E-Town Starts Fast, Holds Off Frantic Red Tornado Blitz As Bears Earn Monumental Road Win At McCaskey

Written by: on Saturday, December 21st, 2019


For most of us when we were in school, there simply were few days during the year that could possibly rival the excitement that came with day right before holiday break. If there wasn’t a party involving food to be found in every class, there most certainly was a movie day mixed in somewhere else along the line, proving that both teachers and students alike had been operating on their absolute last thread of sanity. Okay, but seriously, all fun and joking aside, for those individuals that made up the E-Town Bears and McCaskey Red Tornado basketball rosters, while Friday during the day might have been low-key and laid back given that it was last day before school resumes back into session come the start of the calendar — kicking off a brand new decade too as impossible as that is to believe —- Friday night at the bottom of the 7 o’clock hour was anything but a case of fun and games.

On a night of Lancaster-Lebanon League hoops that was certainly stacked to the brim in terms of tantalizing matchups, few would be able to surpass the attractiveness of an E-Town and McCaskey head-to-head affair in the big city.

Aside from the fact that both the Bears and Tornado are expected to compete for their respective Section Two and Section One crowns over the next month or so, both squads also happened to enter the night piping-hot.

For E-Town, a somewhat rocky start to the year — best exemplified by their 1-3 start to begin the season — was quickly rejuvenated during this current week given a buzzer-beating win on the road at Manheim Township on Monday that was immediately followed up a general overall destruction of a then unbeaten Penn Manor ballclub back home in Daubert Gymnasium on Wednesday evening.

As far as the Red Tornado were concerned, their first two weeks of the season have seemed to replicate a McCaskey schedule of old.

After starting off the year with a pair of consecutive setbacks on the road at familiar foes Chester and Reading respectively, the Red Tornado were also able to turn the page following their slow start out of the gates as McCaskey came into Friday night while riding a three-game winning streak after going 3-0 against Section 2 competition that consisted of Conestoga Valley, Lebanon, and Warwick respectively.

So, for either one of these two teams, the eventual outcome of Friday’s night game likely could have been far better than any gift found under the tree in just a few days’ time.

In short, if ever a game could be boiled down to just a small handful of minutes that would best help determine its eventual outcome, it was E-Town’s performance immediately out of the gates on Friday night.

Most certainly, the Bears, along with their contingent who had traveled down PA Route 283 to support them, things certainly appeared to be on the up and up considering 6’3 senior swingman Luke Pierson proceeded to fire in a 3-ball on E-Town’s first offensive possession of the night.

But their early lead only grew in size and stature from there.

In fact, after back-to-back buckets courtesy of 6’1 senior forward Alex O’Shea over the course of the next few minutes, the Bears had suddenly raced out to the early 9-0 cushion. And shortly after that, the E-Town advantage eventually swelled to a cool dozen after 5’10 senior point guard Ryan Parise proceeded to rifle in a triple in his own right, giving the visitors the 12-0 lead as McCaskey had no choice but to burn a timeout with 4:53 left to play in the opening quarter.

Over the course of the next few minutes however, the Red Tornado finally began to settle into a flow.

Needing any sort of blockage to deter E-Town’s alarming surge of momentum, McCaskey was able to find their cut man in Samir Gordon, as the 6’2 junior was able to tally the Tornado’s first points of the evening on a silky-smooth pullup jumper immediately following the impromptu McCaskey timeout. From there, McCaskey proceeded to lean heavily on the efforts of their most-acclaimed returning player, 6’1 senior forward Makai Ortiz-Gray, with the Red Tornado brass being rewarded handsomely for their decision in doing so. In fact, after Ortiz-Gray was able to get into a rhythm by sinking a triple which had come on the heels of Gordon’s initial bucket of the evening, an Ortiz-Gray theft and subsequent layup had quickly brought the Red Tornado back within three at 14-11.

Well, that was of course until an equally timely and fearless bucket was peppered in by E-Town’s Brody Beach, as the Bears’ 5’11 senior guard able to quell the rising waters with key jumper directly in the face of the current McCaskey onslaught. Much more to come from Beach as the game moved along.

Yet when all was said and done at the conclusion of a wild and back and forth opening eight minutes of basketball, the scoreboard posted on either side of the gym walls showed E-Town leading by the slimmest of margins, 16-15.

While E-Town was able to start the game off in the most scintillating of fashions given their initial 12-0 outburst which got the proceedings underway, the Bears would now have to manage an atmosphere that was becoming all the more hostile with each passing Red Tornado bucket. But that’s the funny thing about curing a spell. Sometimes it doesn’t happen in the most orthodox of ways. Case in point, Elijah Eberly’s consistently successful trips to the charity stripe once the second quarter got underway on Friday night.

With the Red Tornado briefly down for the count after finding themselves hexed offensively once the game moved into its second frame, E-Town’s 6’4 senior center was able to help keep McCaskey at arm’s length as the quarter got underway, as the Bears eventually used Eberly’s free throw shooting prowess to open up a 22-15 lead with 6:20 left to play before the half.

