ELCO Outslugs Annville-Cleona As Raiders Claim County Bragging Rights In Saturday Afternoon Affair
Written by: Andy Herr on Sunday, February 14th, 2021
In its truest form, high school sports are a cyclical beast. Hamstrung, yet rooted in its most fundamental principle of a four-year maximum of eligibility, no team is ever truly immune from the wild swings of graduation losses and holdovers and impact that may have on a program on an ever-evolving year-to-year basis. And aside from a small handful of exceptions—names which those on the local level may easily be able to point to—that rings true in Lancaster-Lebanon League circles as well. Just look at the ELCO Raiders for instance.
In 2016, ELCO was able to ride the crest of an incredible wave that ultimately culminated in a trip to the state playoffs where the Raiders were matched up against nationally-recognized, Neumann-Goretti. Incredibly, while some in attendance that night at Archbishop Ryan High School in Philadelphia had no idea where ELCO was even located on a map –much less what the school’s abbreviation stood for—the Raiders gave the Saints all they could handle for a large portion of the contest before N-G’s bevy of superstar talent eventually rued the day. Flash forward a couple of years and that same exact script played out almost to a perfect T. Again, after seeing the progress of a class who had taken their lumps over the previous few years while learning to navigate the varsity ranks, ELCO had crested once again in making it back to Philadelphia for another Friday night opening round game of state competition, this time against powerhouse brand, Imhotep Charter. Once again, while the narrative had been reversed somewhat in the fact that it was ELCO who had mustered the late-game charge this time around, the Raiders would have the final curtain call for an incredible bunch of Raiders end in a bow out and hat tip to another Pennsylvania basketball superpower. Sure enough, here the Raiders were once again starting from scratch. Only this time, the pieces could not have been any more different.
The one constant theme for ELCO during those stretches of remarkable success over the course of a half decade plus had been the presence of scintillating guard play running the show for the Raiders’ effort. Not this time around. No, not that ELCO’s guards are totally devoid of skill of course, but it’s just that you’d be hard-pressed to find a more physically-imposing front line than the one that the Raiders’ are able to throw at you this year. While the God-given assets are clearly on display, such as the case in the presence of towering 6’6 center, Corey Attivo, it appears that nearly everyone who dons an ELCO Raider uniform this season needs no direction as to where the weight room is on campus, including their starting point guard in Braden Bohannon no less. Suffice to say, it’s an overall crew that those who reside in the ranks of L-L Section Four competition have not seen in quite some time, but certainly not from ELCO. And as to be expected with such a new nucleus entering the fold, the Raiders too have fallen victim to the roller coasters of ups and downs this season as well. But it didn’t always seem that way mind you. Not when you consider the fact that the Raiders had largely been the darlings of the early season given their 5-1 start, beset only by a seven-point defeat at the hands of Lancaster Catholic on the opening night of the season. Since then though, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag for the gang from Myerstown going 3-6 in their last nine contests heading into their Saturday matinee against county rival, Annville-Cleona.
And while Saturday’s game itself would also have its share of ups and downs throughout it as well, the Raiders were eventually able to exert their will over the course of 32 minutes against a hard-charging group of Dutchmen.
Perhaps it was a case of the typical Saturday afternoon doldrums, but both sides started off rather chilly from the field in starting things off against one another. Then, once one side was able to gain some traction, it would prove to be the visitors as a Braden Bohannon three-point play and take to the rack opened up a 9-4 ELCO lead in the waning stages of the opening frame. From there, ELCO was able to keep the clamps down on A-C defensively while also boldly brandishing their height advantage inside, highlighted by a second-chance bucket from 6’6 junior forward, Corey Attivo, making it an 11-4 ELCO advantage heading into the second quarter.
Given the start against ELCO, the feeling had to be all too eerie for Annville-Cleona on Saturday considering that the Dutchmen had only been able to score just one point in the opening eight minutes of their Thursday night game against Pequea Valley as well. In short, it had been 16 minutes of play in which A-C had been able to only tally five points. Sure, but don’t bother telling that to Simon Domencic that is.
In the early going of the second quarter against ELCO, the Dutchmen’s 6’0 junior guard was able to take command of the scene by rattling off a personal 4-0 run with a determined take to the cup which preceded a smooth pullup jumper, all of which helped Annville race back within three at 11-8 of their guests. But for as quickly as A-C had been able to claw back into the thick of things, ELCO was right there to push them away once more as the Raiders’ lead had suddenly bubbled up to 17-8 with 3:02 left in the opening half following yet another bucket inside courtesy of Attivo, forcing Annville to burn a timeout. However, Attivo was just getting started.
Ignited by his strong his play while operating within the paint early on, Attivo was able to pour more salt into A-C’s open wound with a pair of back-to-back buckets following the earlier Annville-Cleona timeout, making it a 21-11 ELCO lead with 1:12 now left standing between the two sides and the halftime recess. On the day, Attivo was a nearly seven-foot tall tree which A-C could not really chop down as the ELCO junior finished the afternoon by netting a team-high 14 points to lead the Raiders’ effort. So, with their lead already standing at double digit proportions, the Raiders were able to add another brick upon their standing with a final pair over the course of the last minute and change, taking the 23-11 lead with them into the intermission.
