Columbia Earns Sweet Reward As Crimson Tide Weathers The Storm, Vanquishes Lancaster Catholic To Advance To Hershey’s Giant Center For District 3-3A Title Game Next Saturday Afternoon
Written by: Andy Herr on Friday, February 25th, 2022
For all the many rivalries housed within the Lancaster-Lebanon League, there are simply some that rise above all others. You know, those special few series’ that are truly generational? Well, try as they might in terms of splitting both Columbia and Lancaster Catholic up from another over the last couple of years by putting the Crimson Tide and Crusaders in different divisions within the conference, both schools have proved that not even a change in scenery can deter this grudge match from marching onward on a yearly basis even if it may not count towards the league standings officially. In fact, just look at last season for proof of that.
If there was one matchup that L-L boys’ basketball fans had been clamoring for throughout the course of last season, albeit with only a select few being rewarded with the opportunity to go to games period, it was most certainly Columbia and Lancaster Catholic renewing their rivalry. Sure enough, the masses got what they had hoped for and then some 364 days ago considering that both sides waged a war for the ages in the opening round of the league tournament last season that saw Lancaster Catholic emerge triumphant after a four-overtime classic that ended with the Crusaders snatching the hard-fought 77-70 victory to their credit.
However, for a matchup that was so irrefutably transcendent, it seemed like a crime to have that be the only time these two sides would square off against one another. Thankfully, as fate would have it, they would encounter each other in the center of the ring roughly two weeks later when they met for an even bigger fish to try and capture – the District 3-3A title.
In that affair, while its predecessor would continue for what would amount to an extra two quarters of play once the final gun had fired, this contest would end in regulation. That said, it wasn’t as if the latest renewal of the series was one lacking for drama either given that the Crusaders were able to prevail by only a five-point margin, 52-47, giving the Crusaders their second straight District 3-3A title, but more importantly, the only ticket into the PIAA dance with last year’s condensed statewide bracket being awarded to district champions only given the ongoing pandemic.
Ironically though, for a series last season that saw the Crimson Tide come out on the short end of the stick, Columbia was able to exact some measure of revenge this year in the regular season once they returned to the scene of the crime.
You see, back on the final day of January, Columbia, the clear and present top dog in L-L Section Five this season, was able to roll into Lancaster Catholic and come away with a fairly resounding 61-44 triumph over their arch nemesis to the east in their lone preordained matchup, all en route to what would amount in a #1-seed in the District 3-3A field this season once the dust had settled.
And while this year’s Lancaster Catholic squad may not have had the resume of its most recent edition – at least up until this point that is – the opportunity remains there for the Crusaders to turn the tide back in their favor by well, turning the Tide away at the alter once again this season in a postseason format quite frankly. Of course, that is to say that the spoils of a long and successful jaunt throughout the regular season that culminates in a top-seed in the District 3 tournament means that home court advantage is in play until the final round held at Hershey’s palatial Giant Center. Needless to say, as L-L fans are keenly aware, there is arguably no greater homecourt advantage found anywhere within the league, much less the mid-state itself, than that of being up on “The Hill” which typically morphs into a house of horrors for any opposition that happens to walk in its doors. Case in point, look to the simple fact that aside from Executive Education, one of the top squads in all the state of Pennsylvania, the Crimson Tide have been perfect on their cramped home floor this season. Of course, when you add in the fact that Lancaster Catholic was coming to the eastern banks of the Susquehanna along with the realization this would be the last time Columbia could possibly be playing in front of its adorning fans this season, the atmosphere inside the four walls figured to be absolutely bonkers on Thursday night for the semifinal round matchup between Catholic and Columbia with the winner having the opportunity to strut its stuff on the Giant Center floor in the district title game next Saturday afternoon.
And just like the two games that were contained within the postseason format between these two proud programs one year ago, this matchup too would live up to all the hype and then some.
As was to be expected while playing in front of their shall we say, feverish home crowd, Columbia figured to get out the starting gates extremely strong on Thursday night. Sure enough, following Kerry “Hov” Glover’s first four points of the evening that came within the span of the opening 1:13 of the contest, the Crimson Tide’s 6’1 senior point guard had successfully helped his troops race out to a 4-0 advantage over their counterparts in the early going.
To their credit though, the Crusaders would remain undaunted.
For that, look no further than Lancaster Catholic’s Jack Engle as the Crusaders’ 5’11 senior point guard proceeded to retaliate right back by scoring the next four points in quick succession for the purple-clad visitors, the last pair of which came via a silky smooth step-back jumper in the lane, all while allowing Catholic to grab their first lead of the evening, 6-4, roughly three minutes later. And while Columbia’s J’Von Collazo would answer right back with a four-point rebuttal of his own doing immediately following the Engle-led salvo, the Crusaders were able to withstand the Crimson Tide advance by marching into the second frame with ownership of the 10-8 advantage following a frantic eight minutes of play.
Yet for as well as Lancaster Catholic had performed and knocked the hosts back on their heels somewhat following an impressive first quarter performance, the Crusaders would land an absolute haymaker in the early portion of the second quarter.
