it. They’re enjoying it, they’re having fun and they’re all best friends. That’s the best part. They just like being together.”
As fate would have it, this group of Rams would continue to enjoy each other’s company regardless of the outcome on Monday night as this year’s squad became the first KD squad to earn the right to play on into the state tournament since 1996. An occasion that Coach Roupe decided to mark in the most appropriate of ways given the timeframe—by “frosting his tips.”
“Heck, Justin Timberlake and the (Super Bowl) halftime show, I figured ‘why not?’ I did it to just give them another incentive and they responded,” Troupe said with a laugh when detailing his zany idea which quite possibly could turn clocks back to the mid 90’s once he actually applies the hair dye before March 9th. And while you won’t mistake him for going out on tour with Timberlake and the rest of N*Sync to sing “I Drive Myself Crazy”, his admitted favorite song from the 90’s pop group, you most certainly will see him at practice pushing all the buttons and concocting all the potions to figure out how these Rams can perhaps go on what they hope turns into a long postseason run. A run that included Monday’s night game against a very dangerous and under-seeded Bishop McDevitt squad.
And while Rams headed into their last film study session to prep for Monday evening’s game, little did they know that they really were about to receive a history lesson.
“I didn’t show them film from now,” Roupe said with a smirk. “I showed them the ‘92 (District 3 quarterfinal) game against Bishop McDevitt and Kennard Dale. They didn’t know I was doing that. That’s what we watched before we came here,” the Kennard Dale coach said revealing his plans. “Kennard Dale was the home team because they had the better record but they were the underdog and Kennard Dale ended up winning by four…It was cool because some of the guys that were on that team are some of our girls’ coaches now so after the girls’ practice, they all came in and watched it too.”
And so with some clearly evident positive vibes that Kennard Dale had packed into their duffle bags shortly before their departure to Penn Manor High School on Monday night, the Rams were out to repeat history when they squared off with one of the bluest of blue-bloods in the area, Bishop McDevitt, for the right to go on to the Giant Center and the District 3 4A title game.
However once the game got underway, it became apparent from the get-go that both teams would have to settle down and find their rhythm as both the Rams and Crusaders were plagued by an icy start in terms of shooting the rock.
However once they did get into a groove, it was fittingly Kennard Dale’s Adam Freese who had the honors of knocking down the first field goal of the contest as the 6’4” all-star senior guard got the Rams within one at 3-2 early near the midpoint of the opening quarter before Bishop McDevitt’s Davon Lee would go on to show why he is one of the best players in all of District 3 as the 6’ sophomore promptly responded by knocking down a triple to answer the Freese bucket in the early going.
Over the next few minutes however, McDevitt only continued to press their foot down to the floorboard.
Aided by a nice bucket inside by 6’3” sophomore forward Jake Kelly, the Crusader lead had suddenly ballooned to a half dozen at 10-4 at the 2:30 mark of the opening period, putting a damper on what Kennard Dale had hoped would be a better start.
But from there, Kennard Dale would respond with a vengeance.
In fact immediately following the Kelly deuce, the Rams retaliated with an answer as a sweet dish from 6’2” senior guard Craig Potts to a cutting Carter Day got KD back within four as the freshman who would play well-beyond his years all night long made it a 10-6 ballgame in the waning stages of the first quarter.
Shortly thereafter, the Crusaders would see their lead be sliced down to slimmest of margins as nice hoop inside by 5’11” sophomore forward Wyatt McCleary got the Rams within one at 10-9 before the quarter would expire with McDevitt in front 12-9.
However the brief intermission in between quarters would do nothing to slow down the hard-charging Crusaders as Kennard Dale soon discovered.
Besmirched by an early 8-2 salvo which was capped off by Davon Lee bucket at the cup for the Crusaders, the Ram deficit had suddenly swelled to 20-11 with Kennard Dale being forced to call a timeout with 4:57 left in the opening half.
And although the McDevitt would continue to roll on after the timeout with yet another bucket, Kennard Dale began to fight back once more.
Thanks in large part to a Donnell Williams jumper which provided some much-needed relief to the Rams who were wandering around in a desert inside the early stages of the second stanza, Williams’ bucket proved to be the very spark that the Rams would need for the next few minutes of the first half in order to make a run at McDevitt.
From there, Adam Freese was able to pop a corner 3 ball with fellow senior guard Joey Thomas following suit as the Rams had scratched and clawed their way back into the thick of things with McDevitt’s lead now standing at 24-19 with the gym erupting with a roar that could have been heard all the way back to Fawn Grove.
Yet before the first half clock finally did expire, Bishop McDevitt had enough time to rattle off a 5-0 jaunt to close the first sixteen minutes as the Crusaders went into the break, holding serve with a double digit lead which stood at 29-19.
And although McDevitt would only continue to sizzle once they came out of the dressing room, thanks a sweet turnaround jumper that was put home by guess-who, Davon Lee, the Crusaders continued to keep the Rams at arm’s length over the course of the next few minutes.
But with Kennard Dale looking up at the scoreboard and quickly coming to the realization that an answer was not only important, but that it was essential, the Rams began to charge.
