For any team, the goal of peaking at just the right time takes on the upmost of importance throughout the long journey of a high school basketball campaign. If you were to sit down and pick the brain of any coach regardless of the level or of sport, chances are that they would tell you that this metamorphosis ideally takes place toward the tail-end of the season. Well, if recent history is to serve as any indication, the Cocalico Eagles are simply getting an early head-start in terms of closing their 2018-19 season out with a vengeance.
Coming into their Friday night matchup at home against Solanco, the Eagles were without question playing their ball of the season yet to do. In fact, Cocalico entered the weekend while riding a four-game winning streak, including a hard-fought battle over bitter rival Ephrata on the road just 24 hours earlier on Thursday night. Not only that, but the Eagles were also winners of six of their last seven overall, proving to the rest of the Lancaster-Lebanon League that Cocalico would likely remain a force to be reckoned with heading down the final stretch of the year. To be sure, it’s been a transformation within his team that has been well-received by Eagles’ third-year head coach Seth Sigman.
“I think we’re handling adversity better,” Sigman said of the Eagles’ latest stretch. “In a basketball game, there’s going to be ups and downs. The other team is going to make shots, they’re going to score, and you’re going to turn the ball over a few times. I just think we’re handling that a little better.”
“We’re not getting so down on ourselves. We’re not letting one turnover turn into two. We’re not letting one made shot by the other team completely deflate us.”
But even while Cocalico unquestionably came into the Solanco game white-hot, Friday night was certainly not a time to rest on their laurels if wished to remain within shouting distance of Section 3 frontrunner Lampeter-Strasburg when the Eagles welcomed a hungry Golden Mules squad who was surely looking for their first signature win of the season.
Early on, it clearly took both squads some time to settle in and establish a flow and rhythm. Beset by cold shooting and an early bout with the turnover bug, both the Eagles and Golden Mules played to a scoreless tie throughout nearly half of the opening quarter. In fact, it was not until the 4:37 mark of the first before the game saw its field goal which came courtesy of a Carson Kilgore hoop inside for Solanco, giving the Golden Mules the early 3-0 advantage. From there, the Mules only continued to build upon their lead after a 3-ball dialed by sophomore guard Colesen Sheaffer, giving Solanco the 6-2 cushion just one minute later.
Yet even despite the fact that Cocalico now found themselves in an early hole, the Eagles would proceed to come roaring right back in retaliation.
Ignited by a 5-0 salvo which was capped off by a corner triple splashed in 6’2 senior guard Peyton Stetter thanks to a Trey Griffin offensive board and subsequent kickout, Cocalico had successfully rallied all the way back to gather their first lead of the night at 7-6 with 2:20 left in the opening period. And when Griffin wasn’t being active and cleaning the offensive glass, he was certainly a force in the paint that Solanco found difficult to contain as evidenced by a sweet move inside which put the Eagles up 10-6 at the 1:13 mark, forcing the Golden Mules to call a timeout and regroup with the first quarter rapidly winding down.
When the second quarter began with Cocalico holding serve by virtue of the 11-8 advantage, the game most certainly seemed up for grabs. Well, that is before Jacob Digman had a say of things of course.
To be sure, the Eagles’ 6’3 senior forward came out the second quarter gates firing on all cylinders, authoring four straight to increase the Cocalico lead to a touchdown at 15-8 throughout the first two minutes of the second stanza. However, if you thought Digman would limit his craft to just one end of the floor, you would be sadly mistaken. In fact, the Cocalico senior proceeded to set the tone on the defensive end as well by giving up his body and fearlessly taking a charge while in the midst of his offensive flurry.
Speaking of defense, Cocalico continued to keep a lid on the Solanco offensive attack throughout much of the second quarter as evidenced by the Mules first points of the second quarter not coming until the 4:31 mark following a successful 2-2 trip to the charity stripe from dynamic senior guard Dawson Kreider.
With the Solanco deficit now standing at eight following Kreider’s perfect trip to the line, the Golden Mules had a window of opportunity left open to try and seize if they wished to run into the locker room with a late momentum surge. The only problem was, Trey Griffin was there to emphatically slam that window shut.
