The last time they saw one another, Penn Manor and Hempfield waged an unforgettable war.
After starting off in an early hole, thanks in large part to the efforts of Hempfield’s dynamic senior point guard Eli Washington, Penn Manor kept chiseling away at the Black Knights’ lead throughout the remainder of the contest that early January night in Millersville. For his part, Washington was indeed terrific as evidenced by his game-high effort of netting 26 points on the night to help the Black Knights’ cause, including a game-tying trifecta with 20 seconds left. But in the end however, it would not be enough as the Comets, namely Kevin Roldan, would end up having the final say as Roldan’s coldblooded triple with three seconds left on the clock tickled the twine, causing an ensuing mob scene on the court as the Comets’ faithful felt good reason to storm the court and rejoice with their heroes after such a dramatic takedown of their neighborhood adversaries from nearby Landisville, 61-58.
Since that game back on January 3rd however, the roads for both Penn Manor and Hempfield that diverged from that night forward have ended up producing a mixed bag of results for both the Comets and Black Knights.
For Penn Manor, the Comets were not able to replicate that same magic touch just 48 hours later when they crossed the Susquehanna to take on Dallastown. Suffice to say, that Saturday night in York County did not go the way of the Comets as the Wildcats held Penn Manor to just 23 points on night, coming away with a 53-23 victory. From there, Penn Manor proceeded to drop their next two Section 1 games against McCaskey and Cedar Crest respectively, before going up to Berks County and finding much better success as the Comets knocked off a strong Exeter Eagles squad before dropping back-to-back nip and tuck league contests against Manheim Township and Warwick respectively.
Ironically, the narrative for Hempfield had to feel eerily similar.
After dropping the Penn Manor game, the Black Knights proceeded to knock off a strong West York team just two days later, before following that up with an impressive win over arguably the best team in the Lancaster-Lebanon League this season, Cedar Crest. After that however, Hempfield would stub their toe again against bitter rival Manheim Township. And since that game against the Blue Streaks, the Black Knights also proceeded to come up short in their last two outings after battles against strong squads in Spring-Ford and McCaskey.
So, with both teams eager to snap their current losing streaks, Tuesday night in Landisville allowed these two nearby rivals to settle the score in a highly-anticipated rematch as the Comets and Knights were each jostling for position in hopes of snagging the last bid into the District 3-6A playoff field.
From the outset, it became quite obvious that Tuesday night’s grudge match between these two rivals would be one decided by drastic momentum swings. In fact, one only need look to the opening eight minutes to find further proof of that.
Out of starting blocks, Hempfield was far and away the clear aggressor. While sparked by an Eli Washington triple on the Black Knights’ opening possession, the home-standing Knights took the fight to the Comets by racing out to an early 7-0 lead after a Washington dish to Austin Groft in transition, forcing the Comets to call a timeout and regather themselves while in the midst of an early hole after just 2:30 of action.
As it turned out, the timeout called by Penn Manor head coach Larry Bellew would be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Comets.
Ignited by a 3-ball in their own regard, this one cashed in by 6’2 senior marksman Ty Erisman, the visitors from Millersville would proceed to close the first quarter on a tear as another Erisman triple would give the Comets their first lead of the night at 8-7 shortly thereafter. But the Comets would be able to do one better from there, eventually closing the opening quarter with a dramatic 9-0 surge, sending Penn Manor into the second stanza with ownership of the 9-7 advantage.
Ironically, much in the same way in which they were able to begin Tuesday night’s contest, Hempfield proceeded to storm out of the gates to start the second quarter by torching the nets as a Ronnie Swantner trifecta when coupled with a Ryan Hilton lay up in transition ushered the Black Knights past the Comets, allowing the 5-0 Hempfield salvo put Hempfield back on top, 12-9.
However, much in the same vein in which they themselves responded in the first quarter, Penn Manor would come roaring right back to stymie the momentum put forth from their hosts.
In fact, after another Ty Erisman triple, his third of the first half, the wily Comets were able to knot things back up at 12-12 before a Kevin Roldan bucket at the tin swung momentum all the way back around into Penn Manor’s direction as the Comets suddenly found themselves up by a pair at 14-12 with 5:20 left to go in the first half. And while a timely Konnor Axe 3-ball would promptly end the current Penn Manor charge, the Comets would retaliate with a 6-0 offering of their own in response, putting the Comets back in front at 20-15 with 1:30 left to go before the first half would ultimately come to a close with Penn Manor holding serve at 20-17.
If the first half of Tuesday’s season-series finale between Penn Manor and Hempfield was epitomized by a series of haymakers thrown between both the Comets and the Black Knights, the third quarter was largely defined by shooting. Well, Hempfield’s shooting to be more exact.