Ironically, for as cold as both teams started things off going back to the beginning of the contest, both sides had cooled off once again by the time the third quarter had rolled around on Saturday afternoon as well. Case in point, ELCO finding their first field goal at the 4:30 mark of the third quarter thanks to another bucket by you guessed it, Corey Attivo, upping the Raiders’ lead to a baker’s dozen at 26-13. Speaking of field goals, Annville-Cleona went without one themselves over a large portion of the third stanza with Isaac Good ended A-C’s prolonged scoring drought as the Dutchmen’s 6’3 junior forward’s free throw at the 1:48 mark of the period got the hosts back within two touchdowns at 28-14 before the quarter ended with a Braden Bohannon pullup J on the Raiders’ ensuing offensive trip, giving ELCO the 30-14 cushion heading into the final eight.
As mentioned, Annville-Cleona had gone without a made field goal throughout a majority of the third quarter, thwarted by a bout with cold shooting. But that all seemed to change once the fourth quarter rolled around. Just then though, sparked by a pair of back-to-back triples sunk by Jake Mills and Simon Domencic respectively, A-C had quickly roared back into the fight. So much so in fact that a pretty finger-roll at the cup courtesy of 5’7 senior guard, Nick Malloy, suddenly got Annville-Cleona back within 13 at 35-22 with five minutes and change remaining. From there, the Dutchmen were able to whittle the Raiders’ lead down to fewest it had been in quite some time at 35-25 following a three-point play put together by Domencic, as the A-C junior went on to steal game-high scoring honors in posting a 15-point contribution.
However, even despite their determined late-game rally, that would prove to be all the closer Annville-Cleona would get for the remainder of the afternoon.
Seeing that ELCO clearly knew where to best butter their bread against A-C, the Raiders went right back inside and found another physically-imposing presence ready and waiting in 6’2 junior forward, Luke Williams, with Williams tallying another ELCO bucket from within the paint, pushing the lead back up to a dozen at 37-25. Then, needing a closer to finish things off, ELCO knew precisely who to turn to. For that, the Raiders both literally and figuratively got out of the way for Braden Bohannon down the final stretch as a pair of two consecutive Bohannon takes to the cup had helped put the finishing touches on the Raiders’ grind out game against Annville-Cleona on Saturday afternoon, 41-25.
As highlighted earlier, not only is ELCO starting over this season with a new cast of characters receiving the vast majority of the varsity minutes this season, but it’s also been an about-face in terms of the makeup of the roster itself. So much so in fact that ELCO head coach Brad Conners has had to change the way in which the Raiders play the game. “Oh no, I like doing the guard thing in coming at you fast and furious and getting up-tempo, but we’re not really built like that (this season),” Conners admitted with a smile on Saturday following his team’s victory at Annville. “We kind of knew in the summer that we were going to have to change it up and take advantage of our size. We’ve been doing that and it’s a growing process. Listen, this is one of the biggest teams I’ve ever had,” Conners continued. “When it’s going good, it looks great. When it’s not, it’s rough.”
The good news for Coach Conners? It doesn’t appear that he’ll have to wait very long to run his favorite offense of choice in the very near future.
“We have a group of ninth graders coming up who are a little more guard-oriented,” said Conners. “I like the guard-oriented style where we’re coming downhill at you, we’re gonna drive, we’re gonna kick, we’re gonna shoot 3’s. You just kind of look at where we’re at right now with our senior, junior and sophomore classes, we’re just not really built like that. Rather than fit the round peg into the square hole, let’s go with the size. We can win like that.”
And as far as those pieces all fitting together thus far in a condensed season?
“I think our schedule was favorable to start,” the ELCO head man said when asked to give a general sense of his team’s overall year at large up and the ups and the downs they’ve experienced up until Saturday afternoon at A-C. “We kind of knew too that the middle to back-end of the schedule is where things would get harder. I think teams have kind of figured us out a little bit. We’ve seen a ton of zone lately. Like just finding the open man, we’re struggling to play against the zone. You go back to the Columbia game. For us, we’ve had trouble for a couple weeks now with it. It’s frustrating, but they’re young. We just keep working at it and eventually they’ll figure it out.”
And with Coach Conners leading the ship, you’d have to like the odds of that eventually coming true.
NEXT UP: Coming into Saturday, ELCO had positioned themselves right on the cutline of the District 3-4A playoff field. And while each and every win down the final stretch will certainly be a feather in their collective caps in order to perhaps slide inside that threshold, the road ahead for the Raiders also possess itself with three more golden opportunities with games against Manheim Central, Solanco and Tulpehocken set to conclude ELCO’s regular season slate over the final week and change. Two of those three being against competition which hails from higher levels of PIAA classification than the Raiders themselves, adding an extra layer of intrigue as ELCO fights to reenter postseason competition once again this year.
For Annville-Cleona, the Dutchmen’s next opportunity in picking up their inaugural win of the 2020-21 campaign will take place on Tuesday night when the Dutchmen welcome Lancaster Country Day into “The Barn,” before A-C is scheduled to finish things off against Palmyra in a backyard neighborhood rivalry scrap the very next night on Wednesday.
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