Believe it or not, Friday night around the Lancaster-Lebanon League signified the start of the final week of the regular season. And while some teams found themselves having the opportunity to improve upon or ultimately seize a playoff berth in the final few days of this season’s campaign, others unfortunately were not so lucky. But even though it all, there was still plenty left to play for those squads that were preparing for what would be their final few games of the year. Case in point, Friday night’s battle between Conestoga Valley and Ephrata.
For both, this season has not been particularly kind to either the Buckskins and Mounts to put it mildly as evidenced by the 4-32 combined records shared between them. Yet even despite all of that, Friday night would give one of these two resilient squads some well-deserved positive vibes with the season set to reach its conclusion.
And in a fitting and quite frankly much-deserved twist of fate, it would prove to be Ephrata who would reverse their fortunes on Senior Night.
To put it mildly, the Mounts came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. In fact, after a smooth spot up jumper was cashed in by freshman Mason Hagen on Ephrata’s first offensive trip which was quickly bookended by a nice hoop inside by 6’3 junior big man Lyle Kopp, the Mounts had successfully knocked the visitors from Witmer back on their heels early as evidenced by their 6-0 spurt through the first 2:15 of action.
But even after a much-needed Jordan Ransing trifecta quickly followed suit which brought Conestoga Valley to within three at 6-3 following the Kopp bucket from point-blank range, the Mounts only continued to flourish as the opening quarter went along. Ironically, it would prove to be yet another 6-0 flurry generated by the Mounts to help lower the curtain on the opening period as buckets from Kopp, Xavian Rodriguez, and Parke Haws sent Ephrata into the second stanza with the impressive and commanding 12-3 advantage.
Once the second quarter began, it only continued to be more of the same from the home-standing Mountaineers.
After two straight buckets put home by arguably the most underrated player in the Lancaster-Lebanon League landscape this season, 6’2 senior wing Xavian Rodriguez, Ephrata quickly saw their lead swell to as many as 14 points at 17-3 before a timely put-back from CV’s Will Stone quickly stopped the bleeding for the Buckskins with 3:30 left to go in the opening half.
And while it may have seemed innocent and harmless at the time, the bucket put home by the 6’1 junior guard proved to be a catalyst for which the Buckskins would employ for the remainder of the second frame.
In fact, after a steal and run-out by 6’3 senior guard Joey Cardina, CV had quickly jumped back to within 10 at 17-7, forcing Ephrata to call a timeout and regroup with the Buckskins mounting an apparent charge. From there, Conestoga Valley would be able to trim the Ephrata lead down to as few nine at 19-10 following a knockdown triple in the corner splashed in by 5’6 sophomore guard Luke Rumbaugh. Yet even despite the late half Buckskin rally, Ephrata would be able to keep Conestoga Valley at arm’s length for the final 1:35 of the first half as the Mounts headed into recess while holding serve at 23-13 over their guests.
The second half on the other hand, most specifically the third quarter, provided a much different story as to what had been witnessed in the first 16 minutes of the contest.
Needless to say, it would have been easy for one in attendance to get the impression that the Buckskins were hanging on by a mere thread up until that point in the contest. So, with that being said, timing was of the essence for someone donning a Conestoga Valley uniform to step up and deliver. Fortunately for Buckskin faithful, they had someone ready and willing to steer the ship through choppy waters in Joey Cardina.
After seeing Cardina sink a 3-point bomb which brought CV back within 11 at 33-22, Cardina’s hot shooting clearly became contagious for the rest of his teammates as triples cashed in by 5’11 senior guard Nathan Scheid and 6’0 junior Ethan Bredeman quickly followed suit, successfully slicing the Ephrata lead down to a manageable five at 35-30 with 3:50 left to go in the third.
From that point on however, the remainder of the third quarter quickly became tThe Joey Cardina Show.
Behind a stifling a zone press that had clearly befuddled Ephrata all night long, the Buckskins only continued to ramp up the defensive pressure with Cardina going on to reap the benefits as defense quickly morphed into offense following a litany of Mountaineer turnovers. In fact, the CV senior would proceed to score the Buckskins’ next eight point in rapid succession, incredibly putting the visitors up 38-35, considering they had once trailed by 14 points just a few minutes previous.
The only thing was, the Buckskins only continued to press on even if Cardina wasn’t the one doing the damage.
After Cardina was able to completely wipe away the Buckskins’ deficit all by his lonesome by virtue of his third quarter scoring explosion, fellow senior Jordan Ransing proceeded to chip in as well with a deuce of his own shortly thereafter, putting the Bucks up by five at 40-35 with just 70 seconds now left to play in the third.
But to their credit, Ephrata would also dig deep when momentum proceeded to leap up off their bench.
To be more precise, the Mounts would close the quarter with a timely 5-0 punch right back which was capped off a fearless take to the rack by junior guard Allen Nelson, sending this one into the final act with everything all square at 40-40 between these two hungry ballclubs.
Once again though, Conestoga Valley would have no issues whatsoever with throwing haymakers with their backs up against the ropes.
In fact, the Buckskins would open the fourth quarter with a 5-0 blitz in their own right to go back in front following a strong take by senior guard J’Hvante Perkins that was immediately followed up a trifecta buried from 5’11 sophomore guard Sawyer Shertzer through the first 1:50 of the quarter.
But on this night, Ephrata would refuse to go away without a fight.
