Bulldogs Use Age-Old Formula As Wilson Gets Defensive, Stymies High-Powered McCaskey To March Into District 3-6A Semifinal Round
Written by: Andy Herr on Saturday, February 22nd, 2020
Chances are that whenever a Lancaster-Lebanon League audience is asked to think about the Wilson Bulldogs, odds are they almost always resort to envisioning football. And to be honest, how could they not?
After all, it certainly doesn’t hurt matters that Wilson is the last remaining Berks County school left standing as a gridiron-only member of the L-L League after seeing members such as Governor Mifflin and Reading High bow out over the last decade plus. On top that, not only has Wilson more than held their own historically in the L-L League, they’ve flat out dominated the Section One rank and file, perhaps best exemplified by their decade-long winning streak against any all comers within L-L play that was ultimately extinguished by Manheim Township two years ago, capping off a ridiculous stretch of success that likely will never be seen ever again. And yes, while Wilson certainly doesn’t appear to be drifting towards the middle to back of the pack anytime soon in terms of upcoming autumns out on the gridiron, the Bulldogs’ basketball program hasn’t been too shabby in their own right either, routinely competing for Berks County and District 3 titles of the like on a consistent, yearly basis. Yet even with all that being said, this has proven to be a unique season in which Wilson’s prowess on the hardwood has actually overshadowed their long-standing football success.
For years, opponents who found themselves going up against the Bulldogs often knew what they were getting into ahead of time. In short, a physical, defensive slugfest that made possessions equal to that of gold considering how limited they figured to be. And while the Wilson hoops formula hasn’t really changed that much over the years, the job for Wilson head coach, Matt Coldren, inevitably gets all the more enjoyable and far more easier when you can also boast a transcendent talent in your triggerman such as that of junior guard, Stevie Mitchell, a shifty point guard that seems to pick up high-major Division 1 offers on a daily basis, if not when already being preoccupied in hosting a “who’s who” of power five head coaches for Bulldogs’ games and practices to help create a star-studded list of visitors inside of Wilson High School, making it feel so exclusive that it could quite possibly require a bouncer with a guest list standing outside the gym doors.
So, with an incredible concoction such as that already in mind, it probably shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to see Wilson absolutely steamroll through their first 25 games en route to a 24-1 overall record and the top-seed in the District 3-6A ranks with the Bulldogs’ only loss coming to #2-seed, Central York, in the opening round of Hempfield’s holiday tournament back in December. Also included in that remarkable stretch came a perfect 3-0 sweep over historic rival Reading, before capturing the Berks One and Berks League titles, the last of which the Bulldogs claimed exactly one week ago over arch nemesis, Governor Mifflin, in downtown Reading’s Santander Center.
But if ever there was a program that wouldn’t be intimidated with Wilson’s success this season, it likely was their Friday night opponent in the District 3-6A quarterfinal round.
Ironically, if the same Lancaster-Lebanon League audience were to then be asked about the McCaskey Red Tornado, the conversation would likely then flip over to basketball. Now sure, while McCaskey is quite arguably the L-L League’s most well-known program, the fact of the matter is that the last few years have been rather lean in terms of Red Tornado success. In fact, had it not been for McCaskey’s 70-64 triumph in the opening round of district play this past Tuesday night at home against Chambersburg, it would have kept McCaskey devoid of a District 3 playoff win since 2016, an almost unimaginable feat given their equally rich and storied history.
That said, the McCaskey program has started to turn over a new leaf as it were with the emergence of second-year head coach, Freddy Ramos, helping create a culture, energy and overall enthusiasm within the confines of Shultz Transportation Gymnasium that is flat-out impossible to try and ignore. And like their counterparts on Friday night, Ramos’ second season on the McCaskey bench got far easier given the transfer in of senior point guard Elijah Terry from nearby Lancaster Mennonite, arguably the best player in the entire L-L League in his own right.
So, with two schools with such long-standing resumes of success that often have waged epic battles against one another in the past no matter what the sport, Friday night in West Lawn figured to bet yet another celebrated chapter between these two adversaries. After all, if you’re a fan of tradition-rich athletic schools in the mid-state of Pennsylvania, there’s just a certain undeniable cache that comes in seeing McCaskey and Wilson go toe-to-toe with another, especially given all the talent out on the floor in this particular matchup.
Yet in perhaps the most fitting of ways possible, a marvelous defensive effort put forth by the Wilson Bulldogs proved to be the greatest difference in this heavyweight bout on Friday evening.
That said, it didn’t necessarily start out that way seeing as how the Red Tornado jumped on their hosts early, racing out to the 9-4 lead at the 4:30 mark of the opening quarter thanks to a dead-eye corner trey knocked down by 5’10 senior marksman, Carter Gingerich, giving McCaskey the early surge in momentum.
However, Wilson wasted little to no time in answering right back.
Following the Gingerich triple, the Bulldogs proceeded to fire off an impromptu 6-0 salvo, capped off by a sensational and downright cruel step-back jumper to try and defend, sunk by 6’2 junior guard, Stevie Mitchell, putting Wilson in front at 10-9 before yet another Mitchell deuce made it a 12-9 affair in favor of the Bulldogs near the three-minute mark of the first quarter.
Granted, while Wilson was understandably playing with all the momentum in the free world following Mitchell’s back-to-back buckets, McCaskey’s star, Elijah Terry, then came up aces for the Red Tornado cause by putting McCaskey back in front at 13-12 with a steal and subsequent finish in transition with 1:45 now left to play in the first. And for an opening eight minutes that certainly seemed to be an equal battle between two formidable teams, it was understandable to see the Red Tornado and Bulldogs remain knotted up at the conclusion of the opening stanza, something that ultimately came to fruition thanks to a runner in the lane by McCaskey 5’8 freshman guard, Jonathan Byrd, making it a 15-15 game after one.