With the game quickly approaching the three-minute mark of the second quarter, Griffin executed a gorgeous offensive move which at the time seemed harmless, putting the Eagles up by double digits at 20-10. However, that bucket would prove to be the catalyst for a late half surge in favor of Cocalico.
In fact, the Eagles’ 6’4 junior beast inside proceeded to rattle off the last nine of the half for Cocalico, putting the home-standing troops up by the commanding 27-15 cushion at the intermission.
The bad news for Solanco? Not even the halftime break did much of anything to slow down Cocalico.
Coming out of the break, Cocalico’s 6’6 junior swingman Ben Karbe was there to pick up right where his teammates had left off in the by splashing back-to-back triples to begin the second half proceedings for the Eagles, as the hosts had successfully landed the first punch of the second half.
But they didn’t stop there.
Playing with what at the time felt like all the momentum in the world, 6’4 senior forward Brady Nuneville was on the scene to collect and offensive rebound and stick-back, upping the Cocalico lead to twenty at 35-15 midway through the third quarter before a Zed Baker for Solanco take to the rack quickly quelled the Eagles’ swing.
And thanks in large part to an absolute owning of the offensive glass throughout the remainder of the third quarter, the Eagles were able to keep Solanco at bay, successfully heading into the fourth quarter with the 19-point lead following a buzzer-beater trifecta knocked down by Peyton Stetter.
With the final quarter now set to begin, it had to feel like déjà vu all over again for the guests from Quarryville as the Golden Mule contingent bore witness to a Ben Karbe 3-ball to begin the final eight minutes of the contest. But even through it all, Solanco continued to show fight the rest of the way as evidenced by a pretty reverse at the cup executed by Carson Kilgore, which was quickly followed up by a sweet turnaround jumper in the lane cashed in by 6’2 sophomore Jordan Rush, making it a 43-26 affair in favor of Cocalico with two minutes left in the final frame.
But even with time winding down, Cocalico’s Jacob Digman still found opportunity to rattle off another 4-0 rally all by his lonesome, a run which came to the delight of the Eagles’ faithful as evidenced by the roars of approval in the stands and on the bench alike.
Yet even with the outcome of the game already well-decided, Solanco got a glimpse into the future yet to come as 5’11 junior Dan Herr successfully fired in a triple for the Golden Mules’ effort in the waning stages. But in the end, the damage had already been done as Cocalico continued their scintillating stretch play, collecting their fifth straight victory and seventh of eighth overall with a Friday night defeat of Solanco, 47-30.
As mentioned, the Eagles are without question one of the hottest teams in the Lancaster-Lebanon League at this present time as evidenced by their current five-game winning streak. But even through it all, Coach Sigman knows full-well that there is a still a long and important road left for his team to recognize and conquer.
“We’re still just a little bit inconsistent with how we play,” the Eagles’ boss offered. “When we play well, we can play with anybody. When we don’t play well and are not making shots, I think we let that affect us on the defensive end of the floor. Sometimes we struggle to shake out of that funk and start playing well again.”
“Our guys compete,” said Sigman. “We’re going to compete. It’s just that sometimes when we’re not making shots, I think our defense suffers a little bit.”
On Friday night however, Cocalico continued to play like the total package they fully have the potential to be. Undoubtedly, it’s a thought that surely scares the rest of their Section 3 brethren as the season enters its stretch run.
NEXT UP: With the win on Friday night now in their back-pocket, Cocalico will prepare for their stiffest test of the season when they welcome state-ranked Lampeter-Strasburg into the friendly confines for a key Section 3 throw-down on Tuesday night. Rest assured, Sigman and company are well-aware of the challenge and opportunity that the stage presents.
“We’re hovering around making districts, not making districts right now,” Sigman said of the current state of affairs in Denver. “We’ve gone on a nice little run here, but I was telling our team tonight, ‘This is no time to look back and start feeling good about ourselves and let up.’ We have to push forward in order to achieve some our preseason goals.”
For Solanco, the Golden Mules will head back to the drawing board right away with a test against Palmyra of the Mid-Penn on Manheim Central on Saturday afternoon before jumping back into the L-L pool on Tuesday night when they welcome the Barons down to Quarryville.