After quickly seeing themselves fall behind by five in the early going of the fourth, the Mounts fired right back while playing with an unquestioned resolve as Ephrata proceeded to score the next seven of the contest, eventually pulling ahead by a pair at 47-45 on the heels of Jared Groff put-back with 4:50 to play. And while CV would answer back in their own right with yet another tough drive to the rack by Perkins, Ephrata was certainly up for the fight throughout the duration of the contest.
With the game sitting right there for the taking, neither Conestoga Valley nor Ephrata would be able to garner much in terms of separation in the waning stages of Friday night’s tussle. And as is the case in games such as this that often find themselves coming right down to the wire, free throw shooting would likely be at a premium once again. Well, on this night, Ephrata would take full advantage.
With the game tied at 49-49 with just 1:00 left to go, 6’3 senior forward Jared Groff found himself toeing the charity stripe with the chance to make a rather large impact on the outcome of this one should he be able to knock down his freebies. Sure enough, Groff would be able to do just that by cashing in one of two from the line, giving Ephrata the slimmest of cushions at 50-49. And with the Buckskins promptly coming up empty down on the offensive end, it would then be junior Lyle Kopp’s turn at extending the Mounts’ late barrier.
While it may have been Senior Night, Kopp would end up turning in one of the best all-around performances of any player for the entire night, successfully keeping the Buckskins at bay which critical buckets at nearly every turn. Sure enough, and right on cue, Kopp would yet again play with the steely-determination of a battle-tested senior by calmly drilling both ends of the one & one opportunity for the Mounts with 32 seconds left, putting Ephrata up 52-49, with the crowd contained inside the Ephrata Middle School primed to explode with excitement.
But nevertheless, Conestoga Valley still had more than ample time to cut into the Ephrata lead, or better yet, tie things up with a 3-ball.
On their ensuing offensive possession, the Buckskins opted to go with the latter, only to cruelly come up empty at the most inopportune of times, sending senior Xavian Rodgriuez on a long walk down to the other end to essentially put the game on ice with just eight seconds left to play. Fittingly, Rodriguez would be able to do precisely that, knocking down one of the two from the line, effectively putting the bow on this one, creating an impromptu court storming as Ephrata was finally able to taste the sweet nectar of victory for the first time since two weeks before the Christmas holiday by virtue of their dramatic 53-49 triumph over Conestoga Valley.
“It’s been a long stretch,” second-year Ephrata head coach Jon Treese admitted on Friday night in the aftermath of his team’s first victory of the calendar year. “We’ve been trying different, younger guys and kind of have been settling on some lineups that have been giving us consistent effort. But, we were still having our struggles offensively and just being very inconsistent,” said Treese of the Mounts’ recent play.
“We’ve gotten really good work-ethic and performances from our seniors. I’m glad they were able to get that win tonight,” Treese said.
And while this year has certainly had its fair share of bumps in the road, Friday night helped serve as a fitting microcosm for Ephrata’s season considering it displayed some of that same Ephrata fighting spirit that has been a hallmark of previous Mountaineer teams over the last several seasons.
“It started in the second quarter even though we held on to a 10-point lead,” Ephrata’s head man stated when questioned about the first he inkling he had of a possible Conestoga Valley retaliation to the Mounts’ sizable early game cushion. “It was starting in the second quarter where I felt like their effort took a step above out effort.”
“At halftime, that was the message. It’s like, ‘(Conestoga Valley) is not done punching. They’re not going to fold. They think they’re here to beat you.’ In the third quarter, we drew up three different things to beat their zone pressure, each one more simple than the last.”
“But, they figured it out in time and were able to punch back,” Treese triumphantly added of his group. “I’m proud of that…When things don’t go well during the course of a season, it’s really easy for bad stuff to happen and to just let that bad stuff be accepted. They didn’t do that tonight. That’s a credit to them as players.”
NEXT UP: After their win on Friday night coupled with another victory on the road Saturday afternoon in Elverson at Twin Valley, the Mounts are likely and deservedly riding high heading into their final few games of the season as Ephrata finds themselves with more dates on the road at McCaskey and E-Town respectively. And while it may be easy to quickly put this frustrating year behind them and immediately start to look forward to the promise of a new future that will soon be in view on the upcoming horizon, the task is not necessarily as easy as one may think considering the senior group that Ephrata will be forced to say goodbye to next week.
“My seniors care a lot about the program,” said Treese of his small, yet impactful senior class. “They’re not selfish. Xavian Rodriguez has to be selfish sometimes because we need that sometimes in order for us to win. But a lot of credit goes to Alex Nelson and Jared Groff, my other seniors playing, and even Zac McGillan on the sidelines. They all care so much about the program. They truly have an understanding of, ‘How do we make sure that we’re taking steps forward for the future?’
“The biggest thing is trying to make sure that we’re using these last few games to take the film and build a structure that can be explained to the kids such as, ‘These are the mistakes were making. Here’s how you have to grow as a player.’ I think we can evaluate that through these games,” Treese surmised of the finishing slate.
“It might be some different lineups and some different things, but realistically, the precedent that we need to set is that this year at times we took a step back in terms of enthusiasm and effort and it burned us. So, regardless of wins and losses, or trying to see guys in lineups, it’s more important to me that we just have a solid commitment to our effort. That’s what we’re going to build it on.”
For the Buckskins, Conestoga Valley will look to regroup as they too head into the final week of their season as CV looks to close out with a bang on their Senior Night as well when they play host to Lebanon on Tuesday night.