Crusaders Return To Gold Standard As Kamwanga’s Last-Second Shot Vaults Lancaster Catholic Past Bishop McDevitt In District 3-4A Title Game

Written by: on Saturday, February 29th, 2020


 Mark Palczewski Photo.

Perhaps the one aspect of a bracket-format playoff scenario that always seems to endear itself to the masses is the “win and go home” facet to it all. Certainly, in just a one game situation and no “best of” series, there’s no reason to think that anything that can’t, nor won’t happen. For it is there that Cinderella often arrives, crashing the party by springing an unforeseen upset or two along the way that inevitably throws the entire bracket all out of whack. But not all the brackets end up looking like that. In fact, it just so happened that the District 3-4A boys’ field went the way of chalk.

Prior to the start of the District 3 playoffs which got underway last week, most would have felt quite comfortable placing their bets in seeing a Lancaster Catholic vs Bishop McDevitt championship game at the Giant Center on February 27th come to fruition. Sure enough, the masses got exactly what they had been expecting in all-Crusader final when these two private school powers from the Lancaster-Lebanon League and Mid-Penn Conference met up with one another in Hershey late Thursday night.

For Bishop McDevitt, this season has once again steadily morphed itself into yet another proud season for the mighty Crusaders. To be sure, it certainly speaks to the dominance of your program to consider that Bishop McDevitt came into the evening with a 22-4 overall record with only a few notable slipups this season coming at the hands of L-L Champion Cedar Crest, Susquehanna Township, along with Mid-Penn champ, Central Dauphin, respectively. That said, for their season-long resume, the Crusaders were bestowed with the #2 seed in the 4A field and used their homecourt advantage marvelously in dispatching Berks Catholic and ELCO in their first two games prior to arriving at Giant Center for the title fight.

On the other bench, Lancaster Catholic too began this season with a relatively high ceiling to try and reach. In fact, it truly got started way back in the summer months seeing as how the Crusaders eventually got a taste for playoff success after claiming the Hempfield Summer League title before jetting off on yet another impressive regular season campaign that eventually culminated in yet another L-L section title. And while Lancaster Catholic would ultimately fall short of winning their respective league title in the same vein as that of their Thursday night counterparts, the 22-3 Crusaders would also make the most of their #1 seed in the district playoffs by taking care of Octorara –avenging one of their two homecourt losses this season—before prevailing on a last-second Devin Atkinson put-back at the buzzer at home on Monday night to vault Catholic into the district title game after a wildly entertaining 48-46 final triumph over Susquehanna Township.

But truth be told, Thursday night’s District 3-4A final between these two pairs of Crusaders would end up being so good that not even regulation would be enough time to settle it all.

In the game that comes packed with the magnitude of a district championship affair, it was almost expected to be see the stars for either side ultimately rise to the occasion when the situation presented itself. Sure enough, that was precisely the case for Bishop McDevitt’s Jake Kelly, as the Crusaders’ 6’3 senior forward stormed out of the gates en route to scoring McDevitt’s first five points of the evening, giving McDevitt the slim 5-4 lead through the game’s first three minutes. From there, the 3-ball continued to be McDevitt’s weapon of choice as yet another Crusaders’ long ball, this one fired in by 6’3 junior guard, Kenyon Elliott, upped the McDevitt lead to 8-6 over Lancaster Catholic shortly thereafter.

That said, the back and forth battle between the two sides continued to wage on as the second frame progressed before Lancaster Catholic would go on to retake the lead thanks to a pair of back-to-back buckets pumped in by the senior duo of Calan Titus and Trey Wells respectively, putting Catholic back in front at 10-8 with three minutes still left to tick off the first quarter clock. And even though the Titus and Wells hoops came from inside the three-point arc, a trifecta splashed in by Lancaster Catholic 5’10 junior guard, Nevin Roman, helped continue Catholic’s torrid stretch of play offensively, giving the Crusaders the 14-12 lead before the first quarter ultimately expired with McDevitt holding serve at 17-14 after a frantic back-and-forth opening eight minutes of play.

Granted, for an opening quarter that was appeared to be so evenly matched, the initial first few minutes of the second frame quickly saw the game do a drastic about-face.

