When trying to handicap the 2017-18 Lancaster Lebanon Boys Basketball season as it specifically related to Section 1, it was largely agreed that it would turn out to be a three horse race with Hempfield, Manheim Township, and Cedar Crest duking it out from December through early February for supremacy in the “big boy” division of the L-L. And after last week, that largely appeared to be the narrative that would take shape. But there was a storm brewing down in Lancaster city.
It almost sounds sacrilegious when you say it out loud. McCaskey not in the mix for the league championship, much less the section championship. But after a disappointing season last year where the Red Tornado failed to make any sort of postseason tournament for what felt like the first time since the dawn of man combined with ultra-talented returning rosters from the three main aforementioned headliners, it seemed difficult to place McCaskey in the upper-echelon of Section 1 given what we knew, or thought we knew, heading into this year.
After disappointing week last week which saw the Red Tornado drop decisions to Chester, Cedar Crest, and Harrisburg respectively, McCaskey was clearly hungry to prove that a grueling slate of games such as those would make them all the better for it as McCaskey had soared to an undefeated 2-0 week in Section 1 heading into Friday’s neighborhood scrap with Conestoga Valley as the Tornado had ascended into the top layer of the Section 1 standings, making it feel like old times had returned to Red Rose city.
Although the early season wins and losses have not been kind to the Buckskins up until this point as CV came into the end of the week just 2 up and 5 down, CV possesses arguably the best two-headed monster in all the league with the dynamic senior sibling duo of Logan and Austin Monroe leading the way. Without question, either one of the brothers could easily go off for 20 points or more on any given night. When you add firepower like that to help brought along from the young and eager supporting cast surrounding them, the Bucks were looking to make waves on Friday night by picking up their first Section 1 win of the season, snapping a three game losing skid in the process, against an old nemesis from right down the road as the Buckskins finally had the opportunity to close the book on an unforgiving gauntlet of games to start section play. A slate of games that consisted of Hempfield, Township, Cedar Crest, and just for good measure, McCaskey. Not exactly the fuzziest of welcome mats rolled out for the Buckskins to begin section play. But on Friday night in Witmer, the Bucks were able to put all of their frustrations to bed as Conestoga Valley at long last was finally able to recognize the sweet taste of victory in Section 1.
After a somewhat sloppy start for either team, both the Red Tornado and Buckskins were finally able to settle into a rhythm and trade body blows with one another as the first quarter moved along. With much of the first quarter being played within a two point window, both CV and McCaskey took their turns playing with lead. After an early Buckskin advantage, a triple by McCaskey’s Makai Ortiz put the Tornado back in front at 7-6 with 4:45 left in the opening frame.
But CV would be able to respond throughout several checkpoints in the game’s first eight minutes including with two minutes and change remaining when Logan Monroe drove hard to the rack for the bucket which put CV back in front 12-11.
It would turn out to be a quick lead however when no more than a minute later, McCaskey’s Gary Smith splashed home a trifecta to put the Tornado back in the driver’s seat at 14-12. But similar to their counterparts, this too be prove to a quick dance with the lead for McCaskey as well when a pair of free throws from CV’s Austin Monroe tied things up at 14-14 with 35 ticks left in the first.
But that was just enough time for McCaskey to offer up a response as a slicing move to the hoop by junior guard Bryam Menendez put McCaskey on top 16-14 when the first quarter horn finally sounded.
For as much of a back and forth battle the first quarter appeared to be, the early portions of the second stanza would provide an opportunity for CV to claim the lead and then build upon it. After a strong effort on the defensive end got momentum building for CV, highlighted with a block by junior forward Jalen Ransing, the Bucks saw and seized their window of opportunity.
After a fast break clinic was put on by the Monroe brothers with Austin feeding Logan, the Buckskins pushed their lead up to five at 23-18. Couple that with a Ransing bucket on a later trip and CV had suddenly jumped out to a 25-18 cushion, promptly McCaskey to burn a timeout with 3:36 left in the half.
Although McCaskey would come up empty on several trips from there on out to end the half due to cold outside shooting with CV sitting back in a zone inviting McCaskey to fire away, the Tornado were finally able to get one to go home as a triple by Ajani Simmons cut the Buckskin lead down to just three at 29-26 with a little over two minutes remaining.
But Austin Monroe would go on to close the half in style as the Bucks’ senior point guard went on his own personal 5-0 run to close the half with CV on top by double figures at 38-28.
Coming out of the recess, CV picked up right where they left off. After an Austin Monroe lay in got the second half scoring underway, a sweet reverse finish at the tin by Jordan Ransing upped the Buckskin lead to 14 at 44-30 with CV on the verge of running away with it.
But fortunately for the Red Tornado backers, they saw their team receive a jolt of energy after a couple of made baskets allowed McCaskey to initiate their full-court press which promptly gave the Buckskins fits. After some ill-timed turnovers that went against CV, a bucket by Tallian Lehr sliced the CV advantage down to six at 51-45 with 2:48 to play, forcing CV to call time in order to help stem the tide. Shortly thereafter, the situation grew even more adverse for CV when a triple by McCaskey senior Isiah Speller made it an even slimmer lead with the cushion now standing at three with CV in front 51-48.
After a desperately-needed hoop was put home by Logan Monroe inside for CV in the face of the McCaskey comeback, the Tornado rushed back with a 5-0 run of their own to tie things back up as another Ajani Simmons triple made things all square at 53-53 as the third quarter clock expired.