There, all while playing with the slim cushion at that point in time, Lancaster Catholic’s Raaker Smith took his turn at shoveling the Crimson Tide into an even further hole right from the onset of the period as the 5’9 senior guard’s trifecta in the corner directly in front of the Columbia student section propelled Catholic out to the 13-8 lead just mere moments into the frame. From there, the Crusaders’ advantage would balloon up to a seven-point threshold following a 5-0 personal flurry contributed by way of 5’11 senior guard, Connor Ott, making it a somewhat surprising 18-11 Lancaster Catholic lead with six minutes still left to play before the intermission.
Suffice to say, Columbia could ill-afford to surrender any further ground to a Lancaster Catholic unit that has not only lived in such arduous situations over the last handful of years, they’ve quite frankly thrived while being placed within such a predicament.
Thankfully, as far as the Crimson Tide supporters were most certainly concerned, J’Von Collazo sprang into action just when his team — and his town — needed him most.
Despite the fact that Columbia had surrendered the touchdown-sized advantage to Catholic just inside the second quarter’s infancy, the Crimson Tide’s 6’1 senior wing combatted the Crusaders’ volley with a four-point swing of his own, capping things off with a layup in transition, all while ushering Columbia back onto level ground at 18-18 before a trademark Robert Footman pullup jumper inside the arc vaulted the Tide back into the driver’s seat at 22-21 with two minutes still left to go in the opening half.
As it turned out though, Lancaster Catholic had no desires whatsoever in yielding any further ground to their hosts as the second quarter trudged along. No, not when you factor in Thaddeus Lee’s jumper just seconds before the buzzer sounded, a bucket sunk by the Crusaders’ impressive 6’5 sophomore wing which sent both squads into their respective dressing rooms with a 23-23 stalemate at hand following the initial 16 minutes of play.
In the third quarter however, it seemed as if Columbia had finally found their rhythm and groove.
Of course, that’s certainly easy to believe once the Crimson Tide’s long and rangy zone rounded into form and forced Lancaster Catholic into a litany of turnovers, if not countless deflections at seemingly every turn. And with the Crusaders’ offense somewhat stalled given their current handicaps in lieu of the Crimson Tide defensive effort put forth against them, the Tide was ready and willing to pounce. For that, look to Hov Glover’s 3-ball and subsequent dime the next trip down the floor to a streaking Collazo who finished at the cup with ease, a key exchange which prompted Catholic to burn a timeout to try and stem the tide in face of the current onslaught given the 34-25 difference with 3:54 left to go in the third.
To their credit though, Lancaster Catholic would continue to remain a thorn for which Columbia simply struggled to shake off. Case in point, a critical trey splashed down on the Crusaders’ ensuing offensive trip following the stoppage thanks to the handiwork of 5’9 senior guard, Nahjeir “Bam” Aikens, a pivotal swing which helped the guests close the deficit back down to a half dozen over the final three minutes and change, 35-29, with the final quarter set to begin in earnest.
Yet in an eerily similar manner as that seemed to mirror the period which had just since expired, the early portions of the fourth quarter would also follow much of the same narrative as well.
Sure enough, the Tide appeared to be well on their way to their second consecutive District 3 title game with 5:10 left to play on Thursday night seeing as how a tough-as-nails follow from point-blank range courtesy of 5’10 sophomore guard, Artie Poindexter, gave Columbia the 38-30 cushion with time starting to melt away on the Crusaders.
That said, making it to consecutive district title bouts is something all too familiar for Lancaster Catholic. In fact, they were on the prowl with the intent of making it a third straight trip for such an occasion in their own right on Thursday night.
With that in mind, it seemed almost expected that the Crusaders would rebuke the notion of Columbia simply running away and hiding the rest of the night. So, in the most apropos way possible, Lancaster Catholic finally made their move. For that, the guests were able to trim the deficit down to four following a stick-back by the towering Thaddeus Lee, a deuce which made it a 38-34 affair with 3:10 left to play. Shortly thereafter, the Crimson Tide’s collective palms figured to be extremely sweaty once Catholic’s Connor Ott’s triple in front of the Crusaders’ bench tickled the twine, slicing Columbia’s lead down to the slimmest of margins, 38-37, just 40 seconds later. And while Columbia would fire up an inauspicious 3-ball their next trip down the floor which resulted in a Lancaster Catholic defensive rebound, the Crusaders opted to run the delay game with the hopes of heading home on Route 30 with a walk-off style triumph. However, it was not to be as the Crusaders’ lengthy possession ended with an ill-timed misstep along the baseline, giving the ball right back to the Crimson Tide with opportunity to perhaps salt this one away for good following the Catholic turnover.
Yet again though, Columbia continued to make it difficult on themselves in terms of slamming the door for good as the Tide proceeded to go just 1-4 from the charity stripe within the span of 0.8 seconds following the Catholic turnover that came coupled with a defensive foul on a block-out as well, yet again forcing the Tide to teeter dangerously on the razor’s edge.
Thankfully though, it’s usually your seniors who help push you over the top when you need it most.
