ELCO Meets Its Match As Raiders’ Fourth Quarter Rally Falls Short, Sends Imhotep Into Second Round Of PIAA-4A Playoffs

Written by: on Sunday, March 8th, 2020

 

Typically, making the state basketball tournament is an achievement that is so celebrated and cherished that it generally shouldn’t come with a prevailing sense of “Groundhog Day.” However, when speaking about the ELCO Raiders and their fans most specifically, that certainly had to be the overarching sentiment in their camp heading into their opening round PIAA state game on Friday night.

Yes, if ELCO head coach Brad Conners and his assembled crew had felt a prevailing sense of déjà vu once they saw the brackets unveiled for themselves this past Sunday afternoon, it’d certainly be hard to fault them for feeling that way. You see, the last time that the school from Myerstown had made the tourney field, there were several key factors at play. First and foremost, the Raiders came into the 2016 PIAA AAA field with a bevy of experienced inside/outside talent in the form of Colton Lawrence, Mason Bossert, Nate Beamer, along with Dylan Stoops to name just a few. Needless to say, ELCO certainly needed to lean on all of that talent and then some once the Raiders ultimately drew arguably the most dominant franchise in Pennsylvania scholastic basketball, Neumann-Goretti, a two-time defending state champion, who boasted a deep and talented roster that included an embarrassment of riches that came in the form of Division 1 caliber talent. And if that assignment wasn’t already tall enough, ELCO then had to travel into Goretti’s backyard of fellow Philadelphia Catholic League member, Archbishop Ryan, for a Friday night affair to help tip off the state tournament.

Yet to their credit, ELCO certainly left the northeast corner of the City of Brotherly Love with plenty of respect to their name on that night four years ago given the fact that the Raiders had come out of the gates and had punched the Saints squarely in the mouth early on with a mixture of three-point bombs and alley-oop dunks, much to the satisfaction of their student section behind them who had traveled to Philadelphia in droves, as ELCO went into the halftime break trailing by only five points before ultimately running out of gas inside Archbishop Ryan’s humid and stifling hot gymnasium by a 69-48 final decision to the eventual state champs.

And in an ironic twist of fate, all of those very same factors seemed to be at play once again for ELCO just four years later.

In short, when assessing the 2019-20 edition of ELCO Boys’ Basketball, it’d most apropos to consider it a group that had certainly come full circle in terms of being the next talented wave to follow in the footsteps of their recent successful brethren. Yes, once again ELCO found themselves entering the state bracket with another healthy mix of fearless inside/outside players that came in the form of Asher Kemble, Bryce Coletti, Evan Huey, and Braden Bohannon to name just a few this time around. As far as their first-round draw was concerned? Well, that too seemed to come with an eerie sense of irony considering that ELCO had found themselves opposite of quite possibly the second-most powerful brand in Pennsylvania high school basketball, three -time defending state champion Imhotep Charter, in 2020. And of yeah, just to top it all off, the Raiders would once again have to board a charter bus and head into Philadelphia for a Friday night tip to kick off the state tourney, this time at Lincoln High School.

But in the end, although ELCO would fight valiantly up until the final buzzer, the sense of déjà vu would end up reflecting in the final score yet again this time around as well.

In the early going on Friday night, Imhotep wasted little to no time in asserting their dominance. In fact, the Panthers stormed out of the gate by racing out to the early 8-2 lead in the opening few minutes after a one-handed dunk by the Panthers’ 5’10 sophomore guard, Ronny Raphael.

That said, Imhotep’s early momentum surge was just as quickly quelled thanks to a triple knocked down on ELCO’s next possession thanks to 5’11 junior guard, Braden Bohannon, effectively cutting the Panthers’ lead back down to size at 8-5 at the 4:15 mark of the opening period.

However, just when ELCO likely had to start feeling good about their current standing, Imhotep was just as quick to rattle off an impromptu answer to push the Raiders backwards thanks to a pair of back-to-back triples cashed in by Rahmir Barno and Jhakyr Harley respectively, just as quickly upping the Panthers’ lead to 16-5 with just 1:20 left to play in the first period, before a Bryce Coletti floater in the lane prior to the first quarter horn going off made it a 18-7 Imhotep lead after the opening quarter of play.

Now, even despite their current predicament, ELCO turned to their bread and butter at the onset of the second quarter, the three-point shot, in order to claw back into things. And sure enough, their decision in doing so seemed to work like a charm.

Case in point, a hat-trick of ELCO treys splashed in Evan Huey, Brandon Bohannon, and Asher Kemble respectively, slicing Imhotep’s lead down to a half dozen at 24-18 near the midway point of the second quarter.

However, Imhotep was just as quick to push ELCO away yet again following the Raiders’ dizzying display of 3-balls by proceeding to go off on an 8-0 run to follow suit, a flurry which was capped off by a triple knocked down by 6’0 senior guard, Sammy Wylie, making it a 32-18 Panthers’ lead with three minutes left to play in the opening half.

From there, both teams’ prowess from beyond the arc proved to remain contagious as the Panthers and Raiders continued to trade triples back and forth against one another as an Asher Kemble trey cut the ELCO deficit down to a half dozen at 34-21, before a Sammy Wylie trey for Imhotep on the Panthers’ next trip down the floor helped send Imhotep into the break with ownership of the 37-21 lead at the break.

In the third quarter, the prevailing sense that had taken shape throughout the opening half seemed to ring true again. That namely being that just when ELCO may have found any sort of footing against the mighty Panthers, Imhotep would come right back with some sort of answer to formally extinguish the ELCO momentum.

