Central Dauphin Flexes Its Muscle As Rams Move On To District 3-6A Semifinal Round, Knock Out ‘Special Group’ From Warwick
Written by: Andy Herr on Saturday, March 6th, 2021
For the Warwick Warriors, the 2020-21 season figured to be one of more memorable years that the town of Lititz had seen from their boys on the hardwood for quite some time. After all, if there was a team in the Lancaster-Lebanon League that was built to withstand the total loss of an off-season thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it figured to be the Warriors. Part of the reason for that? Undoubtedly the return of arguably the league’s best player, Kai Cipalla, one of the fastest-rising point guards running the show in Tate Landis, perhaps the most veteran of players coming back in Joey McCracken, and a host of complimenting skill pieces that included the likes of Chase Krall, a 3-point specialist who has the ability to go off and torch any opponent on a moment’s notice. Then, just prior to the start of the regular season, the Warriors were thrown a bit of a curveball when McCracken, an all-state quarterback, opted out of the basketball season due to his earlier pledge to play football for the Maine Black Bears. Granted, while the loss of what would have been a four-year varsity player certainly changed some things around and wasn’t necessarily the best way to raise the curtain on a year with sky-high hopes, expectations did not change inside the Warriors’ camp whatsoever. Chief among them? Making it back to Manheim Township for a third straight season to play for the L-L League championship. That said, the Warriors were thrown an even more confusing curveball midway through the season when the conference decided to take section champions only into the league tournament field, shrinking the list of competitors directly in half. Suddenly, after Warwick surrendered the outright Section Two title to the Lebanon Cedars after going to 2-1 on the season series, the Warriors were locked out of the L-L tourney entirely. And while that was undoubtedly a tough pill to swallow, Warwick responded admirably to the adversity by knocking off Central York in the opening round of the District 3-6A tournament, a win which marked the Warriors’ first in over a decade inside the illustrious District 3 tournament.
But as is the case when talking about the highest classification level inside one of the best district footprints that the state of Pennsylvania has to offer, you will assuredly run into some absolute heavyweights along the way. Sure enough, after ousting one of the best programs in York County, the next stop on the Warriors’ path took them due north of Harrisburg to tangle with another beast, the Central Dauphin Rams. Yet while Warwick would scratch and their claw their way up until the bitter end against their Mid-Penn counterparts on Friday night, the size, speed, and pure depth that typically comes part in parcel with a Mid-Penn group proved to be the Warriors’ kryptonite.
In the early going, Warwick certainly didn’t appear to be over-matched or overwhelmed when it came to matching up with Central Dauphin. In fact, both sides took their respective turns throwing barbs at one another early on. For example, while a bucket inside by Central Dauphin’s 6’8 junior forward, Donovan Hill, knotted things up at 4-4 at the 4:45 mark of the opening frame, a Kai Cipalla jumper shortly thereafter made it an 8-6 affair in favor of the visitors, before a Ryan Smith jumper down on the other end for the Rams made things all square once more at 8-8 with 2:45 left to play in the first quarter.
However, for as nip and tuck as the action inside the initial stages of the opening stanza was, Central Dauphin finally found their footing near the midway point of the first quarter.
After a Smith bucket which had made it a 12-8 lead in favor of the hosts, a Malachi Palmer trifecta preceded a Donovan Hill bucket inside which then followed suit, all while culminating in an exchange which saw the Rams’ lead swell up to 17-10, effectively knocking Warwick back on their heels. All in all, for as even as both teams had appeared to be throughout much of the opening frame, Central Dauphin was able to head into the second quarter with what felt like a commanding 17-12 lead at the time once the first quarter clock ultimately did expire.
Right from the onset of the second quarter, Central Dauphin only kept their foot on the accelerator. Ignited by a Ryan Smith dunk which made it a 23-12 Rams’ lead with 4:30 left before the break, another bucket in the paint, this one from Christian Wilburn, put the Rams up by a baker’s dozen at 25-12, prompting Warwick to call a timeout. Finally, and not a moment too soon as far as the Warriors were concerned, a Tate Landis bucket inside ended the prolonged Warwick scoring drought, giving the visitors their first field goal of the second quarter near the three-minute mark.
Ironically though, for as well as Central Dauphin had played throughout much of the second period, Warwick stayed right there within shouting distance as the game approached halftime.
Needless to say, if the Warriors did not have Kai Cipalla operating like his usual Herculean-type self on Friday night, Warwick would’ve been lost at sea. So, with his team finding themselves inside that critical “danger zone” of having the game get away from them, the Warriors’ 6’4 senior forward rallied the troops by firing in two consecutive treys inside the waning moments of the first half to ultimately pull the red-clad guests back within a touchdown at intermission, 27-20.
Picking up right where he left off to close the first half, Cipalla only continued to stir the Warriors’ drink once the third quarter began.
After another triple, one of his seven 3-balls before the night was over with, Warwick was able to climb back to within a half dozen at 36-30 with 4:50 left in the third frame. From there, Warwick kept on pushing the issue as a Tate Landis three-point play shortly thereafter trimmed the Rams’ lead down to the slimmest it had been in quite some time, 39-35, with 2:30 left before the final quarter.