In all the Lancaster-Lebanon League, there is arguably no other player within the conference who has gone through his share of battles over the last four seasons more than that of Columbia’s Hov Glover. And while his key play(s) down the stretch of Thursday’s district semifinal round may not have been the most flashy or glamorous, there were most assuredly just as valuable.
There, with his team truly nursing a two-point lead with just seconds remaining and having to play defense following their recent 25% foul shooting display, Glover came away with the Tide’s biggest defensive play of the year when he successfully took a swipe at the ball from behind the dribbler’s back, sending the ball careening out into the midst of the fray. Then, after having secured the orange pill from the middle of the fracas, Glover was sent to the foul line with his own opportunity to make amends for his squad’s most recent nervous bout from the stripe. And with the cool moxie that only a four-year senior starter can seem to provide, Glover proceeded to knock down the offering, making it a 41-37 Crimson Tide cushion with just 23.2 left to go.
In that same vein though, Lancaster Catholic’s seniors surely had no desires whatsoever in being the ones who would end the Crusaders’ impressive string of consecutive District 3 championship game appearances. Sure enough, following Bam Aikens’ take to the cup with 10.3 seconds remaining which cut the Columbia lead down to just a pair at 41-39, the Crimson Tide would yet again be tasked with punctuating this one by way of late-game foul shooting.
And yet again, Columbia found themselves with a senior to thank as J’Von Collazo’s 2-2 trip to the line with 4.2 left to go – the most important additions to his game-high 15-point effort — helped put the proverbial nail in the coffin even despite Catholic’s last ditch bucket within the final seconds as Columbia was finally able to wipe the sweat beads away from their brows following the final buzzer as the Crimson Tide officially made good their on their preseason mission of returning to the District 3-3A title game following their gritty 43-41 victory over Lancaster Catholic late Thursday night in the semifinal round.
Truthfully, while the Crimson Tide masses may have celebrated following their 17-point triumph over Lancaster Catholic earlier in the season, head coach Kerry Glover knew full well that his squad would likely face those same Crusaders again come the postseason. Sure enough, his prophecy turned true.
“I told my guys as soon as the game ended, ‘Great job, but it’s over. We will see (Lancaster Catholic) again.’ I knew we were going to see them again at some point,” Glover explained regarding his message to the team in the postgame locker room at Lancaster Catholic late last month. “Catholic is very well-coached. They stick to their stuff and it’s hard to get them rattled,” Glover added. “Even this year when they may not have any of the big-name guys that they may have had, especially the last six years since I’ve been here, one to two guys who can give you 15 to 20 (points) any given night,” he said with a laugh that signified his appreciation for the impressive Crusaders’ teams he’s faced in his Columbia tenure. “That hasn’t been the case this year, but they’re so well-coached. I have so much respect for their staff. Coach Joe (Klazas) is a veteran and he knows what he’s doing. I hate to say they never miss a beat because this year wasn’t like the years in the past, but playoff basketball? I didn’t see them missing a beat in the playoffs.”
And as far as this win in particular? Well, you can best believe that all of Columbia knew of the ramifications that came following Thursday night’s win.
“I just told my guys in the locker room, ‘You guys earned a trip to Chocolate World,’” Glover remarked of the Crimson Tide’s first visit to the palatial grounds of the Giant Center for the first time since 2015, ironically the first trip since now Manheim Township head coach Matt Johns was tasked with overseeing the Crimson Tide program. “We’re gonna have some fun. We’re gonna be prepared, but we’re gonna have some fun,” he acknowledged of next Saturday’s trip to Hershey. “The cliché of ‘business trip’ is kinda accurate, but it’s more than that for us. It’s been a long time to get this program back to this point. I’m just really excited.”
NEXT UP: As mentioned, Columbia now sets their sights on next Saturday’s District 3-3A final opposite of York Catholic, a Fighting Irish squad that prevailed past Tulpehocken in a 61-58 decision on Thursday night as well. Speaking of which, this matchup between Columbia and York Catholic also took place in January as well. In that affair, the Crimson Tide left little to no doubt following a decisive 85-56 final count back in early January this year. But as he predicted with their most recent parochial school adversary now put behind them, the Columbia head man had another hypothesis to make as well.
“Yeah. Oh yeah,” Glover said without hesitation as to whether or not he anticipated this being a different and more eager York Catholic outfit that his team will find waiting for them in Hershey in just eight days. “Me and Coach Dustin (Boeckel) have been friends for a while and he’ll have his guys ready, but I’m gonna have my guys ready as well,” he added. “I expect (York Catholic) to be better, but we got some things to fine-tune on our end as well.”
For the Lancaster Catholic perspective, while the Crusaders’ hopes of hoisting another District 3 trophy this year were dashed at the hands of the Crimson Tide, all is not lost for the purple and gold. And yes, while Columbia had earned the right to move on to next Saturday’s championship fight, Lancaster Catholic remains alive and kicking when it comes to the state playoffs too considering the Crusaders will make the trip up PA Route 501 on Monday night to Berks County where they will square off against Tulpehocken for the third and final spot in the PIAA-3A playoff field in the absolute epitome of a “do or die” affair.
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