After a trifecta knocked down by McDevitt 5’10 senior point guard, Antuwan Byrd, which began the second quarter proceedings, a litany of Lancaster Catholic turnovers ultimately spelled doom for the Purple and Gold Crusaders as a Ben Marsico layup in transition gave McDevitt the 22-14 lead, before a timely David Kamwanga floater in the lane on the Crusaders’ next trip down the floor finally had ended Lancaster Catholic’s existing dry spell. However, Lancaster Catholic would ultimately be able to rebound quite nicely from their early second quarter hole quite following a Devin Atkinson triple helped aid the Crusaders’ cause, slicing McDevitt’s lead down to just three at 24-21 with just 3:15 left to play before half.

Yet here again though came Bishop McDevitt with a key rebuttal to follow suit.

With the first half starting to wind down, the Crusaders hailing from the capital city proceeded to flirt with a double-digit lead in the waning stages of the second quarter thanks to a personal 5-0 run authored by 6’3 junior guard, Kenyon Elliott, pushing McDevitt’s existing lead up to eight at 31-23. From there though, McDevitt would ultimately be able to rise above that ten-point threshold courtesy of an old-fashioned three-point play put together by a sweet Ben Marsico dish to Jake Kelly who was able to make good on the hoop plus the harm, helping send Bishop McDevitt into the intermission as owners of the 34-23 advantage.

The only thing was, while one Lancaster Catholic retired to their dressing room after the opening 16 minutes, quite a different one reemerged for the second half on Thursday night.

Ironically enough, Lancaster Catholic’s newfound rally to begin the second half came by way of a pair of heady and fearless juniors given the fact that two Devin Atkinson trifectas helped raise the curtain on the second half, effectively cutting the McDevitt lead down to a far more manageable four-point deficit at 34-30 by the 3:30 mark of the third quarter.

But that wouldn’t be the last that Bishop McDevitt would hear from Lancaster Catholic’s 5-11 junior forward.

Yes, while Atkinson had helped rally his fellow troops back to within shouting distance with his pair of key treys midway through the quarter, his third and final 3-ball later seemed to serve as a dagger of sorts seeing as how it gave Catholic the 38-37 lead, helping the Crusader Crazies sitting behind the Lancaster Catholic bench erupt with a roar.

And if it wasn’t Atkinson wasn’t the one pouring in the long-range bombs, another junior, Nevin Roman, promptly appeared and sank a 3-ball in his own right just before the third quarter horn, helping send Lancaster Catholic into the final frame with the 41-39 lead. In all, it was a third quarter emphatically dominated by Lancaster Catholic given the fact they won the third stanza by a resounding 18-5 final count.

Yet as was to be expected, Bishop McDevitt certainly wasn’t going anywhere.

To be sure, McDevitt ended up knotting things back up at 43-43 following a pair of takes to the rack by way of Antuwan Byrd and Kenyon Elliott with Elliott going on to finish as the Crusaders’ game-high scorer, posting a 19-point effort once all was said and done.

And just when it had seemed as if Lancaster Catholic would be able to run away and hide with the trophy considering that Catholic had just as quickly zoomed out to the 51-46 lead shortly thereafter, a critical three-point play put forth by McDevitt’s Jake Kelly allowed the blue-clad Crusaders to surge back to within a pair at 51-49 just a little bit later.

That said, Catholic would be able to build their cushion back up to three following a crucial 2-2 display of clutch free throw shooting from Calan Titus, putting Lancaster Catholic up 53-50 with just 1:30 left in regulation.

The keyword there? Regulation.

After the pair of Titus freebies, Bishop McDevitt continued to remain undaunted, eventually erasing the gap entirely and drawing back even with their adversaries at 53-53 following a fearless take to the tin that came complete with a kiss off the glass by way of Kenyon Elliott with now under one-minute left to play.

Ultimately, although Lancaster Catholic would certainly have their good looks and opportunities on the final possession of regulation, it was ultimately not to be as David Kamwanga’s final shot at the buzzer came up empty, vaulting Lancaster Catholic and Bishop McDevitt into a deserving period of extra time with the pair of Crusaders deadlocked at 53-53.

In the extra frame, Lancaster Catholic was able to find success the tried and true way —by way of the charity stripe— to ultimately find their footing as a perfect 4-4 stretch from the foul line enabled Catholic to grab the early lead before yet another take to the tin by McDevitt’s Kenyon Elliott then evened the score once more at 57-57 with a just a shade over two minutes left to play in overtime.

From there, Lancaster Catholic’s first field goal over the extra session proved to be rather large in size and stature considering that Calan Titus’ unabated drive to the hole put Catholic back in front at 59-57 with 1:15 now left to go as McDevitt called timeout to draw something up.