But just when they had appeared to find their footing before possibly lobbing one hard-charging volley, Central Dauphin ended up pushing Warwick away down the final stretch.
Capped off by a Ryan Smith dunk, just one of many that dotted the laundry list of flushes thrown down by a host of Rams on Friday evening, Central Dauphin had been able to put the punctuation mark on a critical 8-0 salvo, making it a 47-35 CD lead with inside of a minute left to play in the third. On the night, while Central Dauphin’s score sheet was certainly balanced, Smith ended up being the one to capture team-high scoring honors by netting a 20-point performance once the evening was over with.
Yet again though, Warwick simply refused to say die. The thing was though, Central Dauphin was always there to throw cold water on the Warriors’ rallies at seemingly every turn.
Case in point, while Kai Cipalla was able to sink a triple for Warwick in the early moments of the final stanza, Central Dauphin was there for the immediate rebuttal with an Andrew Renaldi trifecta in his own right on Rams’ ensuing offensive possession, keeping the Warriors at bay. Later, with their deficit teetering at double digits, Warwick 6’2 senior forward, Corbin Horst, was able to fire in a key 3-ball to keep the Warriors right in the thick of things, trimming the Central Dauphin lead down to 56-49 with roughly four minutes left to play.
Once more, while a Cipalla take to the rack kept the margin at seven, 58-51, a Donovan Hill dunk down on the other for Central Dauphin extinguished the Warriors’ momentum right there on the spot. Then, once it was evident that his wonderful Warwick career was on the precipice of ending, Kai Cipalla was able to throw down one last tomahawk dunk in his Warriors’ career, making it a 63-53 Central Dauphin lead with time running out. In many ways, it was an apropos way for possibly the best Warwick player in an entire generation to have his career end as Cipalla was able to tally a marvelous game-high 34-point outburst in his final curtain call.
That said, the theme of the night continued to ring true in the final moments once more as yet another Donovan Hill dunk, two more en route to his silver medal performance in terms of scoring for CD on the night with a 17-point outing, proved to be the fitting exclamation mark on Central Dauphin’s 68-59 triumph over Warwick on Friday night, vaulting the Rams into the semifinal round of the 6A bracket where they draw the Wilson Bulldogs in West Lawn next week.
Understandably, the immediacy of having your season end is a punch to the stomach. In Warwick’s case, it was likely even more difficult seeing as how the defeat at the hands of Central Dauphin marked the end of the line for one of the winningest crews in Warwick Basketball history.
“A lot of coaches say that tryouts and cutting guys is the worst day in the coaching ranks. I couldn’t disagree more. That’s as bad as it gets,” Warwick head coach Chris Christensen said pointing at the Warriors’ locker room while trying to fight back tears. “When it’s over and you see some kids who will go on the play (in college) and some that aren’t, seeing it all pour out and how much it means, it’s special. I always say that the day I don’t get like this is the day I’m done. It’s a special group.”
“We fought,” Christensen said proudly of the effort his team put forth on Friday night. “I don’t think we had it going the whole time and I don’t think it was our best game by any means, but they fought. They never gave up. You see Kai playing though everything in all kinds of pain, they’re just a tough group. We talked about far we’ve come in the three, four years they’ve been here…You’re outsized in every position. (Central Dauphin) has good players. They have college basketball players on the bench. That’s not normal. Things didn’t go our way. We could’ve done a better job with rebounding and things like that, but it wasn’t because of effort. It’s not because of effort. Our guys played hard.”
“The kids have been through a lot,” said Christensen of his team having to deal with all that comes while playing amidst a global pandemic. “Our guys, I’d like to believe more than other schools, found ways to get better. The hours that went in without me is probably the most impressive part,” Christensen said. “We talked in there how it’s like a college-level commitment from role players. That says a lot. They set a standard for our younger guys in terms of, ‘This is how we do things around here.’ There was adversity the whole time. Guys deciding not to play, for good reasons, other guys stepped up and fought hard all the way to the end. It’s a special group of leaders.”
“I don’t think our guys felt any significant, massive pressure on them to do that,” Christensen then stated when asked about the prospect of his group being the odds-on favorite to at least make it back to the league title game for a third straight year which ultimately did not come to pass. “We just told them that’s it one day at a time, one game at a time with the situation of everything that’s going on in the world right now. Nothing was going to be guaranteed. There were even talks there where there wasn’t going to be a league tournament. Then you’re just out to play games to see what you can do. We had our opportunities and we could’ve been there, but I’m still proud of what we’ve accomplished and what this group has accomplished over the last three years. I’ll say it here. I don’t think there’s been a more consistent team in the L-L League for three years outside of maybe Lancaster Catholic. Right now, for me, it’s not really all about this year. It’s kind of what they’ve been able to do over the last couple.”
“We just have to keep playing hard,” Christensen offered of what the next step is for those ascending the ladder inside his program now after the departure of several starting spots. “That’s our identity. When you’re second in the league defensively, second in the league in offense, good things are going to happen for you. Defense is what we can control. We expect that now. We expect guys to defend and get up in you. That’s going to continue to be the base of this. And just doing things the right way on and off the court. When you coach with that, good things are going to happen for you.”
Post Game interview with Coach Christensen
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