Although McCaskey would have solid contributions from nearly everyone across the board in the scoring department, they simply could not match the output put forth on Friday night by the Monroe brothers of CV. With Austin have game-high honors with 27 and Logan not far behind with a 25 point showing, the brothers Monroe accounted for over 50 points of their team’s offensive output. It’s a dynamic duo that CV head man Brad Herr is certainly happy to have on his fighting side each and every night. “They’re going to have to lead us,” Herr said of his two headliners. “When they’re playing well, playing together, and playing hard, they are a really tough tandem,” Herr went on to add regarding the 1-2 punch of #5 and #32.
But basketball is a team game and without the help of CV’s supporting cast, it’s hard to envision the Buckskins being able to walk away as winners on Friday night. “You have to give credit to the other guys on the roster that are finding them in space, creating opportunities for them, and giving them good outlets. I really thought it was a total team effort,” the head Buckskin went on to add before summing it all up by saying point blank, “This was the most complete game that we’ve played.”
And right on cue with the game on the line, the two brothers stepped up in the Bucks’ time of need. After a 7-0 Monroe blitz that was capped off with Logan nailing a triple from the top of key, McCaskey was forced to call another timeout now down 60-53 with 5:18 remaining.
But McCaskey rallied the troops and fought back over the span of the next few minutes and after a triple by Ajani Simmons, his fourth of the ballgame, the Red Tornado were now back to within four at 63-59 with 2:11 left go. “We took a great comeback punch from McCaskey,” Coach Herr said in the aftermath. “They hit some huge shots and give to credit to them. They didn’t quit and kept fighting.”
With McCaskey being whistled for a foul on the ensuing inbounds play, Bradley Stoltzfus walked all 94 feet to the other end with huge free throws upcoming. No nerves on this night for the sophomore however as the Buckskin guard sank two important free throws with the game on the line to expand the CV lead in crunch time. But as Coach Herr mentioned the postgame, McCaskey would not stop competing until the clock showed all zeroes. And with time still remaining, the Tornado were able to answer the two freebies with one better as a 3 ball popped by senior Gary Smith kept McCaskey in the thick of things.
Free throws. Free throws. Free throws. So many games are won and lost at the line and much to CV’s credit, foul shooting would not prove to be their demise on this night. After the Smith trifecta, it was Austin Monroe’s turn to toe the line and step up for CV squad. He was able to do exactly that as a 2-2 trip from the charity stripe put the Bucks up five at 69-64 late. But once again, another Smith triple cut the Buckskin lead down to just three at 70-67 with just 9.7 remaining.
Tight game, ultra-important free throw shooting. This time CV called upon junior guard Joe Cardina to deliver the goods just prior the Christmas holiday and fortunately for the Buckskins, he was able to do exactly that as 1-2 trip from the line gave CV the now monumental four point gap with just under 10 ticks left to go.
Need proof as to just how critical that free throw was? McCaskey came right down the floor and saw Ajani Simmons ring home another 3 ball which made it a 71-70 ballgame with just 1.2 left to play. From there, CV was able to squirm away on the ensuing inbounds play without getting fouled in the last second, giving CV the much-deserved and badly-needed victory after a rough patch over the course of the last week.
After such a grueling span of games that saw the Bucks come up short in all of their Section 1 games to this point, including a 36 point setback to Cedar Crest on their home floor on Wednesday night, the resiliency displayed by CV to step up, especially when the seas got rough on Friday night cannot be overstated. “I felt a lot better about our enthusiasm tonight,” Coach Herr said of his team’s bounceback. “The togetherness that we demonstrated, the energy coming off the bench, and our language was much more positive tonight. We weren’t really happy with our performance earlier this week. To put it mildly, we addressed that in practice last night. I think the attitudes have really improved in a very short span of time for us.”
They say pressure can either make diamonds or burst pipes. Well, as far this test was concerned, CV was able to handle Friday’s night adversity with flying colors. “I think that’s good for us at this point,” CV’s 11th year head coach said of his team navigating a rocky road after some recent hard luck. “We need to know that we can face adversity and overcome it.” Mission accomplished.
NEXT UP: CV will now take a couple days off to celebrate the Christmas holiday before rounding everyone back up and heading north to do battle in the annual Wyomissing Holiday Tournament. In the opening contest, the Bucks will tangle with an Exeter squad that already tripped them up earlier this season in the opening round of Exeter’s tip off tourney. “I think we’re looking forward to having another chance there,” Coach Herr said of the CV’s opening round opponent up at Wyo. “They’re a tough squad and we want another chance.”
Once section plays resumes at the start of January, CV will square off with the likes of Lebanon, Penn Manor, and Warwick. And with tonight’s win already in their backpocket, this victory could serve as a catalyst for CV turning things around heading into the back half of their remaining schedule.
“We talked before the game that the only two things that we can control are our effort and our attitude. We did that tonight. I think we’re in a position where if we continue with that and maintain positive traction, we can get on a streak here and put ourselves in a good position coming out of the first section round.”
McCaskey now will look to regain their winning ways when the Tornado host their annual Hagelgans & Veronis Classic held at McCaskey over the 27th and 28th. Following that, McCaskey will meet up with Route 30 rival Coatesville before the Red Tornado reenter Section 1 competition with a home date against Warwick.