However, even with momentum now clearly residing on the Lancaster Catholic bench, McDevitt was just as quick to draw back even following a magnificent play coming out of the timeout as a Jake Kelly finish at the cup made things all square once more at 59-59 with under one-minute left in OT.

In life, as in sports, getting an opportunity for a second chance at redemption is something that doesn’t necessarily come around all that often. But ironically enough, that is exactly what happened for Lancaster Catholic –namely David Kamwanga— in the final seconds of overtime on Thursday night.

With the game tied and Catholic trying to dribble the ball out in order to firmly secure ownership of the final offensive possession, the ball found itself in the hands of the Crusaders’ 6’6 senior forward. And this time, with the game and supremacy within the District 3 footprint hanging in the balance, Kamwanga proceeded to rise up and sink the cold-blooded buzzer-beater, prompting a mob scene and subsequent dog pile of a celebration on the other end of the floor once his fellow teammates eventually caught up with their triumphant hero just moments after Lancaster Catholic’s thrilling 61-59 overtime win over Bishop McDevitt for 4A gold at the Giant Center.

Yet through it all, maybe that very celebratory display could not have been anymore apropos for Lancaster Catholic. After all, while the Crusaders certainly have their fair share of stars who headline an opposing team’s scouting report, the 2019-20 edition of the Lancaster Catholic boys’ basketball team is a unit from top to bottom. A total unit with everyone pulling in the same direction.

“I’ll give Trey Wells and Denzel (Kabasele) tremendous credit,” Lancaster Catholic head coach Joe Klazas said without hesitation just minutes after seeing Kamwanga’s game-winning shot trickle through the bottom of the net. “(Wells and Kabasele) didn’t play a good part of the second half, but they were such great captains. They were such great leaders. They were so vocal every touch of the basketball and every defensive possession.”

“That’s what we’re about,” Klazas went on to add on this team’s collective unselfishness. “We’re 14 as 1 and everyone plays such an important role. Those roles have changed from game to game, and this is just such a great way to win this game tonight.”

And to get back to the Giant Center for the second year in a row only to beat Bishop McDevitt this time around? Yeah, rest assured that such an accomplishment was something clearly written on the Crusaders’ preseason list of goals prior to the start of the season.

“Winning the section title is expected,” the Crusaders’ savvy head coach continued. “I don’t want to sound cocky or arrogant in any way by that, but the way the program has had success, it’s expected for us to win that. So, we want to do that, but we set our sights on bigger things. We thought this year, trying to earn a #1 seed, it showed some people that we do deserve some respect.”

“We play a pretty tough schedule,” Klazas went on to say. “The kids took a lot of heart to that. It was great that we earned (the #1 seed), but obviously the games we had, our draw was not great with Octorara and Susquehanna Township, who are two really good teams, but these kids are tough. Our competitiveness in practice has been so successful with this team that these guys just go at each other every day.”

Speaking of “going at each other every day,” that, perhaps more than anything else, ended up being the reason as to how exactly Lancaster Catholic ended up prevailing in the end on Thursday evening.

Granted, while everyone will forever David Kamwanga’s last-second shot, it was his work in thoroughly cleaning the offensive glass in the final few minutes of the overtime period that enabled the Crusaders to maintain ownership of the late-game possessions with the game on the line.

“That one, I thought he hit his head on the scoreboard,” Klazas quipped when reflecting on one of Kamwanga’s key offensive boards. “We’ve had success dominating the boards all year,” Klazas admitted. “We feel that in the playoffs especially, that’s a time where you can really deflate a team by just stepping up and getting a put-back or taking the air out of the ball at time,” he added.

“(Kamwanga) was aggressive. He went after it,” said Klazas. “We talk sometimes that he frustrates himself when he doesn’t score the ball, but there’s so many different ways he can contribute, not just putting it in the basket,” the Crusaders’ head man said proudly of his sensational senior forward.

“It’s a great feeling,” Klazas then said summing up the evening with a shiny District 3 gold medal now hanging around his neck. “Getting there is one thing, but winning it is tremendous. I love that we can represent the L-L League after having coached in it for so long where there’s a lot of great coaches. You know, these memories last forever. I’m just thrilled.”

NEXT UP: Now, after having earned the top-seed in the western PIAA-4A state bracket, Lancaster Catholic will now get prepped for the fifth-place finisher out of the WPIAL, the area that surrounds greater Pittsburgh, at a site and time to be determined this coming Friday night following the formal release of the statewide brackets on Sunday afternoon.

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