When Lancaster Country Day was welcomed into the Lancaster-Lebanon League with full-time membership status this season, chances are that nearly everyone around the league was particularly curious to see how the Cougars would measure up in their first season playing against some of the league’s heavyweights that have routinely established themselves as some of central Pennsylvania’s greatest powerhouses on a nightly basis. However, if the first half of the season is to serve as a glimpse into the future yet to come, perhaps it’s time for the L-L League to start thinking about offering a seat to a new member at the head table.
Now sure, while Country Day may have largely been the great unknown heading into the year considering their somewhat limited interaction against fellow L-L League members in years previous, the Cougars weren’t exactly flying under the radar to those that had keenly been paying attention. Just last year alone, the Cougars made it all the way the District 3-1A championship game. And with a handful of returning starters returning from last year’s successful team, LCD appeared poised to rise up and strike quite a few teams in their new L-L Section 5 surroundings this season as evidenced by their 7-3 overall mark heading into a nonleague weekend tilt against Tulpehocken.
But perhaps more than anything, Saturday afternoon’s trip to Bernville provided the Cougars with a much-needed opportunity to get the bitter taste of an 81-64 defeat at the hands of Lancaster Mennonite in their last showing out of their mouths once and for all. And while it may have taken the Cougars a little while to get going, bounce back they would.
At the start of the contest, it quickly became apparent that both squads would take their time in feeling the opposition out first. Once both teams finally got settled into a rhythm and a groove, it proved to be the home-standing Trojans who would put their initial stamp on the game with an early trifecta knocked down by 6’1 senior guard Austin Miller which gave Tulpehocken the 3-0 lead with two minutes having gone by.
Luckily for Lancaster Country Day, their gritty senior point guard was there to take over and steer the ship from there.
With his team already succumbing to an early bout of adversity, Andrew Willams proceeded to answer the initial challenge offered by Tulpehocken by firing back with four straight to aid the Cougars’ effort, handing the lead over to Country Day for the first time on Saturday with three minutes still left to play in the first. And if Williams wasn’t the one leading pack, senior forward Luke Walling certainly had no issues with taking the reigns as back-to-back steals and finshes by way of Walling helped put the exclamation mark on an 8-0 Country Day flurry with the first quarter quickly approaching its conclusion.
However, even despite the late surge in momentum that Lancaster Country Day had recently discovered, the Trojans were able to steal it right back from their guests in the quarter’s waning minutes as a 5-0 Tulpehocken rally capped off the first quarter scoring, forcing things into an 8-8 stalemate after the opening eight minutes.
In many ways, the opening moments of the second quarter on Saturday appeared very much like its first quarter predecessor as evidenced by the Trojans taking command of the early lead after a bucket inside from 6’2 Riley Kiebach which gave Tuplehocken the 10-8 lead cushion with two minutes having expired off the second quarter clock. But as he had been able to do in the opening minutes of the first quarter, Andrew Williams helped power his team though the choppy waters by retaliating with a 5-0 run all by his lonesome, putting the Cougars back in front 13-10 with 4:30 left in the first half.
Yet again however, Lancaster Country Day continued to be stymied by the elusive riddle of putting Tulpehocken away for good in the first half as an old-fashioned three-point play put together by 6’2 junior Josh Nielsen made things all square once again at 13-13 at the 2:10 mark of the first half. From there, the Trojans would go on into the intermission with the lead, albeit by the slimmest of margins at 16-15 following a late half triple knocked down by 5’8 junior guard Chandler Mellen.
But even for all the struggles that Tuplehocken had put Country Day through in the opening sixteen minutes, the Cougars were not all that far off.
“Execution,” first-year Lancaster Country Day head coach Jon Shultz said of the message delivered to his troops in the halftime locker room. “It felt like we held them to 16 points, but we only scored 15. Defensively we did a nice job, but we were just sloppy.”
“We gave away what felt like four or five possessions where we got a rebound and just threw it away,” Shultz added in regards to the events of the first half. “We have a real big week next week and we can’t go into next week giving away those kinds of possessions.”
Next week aside, there was still plenty of important business left to attend to as the second half on Saturday afternoon provided the Cougars with another opportunity to get back on track and return home to Lancaster County with a win for their troubles.
Almost immediately, it was evident that one Cougar team had gone into the locker room before reappearing as a completely different, yet more-polished version of themselves.
Right out of the gates, senior guard Will Lisk came out firing for the Cougars by sinking a corner trey right in front of the Country Day bench on LCD’s second offensive trip of the half. From there, Lisk continued to have the hot hand for the Cougars by knocking down another spot up jumper, this one giving the lead back to Country Day after an earlier triple dialed up by Tulpehocken’s Austin Miller which had things all square at 18-18.