This time, just when a Braden Bohannon trey cut the Imhotep lead down to 14 at 40-26, a timely old-fashioned three-point play by Norte Dame Fighting Irish commit, Elijah Taylor, upped the Imhotep lead to 46-28, before a dunk and put-back courtesy of 6’6 senior forward, Kamrohn Roundtree, later made it a 50-31 Imhotep advantage two minutes prior to the third frame ultimately concluding. And once it did, Imhotep still had firm control of the scoreboard given their 50-33 lead.

Needless to say, if ELCO had any aspirations whatsoever of making one final comeback and push for the win, there was certainly no time left to waste. Well, the good news there was that the Raiders clearly had recognized the situation and responded marvelously to the impending challenge.

In almost no time at all, the once massive Imhotep lead had suddenly been sliced down to just a dozen at 55-43, before another Bohannon triple, his third of the quarter while en route to his game-high 25-point outburst, got ELCO back within single digits at 57-48 with four minutes still left to play.

Yet again though, Imhotep ultimately had the answer to stave off ELCO’s newfound momentum as a timely and emphatic dunk thrown down by Elijah Taylor just as quickly helped pump the Panthers’ lead back up to size while simultaneously thwarting the existing threat of a Raiders’ rally.

But ELCO would simply not go away quietly into the night, especially when citing that Asher Kemble proceeded to pump in a pair of back-to-back triples following the Taylor dunk, effectively trimming the Imhotep lead down to just five at 59-54 with roughly two minutes still left to go.

That said, Imhotep would again keep ELCO at the bay in the immediate afterglow of Kemble’s consecutive trifectas with a successful 2-2 trip to the foul line by way of 6’0 senior guard, Sammy Wylie, before yet another Panthers’ momentum-stealing dunk, this time by Kamrohn Roundtree, staved off yet another ELCO threat of overtaking the lead.

Not to be outdone though, the group from Myerstown made one last bid of walking out of Philadelphia with a win in their back-pocket as a 3-ball pumped in by 5’10 senior guard, Bryce Coletti, sliced Imhotep’s lead back down to five at 65-60 with 40 seconds left to go.

Yet while they may not have known it at the time, that would prove to be all the closer ELCO would get for the remainder of the game as Imhotep proceeded to head off into the second round of the state tournament with clutch free throw shooting down the final stretch to finally push a gutsy and fearless group of ELCO Raiders away once and for all, 70-60.

As mentioned, if the feeling of déjà vu held true in drawing Imhotep in 2020 was akin to that of being placed against Neumann-Goretti in 2016 was something felt by the general public, rest assured that it was most certainly shared by ELCO head coach Brad Conners as well.

“It’s unreal isn’t it? We saw things kind of unfolding even before we were done with the district play-in that it was shaping up like that,” said Conners of the possibility in getting Imhotep in the opening round come Friday night.

“It did kind of come full-circle,” Conners then remarked regarding this senior class being the next group to follow behind the much-celebrated 2016 ELCO outfit. “We were watching a little bit of Imhotep and it got me thinking, let me flip on that Goretti game and see a little bit because we hung with (Neumann-Goretti) through three quarters. In the middle of the game, (Mason) Bossert hits a 3 and guess who’s recording the game for us? Evan Huey’s got record and sitting right next to him, he flashes over and Bryce (Coletti) looks like he’s about four years old and Bryce is screaming in the camera,” he said of the memorable moment he had this past week while prepping for his current team’s challenge against Imhotep. “We showed that to the guys in my classroom last night. That was awesome.”

And as far as the future goes in Myerstown? Well, wouldn’t you know it, that too is shaping up in many of the same ways yet again.

“My son’s an 8th grader and his buddy’s a 9th grader,” Conners pointed out. “I said, ‘Hey, you guys are recording tonight. You guys are in the locker room with us.’ Evan (Huey) and Bryce (Coletti) were in the locker room with us four years ago as 8th graders, so they got to see a little bit of it, but man, they’re just gritty. They’re just tough to cut that game to five.”

“I was so angry after the first half,” he added after spotting Imhotep a back-breaking trey right before the halftime horn. “(His players) have been through battles. Sometimes I feel like the team kind of needs coddled a little bit, but I let them have it because I just felt like defensively, we let down. Nobody was in help, nobody in mid-line, nobody wanted to take a charge, that wasn’t the team I knew that we had. I just thought in the second half that they showed it,” an understandably proud head coach was quick to say of his group after their valiant second half rally.

“After the game, that was pretty rough in there with those guys,” Conners went on to say. “Being around for so long, you feel like they’re your kids. You see them crying and I could hardly talk,” he remarked while clearly trying to hold back his own emotion. “In the second half, those were the guys we knew we had coming in.”

“That group’s just awesome to be around,” Conners said in closing of the Raiders’ 2019-20 campaign. “I hope the younger players that were in that locker room, they’ve heard me talk about the work that those seniors put in like in the summer time with individual workouts. I told the guys, I could barely talk and get it out but, ‘Asher, Who’s going to call me on Saturday night at 7:30 and say, ‘Coach, can I get in the gym?’ He’s one of those guys,” Conners commented of his departing senior big man who had to put on a brave face and battle back his own tears while shaking hands with the handful of college scouts who were hanging outside of ELCO’s locker room to introduce themselves to the available prospect moments after the game.

“I just hope that the young guys pick up the ball and carry it again because I kind of like the feeling of playing in these state games,” the ELCO head man said with a light-hearted laugh. “It’s fun.”

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