As hard it may be to believe, we’ve officially reached the midway point of the regular season. But perhaps what’s even harder to believe? The fact that races for playoff spots are only just now heating up.
For some teams, the halfway mark of the season serves as the perfect opportunity to look back and reflect on the first half of the season while conducting some critical self-inventory for the road ahead with most, if not all of the team’s original goals still remaining intact. The Elizabethtown Bears in this case are no exception.
Coming into their lengthy midweek journey down to Berks County to face off against Twin Valley, E-Town had found themselves duking it out with Lebanon for second-place in the Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 2 standings. But perhaps most importantly, the Bears were also hovering right around that precious cut-line for the final playoff spot in District 3-5A. To be sure, it was something that E-Town head coach Rocky Parise and his squad of Bears were keenly aware of.
“The thing is, if you look at our schedule that we’ve played and you look at some of the schedules for the schools that are ahead of us, we feel like we’ve had a tougher test,” Parise said of the current situation as it related to his squad in terms of the District 3 5A playoff hunt. “We feel like if we can get in, we can make some noise.”
“We’re ahead of where we were last year,” E-Town third-year coach said of the campaign thus far. “We started rolling last year in the last four or five games of the year. We’re hoping that momentum has started now.”
So, with all that in mind, Wednesday’s battle with the Raiders proved to be just yet another game serving of the upmost importance for E-Town heading down the stretch this season.
And if Wednesday night is to serve as any indication for the journey ahead, the Bears appears to be laser-focused on the task at hand.
It wouldn’t take those in attendance very long to see how this one would play out over the course of the next 32 minutes. Ignited by five straight right out the chute courtesy of 6’5 senior center Larry Locker, the Bears would eventually start the game out by going ahead 7-0 after a strong take to the rack by way of 6’3 junior swingman Elijah Eberly, successfully landing the first punch that was thrown by E-Town. Luckily for Twin Valley, the Raiders were eventually able to stop the early bleeding immediately following the Bears’ early momentum shift with a put-back by way of junior guard Baba Kallie, narrowing the Bears’ lead down to five at 7-2 at the 4:40 mark of the opening quarter.
Unfortunately, for those who had come to the gym high atop Twin Valley’s picturesque campus with a strong rooting interest for the home-standing Raiders on this night, that would prove to be all the closer Twin Valley would get for the remainder of the evening.
From there, E-Town proceeded to rip off a 5-0 run of retaliation in direct response as a Ryan Parise triple gave the Bears their first double digit lead of the night at 12-2 within the span of just one minute of play. And with the Bears already charging hard down the hill, a magnificent Elijah Eberly follow at the cup helped the Bears close out the first quarter in style as E-Town looked up to the scoreboard and found themselves in front, 20-7.
Once the second stanza got underway, it quickly proved to be more of the same for the visitors from Elizabethtown.
While clearly energized by his performance at the tail-end of the opening quarter, Elijah Eberly quickly picked up right where he had left off in the early stages of the second as evidenced by his smooth spot-up jumper which gave E-Town the hefty 17-point cushion at 24-7 with 5:40 left to go in the first half.
Speaking of energized, that clearly appeared to be the case for Dylan Sweger when the Bears’ 6’2 senior guard received his opportunity to check in off the bench. To be sure, Sweger certainly made his minutes count by firing in back-to-back trifectas in the span of two offensive trips, upping the Bears’ lead to 30-7 midway through the second quarter.
But the Bears weren’t done there. No way.
Over the span of the next 1:27 following the consecutive bombs dialed up by Sweger, E-Town proceeded to outscore their Twin Valley hosts 8-3 after a fantastic steal and finish from 6’2 sophomore Luke Pierson which put a seal on the run. And with the first half rapidly winding down with the Bears in firm and definite control, a Ryan Parise buzzer beater seemed to serve as the perfect punctuation mark to E-Town’s stellar first performance as the 5’10 junior guard helped send the blue-clad Bears into the dressing room with the 44-18 halftime advantage.
Yet for as much as E-Town had clearly dominated the opening 16 minutes of action, Twin Valley without question got the better of the Bears in the opening minutes of the third frame. In fact, the Raiders were eventually able to cut the deficit down to twenty following back-to-back 3-balls splashed in by Aidan Kaplan and Beau Altman respectively. But even when they were playing well, Twin Valley had to know full-well that they would have to contend with the Bears again once they awoke from their early second half slumber.
Sure enough, E-Town would come alive in the latter part of the third frame as a fearless Amos Kollie take to the rack helped end Twin Valley’s early second half salvo. So, with Kollie taking his act inside, Elijah Eberly proceeded to take step out from behind the arc shortly thereafter as a magnificent dish from 5’11 junior guard Brody Beach to a waiting and capable Eberly standing on the perimeter culminated in three more for the Bears’ effort as Eberly’s lone triple of the contest helped E-Town’s lead swell to 55-31 with the third quarter winding down. And even while Eberly was busy knocking down shots on the offensive end, something he clearly did in spades as evidenced by 17 points tossed in on the evening, the Bears’ rising star clearly had no issues whatsoever with sticking his nose in there defensively as evidenced by his emphatic rejection down at the other end on Twin Valley’s ensuing offensive trip. In the end though, even despite the fact that Twin Valley had thrown a solid uppercut to begin the third quarter, E-Town still found themselves comfortably in command at the end three, 60-33.
With the final quarter now underway, there was still plenty of time for E-Town left to author some sensational highlights, albeit with the outcome already well-decided. Case in point, Amos Kollie’s series of sweet dimes to Alex O’Shea and Larry Locker on back-to-back trips, assists which helped E-Town increase their lead to 66-35 with the final quarter nearing its midway point. Speaking of Locker, Wednesday night proved to be just another night at the office for the Bears’ senior big man by virtue of his ho-hum 26-point performance. This of course being tongue in cheek when stacked up against his 31-point outburst just 24 hours earlier against Conestoga Valley.
And with the starters coming out to a deserving round of applause for those that made the one-hour trek eastward to the outpost of Elverson, other members of the Bears’ nucleus proceeded to pick up the slack in the closing moments as a sweet spot-up jumper cashed in 6’6 junior forward Gavin Gilhool put the Bears up, 75-43. From there, 6’2 freshman Pat Gilhool was able to follow suit in the waning stages with a nice kiss off the glass, effectively putting the finishing touches on E-Town’s emphatic takedown of Twin Valley, 77-47.
NEXT UP: From here, E-Town once again finds themselves staring down the barrel of yet another critical game this season when the Bears welcome the Lebanon Cedars into Daubert Gymnasium on Friday night for an enormous matchup within the Section 2 landscape. But make no mistake about it, E-Town has already made some of the league’s heavyweights sweat it out this season when those have dare ventured into the “Bear’s Den.”
“I think we’ve performed well in those games at home at this year,” E-Town head coach Rocky Parise was quick to point out. “It’s been on the road that we’ve struggled in those big games. We beat Manheim Township at home in overtime and we took McCaskey down to the wire at home as well. The fact that it’s at home, we really like that.”
“The other thing is, I think we’ve really improved defensively over the last week or two,” E-Town’s head man also went on to add. “Hopefully we have a good practice and continue to improve tomorrow. That’s become a major focus of ours. Defense, getting shots, and limiting turnovers. We’re hoping all that in combination with a home game gives us a good result.”