So, with E-Town largely winning the battle of the spontaneous free throw competition which had just broken out, the Bears proceeded to regain their shooting touch from the field shortly thereafter as a 5-0 run, all of which came courtesy of Brody Beach’s handiwork, helped the Bears flirt with a double digit lead at 29-20 with 3:45 left to go before the halftime recess.

Speaking of the double-digit plateau, that is where the visitor’s lead would eventually lead them as a nifty pullup jumper splashed in Alex O’Shea allowed just moments later, allowing the Bears to enjoy the 31-20 cushion with the first half winding down.

But even for all their successes up until that point, the Bears still had time for one last exclamation mark to stamp on the first half. For that, E-Town turned to Elijah Eberly once more — with Eberly coming through yet again as he has a propensity to do — as the Bears’ star 5-man was able to tally an old-fashioned, three-point play just before the intermission, helping usher E-Town into the locker room with ownership of the 36-26 lead.

Once again though, not even a brand-new half seemed to do much in terms of deterring the general overall narrative that had quickly taken shape inside Shultz Transportation Gymnasium on the campus of McCaskey High School on Friday evening.

Just when it had seemed like E-Town might be able to run away and hide, McCaskey would be able to respond by mounting some sort of retaliation to the Bears’ existing lead. Yet even when they did, their guests would eventually end up righting the ship and continue to not let the Red Tornado get any closer than within shouting distance.

Sure enough, that is precisely what took place during the third quarter as well.

While E-Town’s lead had generally teetered somewhere along a ten-point window throughout much of the first half, the Bears were able to generate some breathing room early on in the initial stages of the third stanza as a bucket inside by, you guessed it, Elijah Eberly, had propelled E-Town out to the two touchdown lead at 42-28 in the infant stages of the third quarter. On the night, Eberly would prove the be the straw that would stir the E-Town drink all game long, eventually finishing the evening by posting a team-high 21-point effort for the Bears.

But for as well as E-Town had likely been feeling up until that point, a critical McCaskey trifecta, this one sunk by 5’10 senior guard Carter Gingerich, allowed momentum to shift back over to the Red Tornado bench midway through the third quarter. However, if the overall narrative that had taken shape all night up until that point would indeed hold true to form, someone from E-Town would surely step here in order to calm the angry seas.

For that, the Bears turned to Luke Pierson. And with the mindset that likely only a senior can offer, Pierson promptly rose to the challenge by draining a back-breaking 3-ball, allowing the E-Town lead to reach a baker’s dozen at 53-40 with roughly two minutes left to play in the third.

But, and it would turn out to be a very big but, McCaskey still had more than enough fuel left in the tank to rise up and mount one last charge as the game headed into its final eight minutes of play. However, before any of that took place, the Red Tornado would need some sort of finite spark to ignite their eventual rally. In that regard, McCaskey looked to quite possibly the best player in all the Lancaster-Lebanon, senior point guard Elijah Terry, as the Lancaster Mennonite transfer capped off the third period with a sensational take to the rack, cutting the E-Town lead down to 55-44 once the third quarter horn ultimately blared out.

So, with Elijah Terry bringing the matches, Makai Ortiz-Gray was the one who end up bringing the lighter fluid.

In fact, after an Ortiz-Gray trifecta which had gotten the fourth quarter underway with a bang, Ortiz-Gray then followed that up with a traditional three-point play just moments later, helping McCaskey claw back to within five at 55-50 just one minute into the final quarter.

Yet when harkening back to the first half, there were arguably no bigger and no more important buckets than the ones scored by way of Brody Beach, all of which seemed to come at just the right time to stymie a possible Red Tornado-induced avalanche upon the Bears. Fortunately for E-Town, Beach continued to have nothing but ice water pump through his veins all game long as Beach promptly put a stop to the McCaskey charge by firing in an ultra-important triple to keep the Tornado just far enough at bay not even 30 seconds later for the timely rebuttal.

Here again though, the Red Tornado came roaring right while on the shoulders of Makai Ortiz-Gray, who went on to finish by bucketing a resounding 24-point effort on the night, as McCaskey’s senior forward fired in a key triple in his own right, bringing the Tornado back within three at 60-57 immediately following Beach’s bucket.

Needless to say, the outcome at this stage of the game was still dancing on a very delicate line for either team. And with big-time baskets being offered up by both the Bears and Red Tornado from the field, it seemed only fitting that the game truly be decided by clutch free throw shooting down the stretch.

In that regard, the big stage and bright lights shined brightest for Ryan Parise.

With the game still well without doubt heading down the final furlong, E-Town’s savvy veteran began wearing out a path to the charity stripe, ultimately coming up large at each and every turn, as Parise proceeded to author up a clinic in clutch free throw shooting by going a perfect 8-8 over the span of the final few minutes to eventually help push E-Town’s lead back up to double figures.

