Conestoga Valley Bounces Back, Breaks Losing Skid In Lockdown Effort Against Ephrata

Written by: on Saturday, January 23rd, 2021

 

At the start of every season, there are ultimately storylines that develop and take shape that seem to catch just about everyone by surprise. And truthfully, given how different the 2020-21 season figured to be on the surface alone, perhaps the emerging feel-good stories that had taken shape throughout the first few weeks of the season at both Conestoga Valley and Ephrata respectively were among the best there were to be shared amongst the entire conference. Fittingly, they just so happened to be paired together against one another for the first time this season on Friday night in Witmer.

Ironically, while the wins for the both the Buckskins and Mounts have been in short supply over the last handful of years, there have clearly been signs of life coming out of both camps. Why? Well, it’s quite possible that the reinvigoration shared by both squads could be directly linked to the injection of new blood in a figurative sense given the fact both programs are now under in the direction of first-year head coaches in Scott Gaffey in charge at Ephrata these days and Jim Shipper now manning the ship at CV.

In the case of Ephrata, there really was nowhere to go up but this season. Yes, while the Mounts had their moments at times last season, including a narrow Saturday afternoon home loss at the hands of Twin Valley, the Mounts ended up going winless in the 2019-20 campaign, an unfortunate label placed upon a team and greater community that appears on the surface to possess many of the tools at their disposal to be one amongst the upper echelon of teams competing for a section title on a perennial basis within in the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Granted, while the Mounts were still in possession of a goose egg inside the win column thus far heading into their Friday night Section Two battle with the Buckskins, Ephrata had still put together some head-turning results thus far. Case in point, holding E-Town –a team that won a state playoff game last year—to a very respectable 37-point final total on the opening night of the season. From there, the Mounts battled Lebanon to a seven-point defeat before falling a combined total of just six points to arch rivals Warwick and Cocalico in successive fashion, two schools which figure to be right in the thick of things in terms of the eventual L-L League championship chase this season.

On the other side, CV had been no slouch either.

If you want to talk about having what appears to be nearly all the community tools at your disposal, it’s not hard to see why a veteran coach like Jim Shipper eagerly pulled the trigger on taking over at Conestoga Valley. In fact, one could argue that not only should CV be in the hunt for a section title most every year when they having it truly humming like a finely-tuned machine, but quite possibly for the entire league championship as well on a consistent, perennial basis too. Sure, Shipper and his crew will have some building to do before the Buckskins get to that level, but through just a handful of games on his CV resume, the results haven’t been exactly anything to balk at. For starters, how about a narrow one-point loss at the hands of Lebanon — a game which the Cedars took the lead inside the last possible moments — before following that up with a one-point win the very night on the road at Eastern York against a Golden Knights club that made the PIAA state tournament last season. From there, CV was able to post a jaw-dropping double-digit win at York —a feat that every team in all of District 3 dreams of doing— before going back down the roller coaster hill with setbacks against Section Two foes E-Town and Warwick by a combined total of 67 points while in the midst of their existing three-game losing streak coming out of the York game.

But like all roller coasters, it’s always a wild ride paired with ups and downs that come fast and furious. Fortunately, as far as CV was concerned, Friday night proved to a night in which the Buckskins’ car was on the upward ascension.

Needless to say, with so much turnover in terms of the leadership shared between both of the two programs squaring off against one another on Friday night, it probably should’ve come as no surprise to see a veteran player end up being the calming force out of the floor. For that, enter Luke Rumbaugh into the fold.

In terms of sharpshooters, you’d be hard-pressed to find one more reliable than the Buckskins’ 6’0 senior guard who has seen his fair share of L-L battles over the last few years. Perhaps that’s why it was almost anticlimactic to see Rumbaugh take control of the game in the early going, eventually scoring the Buckskins’ first seven points of the evening to help usher CV to the 7-0 lead right out of the chute.

Without a shadow of a doubt, starting off slow was not on the list of pregame objectives listed on the whiteboard inside the Ephrata locker room. Fair enough, but the Mounts appeared to no worse for the wear despite Rumbaugh’s early start given that they quickly rallied back with their own 8-2 run over the course of the ensuing two minutes, eventually slicing the CV lead down to one at 9-8 following a triple sunk by 5’11 senior forward, Parke Haws, with just over two minutes left showing on the first quarter clock. From there, CV was able to build their lead back up to five at 13-8 following a nice spot-up jumper splashed by 5’11 senior, Kyle Thrush, just a minute later before the curtain finally fell on the opening quarter of play with the Buckskins holding serve at 15-11 despite Ephrata having poured in three triples throughout the game’s first eight minutes.

At the onset of the second quarter, the Mounts only kept on pushing. In fact, despite not being on level-footing since the game had started off at 0-0, the purple-clad Mounts ended up drawing back even at 15-15 following a pair of free throws at charity stripe courtesy of Ephrata’s Mason Hagen with 3:40 left before the halftime break.

From that point on, Conestoga Valley took off and never once thought about looking backward.

Granted, while the Bucks were the midst of their own scoring drought at that point in time, a layup in transition by way of 6’2 senior forward, Zach Fisher, gave CV their first points of the quarter one minute after Hagen’s 2-2 trip to the foul line which had knotted things back up. In totality, the Bucks were able to rattle off the final eight points of the opening half with a turnaround jumper from 6’1 junior Austin Wertz and a trademark Rumbaugh 3-ball to ultimately cap things off, as the hosts raced into the recess with the 23-15 advantage.