In the early portion of the second quarter, the stars for both McCaskey and Wilson came out to play and certainly shone bright.
Case in point, a 3-ball cashed in by Stevie Mitchell, giving Wilson the 18-15 advantage, only to see an Elijah Terry triple shortly thereafter knot things back up at 20-20 with 3:30 left to go before halftime.
Suffice to say, in a first half that seemed to contain nothing but nothing counterpunches landed back and forth between the two sides, the opportunity remained for either the Bulldogs or Red Tornado to eventually rise up and put together a late-half rally in order to head into the break with some crucial separation from their opposition. This time around, it just so happened that it would be Wilson’s turn.
With the score all square at 20 apiece following the Terry triple, the Bulldogs proceeded to rattle off an emphatic 8-0 flurry, capped off by a pair of buckets by senior Avanti Lockhart and freshman Cam Jones respectively, forcing McCaskey to call a timeout while staring at the 28-20 deficit with 1:54 left before the halftime recess.
Fortunately, as far as the McCaskey fans who had traveled up Route 222 were concerned, Carter Gingerich was then able to knock down his second 3-ball of the opening half following the Red Tornado timeout, stemming the tide somewhat while also shrinking the Wilson cushion back down to five at 28-23.
But the positive vibes that McCaskey had then accrued following Gingerich’s latest triple proved to be short-lived however seeing as how Stevie Mitchell then proceeded to author the Bulldogs’ last five points of the opening half by way of a trifecta and a take to the tin respectively, as the Wilson junior’s 19-point first half performance helped send Wilson into the dressing room with the 33-27 lead over McCaskey.
That said, even despite their six-point deficit at the halftime break, the game was certainly well within reach for the Red Tornado to try and grab ahold of. However, McCaskey certainly could not afford very many empty trips seeing as how Wilson was likely going to come out of the chute with a, shall we say, “inspired” defensive effort to help raise the curtain on the second half. On top of that, the Red Tornado would also need to hold their own on the glass while also snatching up any and all loose balls that they had the opportunity to try and claim. Unfortunately for the Red Tornado fans, the worst-case scenario of all those elements coming together in perfect harmony ultimately did come to fruition in the second half on Friday night on the western shore of Reading.
Granted, their third quarter assignment certainly did not get any easier in the opening stages of the third quarter given how yet another Stevie Mitchell take to the cup, good for two more en route to his game-high 28-point outburst, put the Bulldogs up by double figures at 37-27. And with the Bulldogs keeping an air-tight lid on the McCaskey offensive effort, the deficit ultimately remained at ten following an Avanti Lockhart theft and layup, capped off with an absolutely gorgeous Euro-step finish at the cup, putting the Bulldogs up by a 39-29 count at the end of three.
Now, more than ever before, the time had come for McCaskey to try and mount one final charge if they had any hopes of clawing back into the thick of things with just eight minutes left to play. And as if to be right on cue, here came the Red Tornado blustering in through town.
Admittedly, while it may not have come in the most instantaneous of fashions, McCaskey was able to slice the Wilson lead back down to a far more manageable five-point gap following a pair of back-to-back takes to the cup courtesy of the senior duo of Isaiah Thomas and Makai Ortiz-Gray respectively, forcing the homestanding Bulldogs to call a timeout and regroup while still protecting their 41-36 lead with 3:36 left to play. And with the Bulldogs effort at the charity stripe leaving much to be desired in the middle part of the final frame, the Red Tornado kept their foot pressed to the gas pedal by making Wilson pay dearly for allowing the door to remain open as yet another Ortiz-Gray take to the rack, good for two more to cap off his team-high 13-point night of work, cut the Wilson lead down to three at 41-38 shortly thereafter.
Ironically though, for as much as Wilson’s free throw shooting, or lack thereof in the middle stages of the final period appeared as if it would ultimately be their downfall, the Bulldogs responded marvelously from then on when sent to the foul line down the final furlong as a timely pair of freebies sunk by Stevie Mitchell upped the Bulldogs’ lead to 43-38 with 1:06 left to play. And with McCaskey coming up cold with either missed shots or ill-timed turnovers down the final stretch, it was the Bulldogs’ opportunity for vengeance as Wilson proceeded to put the final nail in the McCaskey coffin by authoring a 75% performance from the foul line within the final minute courtesy of Avanti Lockhart and Stevie Mitchell respectively, vaulting Wilson into the District 3-6A semifinal round by virtue of their 47-39 win over McCaskey on Friday night. In the semis, the Bulldogs will welcome yet another L-L League outfit, league champion Cedar Crest, into West Lawn on Tuesday night for the right to advance on to Hershey’s Giant Center and the 6A title fight opposite of either Central York or Reading next Saturday afternoon.
NEXT UP: For McCaskey, the Red Tornado’s season remains alive following the loss to Wilson. However, they certainly must right the ship over the coming days as McCaskey will now load up the bus and head to the outskirts of Harrisburg to tangle with this year’s Mid-Penn champion, Central Dauphin, as the Rams came up just two heart-breaking points shy of surpassing Cedar Crest in the other semifinal round game held on Friday night. Needless to say, the stakes could not be any higher for McCaskey in their Tuesday night affair against Central Dauphin considering that a loss by either team would put an abrupt end to either one of their respective seasons.
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