All night long, Carter Day proved to be worth his weight in gold as the diminutive freshman point guard played with the savvy of a grizzled senior, but most especially when the Rams were looking for answers as for who would step up to the plate in Kennard Dale’s time of need. And while aided by five straight points that were chipped in by Mr. Day, the Rams had quietly crept back into things with the scoreboard showing McDevitt in front 35-25.
But he wasn’t done there.
No, from there Day only continued shine by cashing in a pullup jumper to get the Rams within a half dozen at 37-31 only to see Joey Thomas follow that up with a trifecta to suddenly get Kennard Dale back within three at 37-34 with McDevitt now sitting in a precarious position.
When Bishop McDevitt needs a bucket, it’s fair to say that the Crusaders have plenty of weapons for which they can hand the keys of the offense over to with anyone more than capable of helping drive them to the Promised Land. Well, the in latter stages of the third quarter, Davon Lee took his turn in the driver’s seat and right on cue, the sophomore guard proceeded to shift the McDevitt machine into top-gear.
With the Crusaders needing some sort of an answer to quiet an already boisterous and raucous Penn Manor gymnasium that was heavily in favor of the Yellow and Blue colors of Kennard Dale, Mr. Lee responded with a man-sized take to the rack which got McDevitt some much-needed breathing room at 39-34 with 1:30 left in the third, silencing the crowd for the time being.
Yet Kennard Dale would refuse to go quietly into the night as the Rams were able to creep back within three at 39-36 once the third quarter clock did ultimately run out.
Although Bishop McDevitt had been able to play with the lead for the entirety of the night up until that point, it quickly became apparent that Kennard Dale was not anywhere close to raising the white flag. And with persistence being the name of the game all night long for Kennard Dale, the Rams’ patience paid off with an early fourth quarter blitz that knocked McDevitt back on their heels with the game now clearly up for grabs.
The snowball immediately got rolling downhill on KD’s first possession of the quarter as a Craig Potts take to the tin got the Rams within a point before an offensive rebound and stick-back by Donnell Williams gave Kennard Dale their first lead of the ballgame at 40-39 with 6:30 left to go as the atmosphere inside the Penn Manor gym had finally reached it’s crescendo with the decibel level rising to 747-like proportions.
But by now you probably have an idea who answer the dinner bell for Bishop McDevitt in their time of need. If you guessed Davon Lee, you’d be absolutely correct.
Undaunted by Kennard Dale’s sudden surge of momentum, the gutty sophomore guard was able to drive with fearlessness to the tin, collecting a gigantic 2 of his 18 game-high points on the evening, giving the lead back to the Crusaders.
From there, another sophomore would take his turn at center stage as Jake Kelly was able to deliver a big bucket in his own right to help extend the McDevitt lead to 47-42 with just 4:40 left to go.
Yet while Bishop McDevitt had survived one Kennard Dale tidal wave that had come on shore, they surely had to expect that they would see yet another one swell before the game was truly put to rest, especially with Adam Freese being held scoreless to that point in the second half.
And sure enough, Freese was able to step back into the limelight with a pair of free throws successfully cashed in at the line which made it a 49-46 ballgame with four minutes left to go. But the southpaw was just getting started as Freese proceeded to stick a timely 3 ball which got the Rams within two at 51-49 shortly thereafter with 3:32 left showing on the clock.
However that would prove to be the point where the Kennard Dale train would run out of steam as the Bishop McDevitt was able to pass yet another test that Kennard Dale threw at them by ripping off a 4-0 run in the face of even more adversity down the stretch. A run that was capped off with a Jaraud Smith bucket which made it a 55-49 contest with the game now inside of three minutes left to go.
And although Carter Day would continue his impressive play by converting 2-2 from the line en route to a team-high 15 points which eventually made it a 58-51 ballgame with 57 seconds left, Bishop McDevitt would go on to turn away a very game Kennard Dale team 62-53, advancing to the District 3 4A title game.
Even despite the fact that Monday night did not include another happy chapter in Kennard Dale’s storybook season, Coach Roupe was certainly proud and had every reason to be given the fight his team showed over the course of 32 minutes by going chin-to-chin with one of the better programs in all of District 3.
“I said I am 100% absolutely proud of you,” Roupe said when speaking about the postgame message he delivered to his troops. “They played with heart, they played with toughness and they played with class.” Characteristics that stand the test of time, far longer than any score will, that any coach can certainly be proud of even while dealing with the most painful of defeats. And while Kennard Dale would have no doubt loved to punch their ticket to Hersheypark to play in Thursday night’s title game, it was and always be a special night that will be remembered forever as the night where nearly all of southern York County traveled up to Millersville to support their team and help push their team over the top to victory. Something that very nearly were able to do. Together.
NEXT UP: From here, Bishop McDevitt will get right back at it on Thursday night as the Crusaders match up with Berks Catholic at the Giant Center for District 3 4A gold with a tip time set for 7:00 at the palatial confines in Hershey as the Saints from BC advanced after besting Middletown in the game just prior on Monday night at Penn Manor. It’s sure to be a heavyweight fight arguably two of the best teams that District 3 has to offer regardless of classification.
For Kennard Dale on the other hand, the Rams will have to rise up off the canvas as the Rams prepare to battle Middletown in a PIAA state qualifier to determine who will enter the PIAA’s as the #3 and #4 seeds respectively come the start of the tournament next Friday night when the Rams and Blue Raiders duke it out at West York at 7:00 this Wednesday evening.