The only thing was, Lisk wasn’t about to let his foot off the accelerator now.
In fact, after yet another corner trey buried by Lisk, the Cougars’ lead had swelled to eight at 26-18, forcing Tulpehocken to burn a timeout and regroup with 2:55 left in the third.
That’s when the Cougars began to feast.
Clearly inspired by recent shooting prowess from the field, Country Day immediately turned up the dial defensively, slapping on the full-court press in order to get some easy steals and finishes. Wouldn’t you know it, the experiment worked like a charm.
Ignited two instantaneous thefts and lay-ins by sophomore forward Lance Lennon, the Cougars’ lead suddenly ballooned to a dozen at 30-18 in a matter of just 22 seconds worth of game time. Finally, while the midst of the current Country Day onslaught, the Trojans were able quell some of the Cougars’ newfound momentum as a Josh Nielsen take to the rack just before the third quarter horn cut the Country Day lead down to nine at 30-21 with the final quarter all set to begin.
But just as the first three quarters had already demonstrated to those in attendance, the Trojans would simply refuse to go away without a fight. And a fight is exactly what Country Day would receive down the homeward mile.
In fact, the Cougars lead of nine which they had carried with them into the fourth was quickly sliced down to six following an early 3-ball cashed in by Josh Nielsen, good for 3 of his team-high 15 points on the afternoon. But ironically, as he himself had already proven throughout the first three quarters, Andrew Williams would refuse to go away without a fight in his own right as well.
With his team teetering delicately on the razor’s edge with time starting to tick down, Williams seemingly took matters into his hands with a strong take to the rack, scoring the hoop plus the harm to push the Country Day lead back up to double digits at 34-24 with 6:50 left to play. When he wasn’t doing the scoring himself, something he did quite masterfully as evidenced by his game-high 18-point effort on the day, Williams had no issues displaying his unselfish play by getting others involved which he did by firing off a beautiful dime to Luke Walling standing underneath the tin before the LCD senior big man proceeded to rise up to finish with ease, keeping the Cougars’ lead at a ten point cushion at 36-26 with 3:20 left to play.
Yet as you can probably already imagine, Country Day wasn’t quite out of the woods just yet.
Following the nifty Williams to Walling connection, Josh Pierson proceeded to come right down the floor and fire in yet another trifecta, this time narrowing the LCD lead back down to seven on the Trojans’ ensuing offensive trip. But just he had all game long, Andrew Williams continued to be a handful for which Tulpehocken would have no good answer for, as a timely steal and finish by Williams effectively put the capper on things with Lancaster Country Day proceeding to hold off Tulpehocken the rest of the way, earning themselves a 46-33 triumph.
As mentioned, this school year is a historic one for Lancaster Country Day School in this their first go-around in the Lancaster-Lebanon League. And as is to be expected, the initial journey has already seen its fair share of bumps in the road from time to time while venturing into unfamiliar territory.
“We’re pretty happy with what we’ve been doing,” said Coach Shultz summing up the season thus far. “As a team, we’ve been having some ups and downs. We actually had some conversations with some kids and the kids had a team meeting. They want to take a lot of responsibility,” the Cougars’ head man added of his squad. “We have eight seniors. They really want to make this meaningful.”
“They were seeing some things on the court and in practice that we weren’t happy with,” Shultz said as to what prompted the team meeting. “Today, I thought we played a lot more as a team. We had a lot of turnovers today, but it felt like a lot of them were when we were trying to be unselfish which is something we can build on because they were looking for each other,” Shultz stated. “I’m glad they responded to the things we were talking about.”
NEXT UP: As Coach Shlutz eluded to in the postgame on Saturday afternoon, the road ahead doesn’t exactly get any easier for the Cougars as Lancaster Country Day finds themselves staring down the barrel of back-to-back road trips during the week to Lebanon Catholic and Columbia respectively before finishing the week out with another Saturday contest, this time at home against West Shore Christian. But through it all, it’s clear that the Cougars contain some of those extra special elements that will most certainly make for them being a tough out in terms of a league playoff spot as the season begins to truly heat up.
“I would say our ability to adjust,” Shlutz said in reference to what has been a pleasant characteristic he has learned about his team so far this season. “We haven’t shot the ball particularly well this year. Kids love to shoot today, but these kids have made a renewed effort on, ‘Let’s figure out what’s working.’ We had some ideas and they bought in full force. We’re looking to pound the ball inside and keep attacking the basket, so I appreciate them adjusting on the fly.”
“They’re bright kids and they’re able to do that kind of stuff,” the Cougars’ new boss went on to say. “Their willingness to do that has been a great thing to work with.”