While Luke Rumbaugh had far and away been the best player on the court throughout the game’s opening 16 minutes, he only continued to pick up where had left off when the second half got underway as well. In fact, at the five-minute mark of the third frame, Rumbaugh was able to fly through the air while following a Buckskins’ missed shot, earning himself the hoop plus the harm as a result with his free throw added on top as his sensational three-point play made it a 27-15 CV lead with the Buckskins starting to take a stranglehold of things. On the evening, Rumbaugh went on to post a season-best 25-point outburst to lead the Buckskins’ charge with no one else who had played in the contest tallying double-digits.

Following the Rumbaugh three-point play, the Bucks were then able to double-up their guests with a kiss off the glass by, you guessed it, Luke Rumbaugh, making it a 30-15 CV lead with 2:30 left in the third. Finally, after not having scoring since the opening minutes of the second quarter, Ephrata was able to break the lid that seemed to be installed on their basket as another 2-2 trip to the line from Mason Hagen with 1:42 left in the third broke the Mounts’ ongoing 10:02 fever. Ultimately, as crazy as it may have seemed, the Mounts were still within shouting distance, especially given the way in which they had quickly erased their deficit in the opening quarter thanks to their streaky shooting from beyond the arc.

And as if to be right on cue, here came the Mounts charging off the bench and into the final quarter with a long-range triple sunk by Hagen, giving Ephrata their first field goal since the early moments of the game’s second quarter. On the night, Hagen went on the capture team-high scoring honors with 9-point night’s worth of work once all was said and done for the Mounts’ junior.

But alas, that would be all the closer the Mounts would get for the remainder of the evening.

Compounded by a Rumbaugh trifecta which had upped the CV lead to 39-22 with 5:50 left to play, the damage was far too great for Ephrata to try and overcome in the span of the last few minutes. Yet the best play of the evening might have been reserved for a gorgeous wrap-around pass in the waning minutes from Adam Yoder to Austin Wertz for the easy deuce inside as the pair’s connection made it a 41-25 CV lead with time running out. And once it did ultimately run out, the final score was emblazed in bright lights on the Rill Gymnasium scoreboards as it detailed CV’s win over Ephrata, 47-31.

As mentioned, throughout the first few games of this season, it has been a bumpy ride with some turbulence along the way for Conestoga Valley as they figure themselves out. The good news? Head man Jim Shipper is well-aware of the situation at hand.

“It’s been very difficult to be honest,” Shipper admitted of the season thus far following his team’s triumph on Friday night against Ephrata. “It was a late-September hire. We got in for some open gyms, we got shut down, we came back, got paused again, and then we started the season and got paused again,” Shipper detailed of his team’s tumultuous off-court scenarios up until this point. “To be honest, I’m still getting to know the guys. We know each other and our relationships are growing, but that player-coach trust part just isn’t there yet. It’s getting there and it’s showing itself at times, but when you have eight seniors on the roster, it takes a while to build that trust. We’re trying to get through that. They’re great kids. They’re buying in, they’re learning, but it’s naturally going to be difficult. That’s why you see the peaks and valleys, ebbs and flows with what we’re doing.”

What did they on Friday night was certainly impressive considering they had absolutely shut down Ephrata for what essentially amounted to nearly half of the contest given the Mounts’ prolonged and lengthy scoring drought. Even still, Shipper knows that despite Friday’s performance, the Buckskins’ ceiling has not been reached.

“I’d say York was our best 32 minutes,” he said assessing the Ephrata game on the spot. “I thought Lebanon was a really good 32 for being an opening night game. This was probably third, maybe second, but I would say maybe third as far as execution, intensity and things.”

Lastly, for being a new chef in the kitchen, all the ingredients seem to be there for Shipper and his staff to turn the Buckskins’ ship around and pointed in the right direction not just for the short-term, but the long-term as well.

“Everyone wants to win,” the first-year CV coach of the task at hand on both the micro and the macro. “I think sometimes we focus so much on, ‘They have to learn to win. They have to learn to win.’ That is true to a degree, but I also think it’s just the comfort level of playing with a lead and playing down the stretch. If you want to call that learning to win you can all it that, but I think it more just had to do with confidence and just knowing the system.”

 

NEXT UP: Ironically, for such a truncated season, the Buckskins will be back on the sidelines for a week, not returning to the floor until next Friday night when they host the E-Town Bears in a rematch that likely will have CV licking their chops given the manner in which the Bears dropped the hammer on the Buckskins the first time around given their 56-33 takedown back on January 14th.

For Ephrata, it will be back to the drawing board in search of their first victory in two seasons. Next up on the Mounts’ agenda is a return home against Lebanon on Tuesday night before venturing off to Lititz to complete the season series against Warwick next Friday night. And while it remains to be seen as to whether or not Ephrata will sneak into the win column at all this year, Mounts’ fans should rest easy knowing that their program appears to be in good, long-term hands with Scott Gaffey, an up-and-comer in the Central PA coaching ranks, who’s love and dedication to the game of basketball will help breathe fresh air into a Mounts’ regime that has the potential to be a relatively quick turnaround provided that the cement be poured and the foundation be set in the days, months and years ahead.

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