When people typically think of the word “championship,” chances are they’re harkening back to those titles that are achieved during postseason play. And while those certainly may be the ones that garner the most attention and prestige, they should not take away from those that are won during the regular season. Without a doubt, even having the word “champion” placed upon a team can do wonders for its internal confidence and mojo as it treks across a season-long journey. For some in high school hoops, that extra boost of confidence can come by way of winning a season-opening tipoff tournament, or as was the case for the E-Town Bears on Friday night, a holiday tournament.
Get to know the names and faces on this E-Town roster. If you haven’t yet, don’t worry. You’ll still have a few years. Between this season and last, the Bears will have said goodbye to a grand total of just 5 graduating seniors these past two seasons. So needless to say, having such a young and inexperienced bunch on the roster can make for some long nights at the office for second year E-Town head man Rocky Parise inside the rough and tumble neighborhood known as L-L Section 2 basketball. But coming off a season which saw the collective core of the E-Town basketball roster for years to come take their lumps to the tune of a 5-21 overall record last year, the Bears have looked the better for it so far this season. Among the evidence to support their improvement, one only needs to look at the Bears’ December 18th victory at L-S. One that is arguably the best across the entire L-L League so far to date. A victory that if nothing else, proved to the rest of the league that these Bears are no longer to be taken lightly.
And with such a young group, nothing would mean more to truly validate their progress than to rightfully be labeled as champions. Add that to the fact that a victory on Friday night would come against one of the most highly-respected programs across all of District 3 in Bishop McDevitt and you suddenly had one of the most compelling games across the region in the Allen Restorations Winter Classic final held on E-Town’s home floor.
Although McDevitt would go on to score the opening bucket of the contest, things could not have started out much better for E-Town. Following a pair of early free throws from junior guard Amos Kollie which put the home-standing Bears up by a 4-2 count, a drive to the rack by 6’5” Larry Locker increased E-Town’s lead to 6-2, putting McDevitt in an early hole as the Crusaders were forced to call a timeout with 4:25 left in the first.
From there, McDevitt would answer right back. Following a trifecta rained down from sophomore guard Jake Kelly, the Crusaders would return to the lead at 8-7 following a bucket inside by talented big man, senior center Zach Weigl with 2:30 left in the opening quarter.
But E-Town would show off their moxie as the first quarter reached it’s final stages as a nifty dipsy-do lay in at the tin by Amos Kollie tied things up at 8 apiece before an Eddie Myers runner to beat the first quarter buzzer put the Bears back on top 10-8.
Once the second quarter began, E-Town continued to keep the snowball moving downhill. After another Myers drive to the hole, E-Town now found themselves by half a dozen at 14-8, but only to see that lead immediately be cut in half thanks to a timely 3 ball from Crusader marksman Jake Kelly.
With McDevitt sitting back in a 1-3-1 zone defensively, E-Town suddenly found themselves playing without that same reckless abandon, now taking the time to slow things down and evaluate what they were looking at in front of them. Precisely when McDevitt saw their opportunity to pounce.
Sure enough, a 4-0 run would ensue which was punctuated by a steal and lay in put home by Jake Kelly to put the Crusaders up 15-14 with 2:32 left in the half as E-Town called time to regroup.
Whatever was said during the timeout by Coach Parise seemed to work wonders as a 5-0 E-Town would follow, capped off with a bullseye triple that was all-net from junior guard Dylan Sweger as E-Town regained the lead at 19-17 with 1:30 left in the first half. But McDevitt would go on to have the final say as a Crusader deuce tied things up at 19-19 as the two teams headed into the halftime recess.
Coming out of the break, E-Town was able to not only retake the lead, but build upon it as the Bears lived lavishly at the foul line to start the second half. When the Bears finally did score from the field, they did so thanks to a sensational spin move attack to the glass by sophomore Elijah Eberly which saw the E-Town lead increase to 27-21, forcing McDevitt to call a timeout with 4:57 left in the third.
But the Bears weren’t satisfied there. After another triple by Sweger and stifling defense on the other end which was highlighted by Larry Locker rising up to make an emphatic swat on a McDevitt shot attempt late in the third quarter, E-Town looked up at the scoreboard and saw themselves leading by a 34-25 count.
However when dealing with a program the caliber of Bishop McDevitt, you know better than to ever count the mighty Crusaders out. And right on cue, another Jake Kelly triple, his third of the contest, shrunk the E-Town lead down to a manageable six point deficit at 34-28 when the third period concluded.
It’s known around the world as the fourth quarter. But on Friday night at E-Town, it may have been more appropriate to call the last eight minutes between Bishop McDevitt and E-Town The Devon Lee Show.
With McDevitt turning up the dial defensively, the turnover bug started to rear it’s ugly head again at the worst possible time for E-Town. Fortunately for McDevitt, they had Mr. Lee on the scene to help create the chaos as his back to steals and subsequent lay ins knotted things up at 34-34 within the blink of an eye or perhaps more precisely 1:30 having ticked off the fourth quarter clock. But Lee wasn’t done there.
En route to a game-high 17 points, a performance more than deserving of the tournament MVP honors that were bestowed upon him in the aftermath, yet another Davon Lee bucket now put the Crusaders up 36-34 with momentum undeniably on the visiting bench.
Needing an answer to desperately keep things from getting out of control too quickly, E-Town would respond and calm the choppy waters with an old-fashioned three point play administered by Elijah Eberly who would go on to finish with team-high scoring honors with 11 to put the Bears up 37-36.
But Davon Lee wasn’t about to let E-Town steal the spotlight. Needing a big bucket in their own right, McDevitt called upon their 6’ sophomore guard to help lead them home as he promptly knocked home a trifecta to put the Crusaders up by a 40-37 margin before proceeding to knock down a long deuce to put E-Town at arm’s length with the clock starting to melt away.
Although the McDevitt cushion would grow to ten at 48-38 following a free throw by yes, Davon Lee, E-Town would trim the deficit down somewhat following a drive to the tin by senior Cade Robinson, but it was too little too late as Bishop McDevitt went on to post a dramatic come from behind 50-42 victory over E-Town in a game where the underclassmen shined brightest for the Crusaders. Something that no doubt bodes well for the Crusaders’ long-term outlook likely keeping McDevitt a perennial power in District 3 for years to come.
NEXT UP: With Friday’s win now in their back-pocket, Bishop McDevitt will look to continue their scintillating early-season start as the Crusaders look to improve to 7-2 overall when they match wits with Hershey at home on Tuesday night.
For E-Town, it’s understandable if this one comes with a little extra sting to it as the Bears saw a late second half lead evaporate almost within a flash. Make no mistake about it though, this E-Town group is on the precipice of putting something together here which could be pretty special. And for a game that transpired in the manner that Friday night’s affair with McDevitt went down, the Bears will only grow and learn from this as they prepare to make the jump back into Section 2 play starting on Friday night with a game against Garden Spot. When they do, the Bears are likely to remain right in thick of things as far as contending for an L-L playoff spot coming out of Section 2 in early February. A reward that comes with the right to try and fight again for the glory of being called a champion. This time, for a much bigger prize.