That said, McCaskey still had one last rock left to throw. And just when the Red Tornado needed a basket most, they turned to their ace in the hole, Elijah Terry, who promptly popped a 3-ball to shrink the Bears’ lead back down to seven at 72-65 with 33.7 left to go. On the night, Terry would continue to be his typical, yet nonetheless marvelous self, firing in a game-high 25-point effort to pace the Red Tornado cause.

But with such great distance left to travel and so little time in terms of making up the difference, E-Town, or Pat Gilhool rather, would proceed to punctuate the evening with a fitting exclamation point inside the last 30 seconds as E-Town’s 6’3 sophomore leaked out from behind the backside of the Red Tornado pressure, finishing the evening off with a runaway layup which helped closed the scoring out, as E-Town had gone on to snatch a crucial road victory inside arguably the most famous of buildings that the Lancaster-Lebanon League has to offer, 76-67.

“I think the guys were confident and we were ready to play,” an understandably jubilant E-Town head coach Rocky Parise said just moments after exhaling following his exit from the Bears’ victorious and celebratory locker room. “That’s what we did. We came out, went on a 12-0 run, and got (McCaskey) back on their heels. I think our guys stuck with that. That was our attitude all night.”

And just when the game started to tilt just a little bit sideways with the intensity, passion, and sheer decibel level rising with each additional Red Tornado bucket inside the fourth quarter coupled with their stops on the defensive end as well, E-Town had the unquestioned advantage of leaning on a variety of dudes who are certainly no strangers to all the extraneous things that come associated with a white-knuckle varsity basketball game.

“I think what you’re seeing is Ryan (Parise), four years of varsity experience. Luke Pierson, three years of varsity experience. Elijah Eberly, three years of varsity experience. You get in games like that and the moment isn’t too big for those guys,” Parise said proudly of his grizzled veterans.

“You know, everyone talks about athleticism, shooting abilities and everything like that, but there’s a premium for varsity experience and I think we got it.”

But it wasn’t just the Bears’ power grid who had pulled their weight on Friday night. After all, you simply don’t walk into McCaskey and walk out with a victory unless everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.

“I told Brody (Beach) that was the best I’ve seen him defend and rebound in my life,” Parise said. “Alex O’Shea was just confident. He’s really filling that much-needed fifth man role for us…Alex O’Shea is a kid who didn’t play any varsity last year. He accepted his role playing JV and didn’t miss one thing all summer. On the days we had off, he’d be at Spooky Nook lifting and shooting,” Parise said praising O’Shea’s offseason workout regimen. “This is what happens when you put that time and effort in. He’s a program-developed kid and I give him all the credit in the world.”

Alright. Even Friday night’s win put to the side just for a moment, the E-Town Bears have steadily and persistently been building their program back up brick by brick, year by year, over the last handful of seasons and have now truly become one of the L-L League’s premier teams. Of course, a lot of that can e credited to all of that aforementioned varsity experience. Even still, the Bears’ overall growth process is not yet complete by any means. Perhaps that is why, above all else, E-Town’s exuberance was on display for all to see given the Bears’ triumphant strut out of the bowels of McCaskey High School and onto their awaiting school bus idling just outside that would then escort the winners home.

“Yeah, I really feel like it is,” Parise when asked if this could be considered another coming of age victory in the overall development of his program. “What was interesting was that Ryan (Parise) missed two layups, wide open layups, and he started hanging his head. But you saw guys come over and say, ‘Hey man, it’s okay. Don’t worry about it.’ We haven’t seen that. Even last year we didn’t see that type of stuff. That’s what helped him go 8-8 from the foul line down the stretch. I think the togetherness is happening.”

And as mentioned, while some coaches can be found tossing and turning the night before playing a game just prior to the holiday break, when you have a keen sense on the pulse of your team, something Rocky Parise clearly does in spades, one can rest easy knowing his team has each other’s backs in even the most adverse of situations both on and off the court.

“Not with these guys,” Parise said without hesitation when asked if he was worried about the E-Town product that would take to the floor on Friday night. “These guys are just so focused. They wanted to win tonight so bad because they feel like they have something to prove. I don’t worry about that at all. I don’t worry about what they do on the bus on the way here. I don’t worry about what they’re doing in the locker room before the game. I just know that when the ball’s tipped off, man, they’re ready to go.”


NEXT UP: For E-Town, there is still one more game left to be played before the Christmas holiday as the Bears will make their triumphant return to Daubert Gymnasium on Monday night when they welcome the neighboring Hershey Trojans into The Den as E-Town will look to make good on a possible four-game winning streak should they be able to prevail on Monday night.

For McCaskey, the Red Tornado will now take a few days off from competition before returning to the friendly confines as McCaskey will host their annual star-studded Hagelgans & Veronis Holiday Classic against the likes of Strath Haven and Bethlehem Liberty to name just a few. After that, McCaskey will look to regroup and continue on their quest for a possible Section One crown when the Red Tornado host Manheim Township for their first game in the new decade.

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