Columbia Overcomes Sluggish Start, Shoots Past Pequea Valley As Crimson Tide Advance To Semifinal Round Of District 3-3A Playoffs

Written by: on Wednesday, March 3rd, 2021

 

Losing is difficult. Losing a game in overtime is agonizing. Losing against a rival is painful. Losing in the playoffs is excruciating. Now, try and imagine if you had to wrap up all of those aspects into one. Suffice to say, that’s a hard chore to try and put just one singular word on that. Well, if you’re a member of the Columbia Crimson Tide, that’s exactly the situation you found yourself in at this time just one week ago.

Last Monday night, Columbia and Lancaster Catholic shared in the honors of raising the curtain on the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs. To put it mildly, the latest chapter of the storied rivalry between the Crimson Tide and Crusaders delivered yet again, this time seeing Lancaster Catholic ultimately prevail –needing four overtime periods in order to do so no less—in putting the Tide away in a 77-70 final decision. Understandably, such a hard-fought playoff loss against arguably your school’s biggest rival can linger just a little bit longer than normal given all the additional factors that have already been detailed. Perhaps that indeed remained the case when Columbia traveled to Manheim Central on Friday night for a late schedule addition against the white-hot Barons. And while the Tide would rally back to make Central sweat it out down the stretch, the Tide left Manheim on the short-end of a 78-74 stick in that game as well.

However, if Columbia found themselves in some sort of mental funk a week after their loss against Catholic in the opening round of the league playoffs, the margin of error was now nonexistent given that Tuesday night marked the start of the 2020-21 District 3 playoffs. And unless you’ve been living under some sort of rock for the last handful of weeks, you know by now that District 3 will only send their respective champions in 1A-6A ranks onto the state tournament, meaning no room at the inn for even silver medalists this season. That’s right. It’s literally “Win or Go Home.” That said, Columbia likely had to come into the night feeling like the team’s mental doctor had prepared them with the perfect script to right their wrongs considered they drew Section Five playmate Pequea Valley in the opening round, a Braves team that Tide beat by a combined total of 52 points in both meetings earlier in the season against PV. Speaking of the Braves, Tuesday night high atop The Hill in Columbia marked the biggest Pequea Valley basketball game in a decade considering that it marked the program’s first trip to postseason competition since the 2009-10 season.

And while it certainly wasn’t nearly as easy as the first two contests, the same common thread ultimately did end up appearing once again on Tuesday night in the opening round of district play. That of course being that not only was Columbia the start pupil of the Section Five class this season, but it was equally impossible to ignore that the Crimson Tide is arguably at the top of the 3A field in all of District 3 as well.

In the early going, Columbia took the fight to the Pequea Valley. Right from jump, it was evident that whether by design, or just taking what the Braves’ defense was giving them, Columbia decided to hoist several shots from beyond the arc early and often against Pequea Valley. In short, the plan appeared to work initially given Brady Smith’s triple near the midway mark of the opening quarter, a bucket which gave the Tide a 10-3 lead. However, much to the Tide’s chagrin, the 3-ball was equally as lethal for the visitors from Kinzers early on as well. In fact, while sparked by an earlier trey that was sunk by junior guard, Nevin Stoltzfus, Pequea Valley was able to replicate some of Stoltzfus’ exploits later on as a pair of treys cashed in by way of the senior duo of Devon Colyer and Tony Lazar respectively had suddenly trimmed the Columbia lead down to a much more modest three-point gap at 12-9 with just over two minutes left to go in the opening frame. From there, the Tide was able to build their existing cushion up just ever so slightly as Columbia took the 14-10 lead with them into the second quarter.

In the second quarter, Columbia kept trying to dial long distance. However, while they kept trying, a clear majority of the Crimson Tide calls went unanswered, seeing as how Columbia simply couldn’t get into any sort of offensive rhythm with their outside game clearly stalled at a standstill. But just when they needed it, Ryan Hinkle was able to quench the Tide’s thirst with a much-needed trifecta which upped the host’s lead back to five at 17-12. Shortly thereafter, the Tide opted for the much traditional approach—the inside game—as a sweet two-man exchange between senior Michael Poole to freshman Brelon Miller put the Tide in front by a half dozen, 21-15, with 2:10 left to go before the halftime break.

Ironically, here the long-ball again. And not in favor of the home troops.

With the Tide threating to head into the intermission –and quite possibly the rest of the game—with all the momentum from there on out, Pequea Valley needed to stop the bleeding. Luckily for them, they found their cut man in the form of Nevin Stoltzfus as the Braves’ junior guard poured in a timely triple to cut the Crimson Tide lead in half, 21-18, just 40 seconds after the Miller bucket for Columbia. And once the dust had finally settled on the opening 16 minutes of play, Columbia found themselves locked in a battle they likely didn’t expect given how the two previous meetings had transpired. But here they were, trying to protect a 25-20 lead once the second half began.

Once the third quarter began though, Columbia came out on fire.

Ignited by a Brady Smith bucket and Hov Glover floater in the lane to start things off, the Crimson Tide looked up and saw themselves in possession of the 29-20 advantage. From there, Columbia was able to build the difference up to a dozen following Michael Poole’s fantastic three-point play, making it a 32-20 Crimson Tide lead with those in attendance likely feeling as though their squad had vanquished Pequea Valley’s best shot earlier in the first half and could now coast home free without any sort of additional threat.

Eh, not exactly.

Yes, while Columbia was enjoying their largest lead of the game at that point in time, Pequea Valley simply had no quit in them. First, while it may have seemed rather tame at the time, a Nevin Stoltzfus take to the cup just past the halfway mark of the third stanza cut the Crimson Tide lead down to six at 32-26. Then, while clearly having the Tide back on their collective heels, a magnificent Tony Lazar tip-in had suddenly and dramatically sliced the Braves’ deficit down to just a pair at 32-30 with three minutes left to go in the period.

Thankfully, as far as the hometown group was concerned, a pair of much-needed pullup jumpers—sunk by Robert Footman and Carter Houck respectively—then pushed Pequea Valley away somewhat at 36-31 two minutes later. And while a Footman trey would eventually put the Tide up by eight at 39-31, a cold-blooded Devon Colyer step-back triple at the third quarter horn made it a 39-34 ballgame in favor of Columbia as the game steamrolled into its final eight minutes.

At the start of the fourth quarter, those attendance were likely wondering as to whether or not Columbia would either shoot themselves in the second round of playoffs on Thursday night, or perhaps shoot themselves out of the postseason entirely given how frigid the Tide seemed to be at that point in time when it came to their hot and cold shooting from beyond the arc at that point in time. Well, after just a few possessions once inside the final stanza, it became abundantly clear that it would be the latter and not the former.

Almost within the blink of an eye, the Tide was able to see their lead escalate up to a nine-point margin following back-to-back treys splashed in by Footman and Houck respectively, prompting Pequea Valley to call a timeout and regroup while being down 45-34 with 6:29 left to play. From there, Columbia remained white-hot as another 3-ball –this one knocked down by 6’0 senior forward, Ryan Hinkle—exacerbated the Braves’ deficit before a pullup jumper sunk by the game’s high scorer —Columbia’s Robert Footman who finished the evening with a 16-point performance—put Columbia up by an almost insurmountable 55-41 lead with just 2:30 remaining in the contest. And while Cole McEvoy would have a nice take to the cup for Pequea Valley in the waning stages Tuesday night, the damage already inflicted was far too great for the Braves to ultimately overcome as Columbia found themselves marching onto the second round of the District 3-3A playoffs where the Crimson Tide will welcome York Catholic into town on Thursday night for a semifinal matchup.

Typically, when a team has its season abruptly end such as Pequea Valley’s did on Tuesday night, it’s almost expected that the losing team takes a longer time than normal before emerging from their locker room one final time. And yes, while the Braves were likely sharing in their own intimate moments given that this was the last time the 2020-21 team would be together, Columbia also took a long time in terms of addressing the troops on Tuesday night as well. So much so in fact that the Crimson Tide came out of their respective locker room quite a few minutes after Pequea Valley.

“We got to stick to the script,” Columbia head coach Kerry Glover said afterwards of what he told his squad. “We talked about just staying the path honestly. That’s all we talked about. Staying the path. Offense wasn’t the issue tonight. We just have to put together stops consistently and not have basket exchanges. We have to make sure we play better in all areas on Thursday,” Glover added candidly.

“We had (Pequea Valley) back against the ropes a couple times and we let them out. We had it at seven and then we’d give up an offensive rebound and wide-open three. In the third quarter, we get (the lead) out to 13 or 14 points and its looking like we’re getting ready to blow the top off of it and then we just have a couple let downs.”

“For us, it went back to the defensive end,” said Glover in terms of how his team ultimately found their mojo and ended up putting Pequea Valley away once and for all. “We were walking the ball up the court and we didn’t play at our normal tempo that we like to play at. If we get stops, we can do that. Everything was flat-footed and just didn’t have that rhythm.”

In some ways, perhaps Columbia’s sluggish performance could be directly tied to the fact their opening round game came against a team that the Tide rolled by 52 combined points in the previous matchups this season.

“I hate it. I hate it,” Columbia’s head coach said in regard to drawing a Section Five foe right out of the box to start the postseason. “We talked with the guys the last couple days after looking at the power ratings where (Pequea Valley) has enough separation and they’ll be the seventh seed. It was that same way for Mennonite last year. I hate playing the same team three times in one season. A section opponent, we understand that’s twice in the season, but three times is tough. Kids can get lackadaisical and not have that same fire and same passion until you have a four-point game late and you get your backs against the wall and you’re like, ‘Alright. We gotta play.’” Glover reiterated.

Equally important though might be to acknowledge the proverbial elephant in the room: The fact that Columbia may still be feeling the gut-punch effects of coming oh so close at knocking off Lancaster Catholic just eight days prior on the Crusaders’ home court after one of the most exciting games in L-L tournament history.

“I think so,” Glover said when asked if he felt like his team had put the Catholic game behind them. “That’s the first thing we told (his players). ‘Hey, the game is over. Let’s move on. Move on to the next game.’ Not thinking about Catholic, I just think it’s that point in the season where legs get dead and we need to get rejuvenated. I might have these guys come in tomorrow and play dodge ball for a little bit to where they need some fun. Let them have 15-20 minutes of some down time and just relax.”

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