Coming out of the intermission, the Black Knights came out firing. After a pair of 3-balls dialed up by seniors Brad Atkinson and Austin Groft respectively, Hempfield suddenly surged back in front once ahead at 23-22 just two minutes into the third frame. From there however, chances are that you can probably already predict what would happen next. If you are thinking it would be yet another Penn Manor rebuttal, you would be correct.
After witnessing Hempfield pour in back-to-back triples to begin the second half, the Comets would remain unphased by virtue of their 7-2 run over the next 2:50 as an Ethan Hine bucket in transition put Penn Manor up by what felt like a monstrous cushion at the time, 29-25. But just when Penn Manor may have likely started to feel good about themselves and direction in which things had appeared to be heading, Connor Elslager was there with other ideas as Hempfield’s 6’2 junior guard rattled in yet another Black Knights’ trey, this one slicing the Penn Manor lead down to the slimmest of margins at 29-28 with the third quarter winding down. However, that would prove to be more than enough time for Kevin Roldan to answer back as Penn Manor’s 5’9 senior floor general scored by way of a strong drive en route to the hoop for the critical answer, helping send Penn Manor into the final eight minutes with ownership of the 31-28 lead.
Remember that theme of Hempfield finding timely buckets from behind the arc? Well, that would prove to be yet another key element for the Black Knights’ effort down the stretch as well as a timely trifecta cashed in by 6’1 senior guard Adam Wernoch made things all square once again at 33-33 with 6:20.
On the surface, one may have assumed that the remaining six minutes and change would offer plenty of opportunities for more body blows to be thrown by either side with such a critical outcome hanging in the balance for both ballclubs. And while momentum would continue to sway like a tree in the brisk winter air down the final stretch, it was likely not the way in which many would have suspected.
In a nutshell, the final quarter would be characterized by both the Comets and Black Knights going on prolonged offensive possessions, forcing the opposition to play defense for minutes-long possessions as a natural byproduct. To their credit, both defenses would continue rising to the challenge time after time for the duration of the quarter. But while the defensive display put forth by both Penn Manor and Hempfield down the stretch may have been for the only the heartiest of souls, the waning moments of the final quarter was not without its glimpses of offensive excitement either such as when Penn Manor’s shot attempt at the tin within the last few seconds went begging, sending this already marvelous game into a deserving extra session. Or so they thought.
When starting an overtime period, especially one with so much riding on the outcome as was the case Tuesday evening in Landisville, seniors typically find a way to come to the forefront and rise to the occasion. Sure enough, that would exactly be the case midway through the extra period as an Eli Washington steal and finish at the cup, plus the free throw added on top, gave Hempfield the first jab of overtime at 36-33 with 2:30 left to play.
Speaking of seniors, Penn Manor also had one ready and willing to enter into the limelight in their own right. That of course being the hero of the first game, Kevin Roldan.
With his team’s chances hanging delicately in the balance, Penn Manor’s tough-as-nails point guard answered back by tallying a critical 2-2 stretch from the charity stripe, trimming the Hempfield lead down to one at 36-35. On the night, Roldan would fittingly go on to finish as the Comets’ leading scorer with a gutty 18-point effort once everything was said and done.
As the first overtime period was quickly winding down, Eli Washington suddenly found himself back at the foul line with the Black Knights on top, 37-35 with 24.2 left to go. And after a 1-2 trip at the line, Penn Manor would get the ball back with the chance to send this one into yet another overtime period or perhaps ending things in the most dramatic of fashions with another walk-off style win. And while the conclusion of the first overtime period would indeed be dramatic, it may not have been in the most traditional of manners.
With Penn Manor inbounding their ball underneath the Hempfield basket down by two at 37-35 with 4.2 left to go, Kevin Roldan would receive the inbounds pass at the elbow-extended and promptly decided to turn the corner and make a move to the cup. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you want to look at it, Roldan was then immediately undercut by a Hempfield defender, sending the Comets’ leader to the foul line with 0.8 seconds left to go on the scoreboard clock. And with the confidence and poise of a senior who has plenty of battle scars from L-L Section 1 wars of days gone by, Roldan calmly knocked down the ensuing one-and-one, effectively prescribing Penn Manor and Hempfield to a second dose of overtime at 37-37.
In the second overtime session, the Comets wasted little time in jumping out in front as back-to-back buckets from point-blank range scored by 5’10 junior guard Jaden Matias allowed the Comets to open up a 41-37 cushion in the opening stages of the additional four-minute period. From there, the Penn Manor lead would continue to swell as a Ty Erisman bucket, his first field of any kind since his remarkable 3-point barrage authored in the first half, promptly put Penn Manor up by what felt like an insurmountable five-point bulge at 43-38 with just 1:20 left to go.
But when talking about a program such as one the pedigree of Hempfield’s, putting those kinds of teams away is a task is far easier said than done.
Needing to score with time of the essence, Hempfield’s Eli Washington was able to follow-up an errant Black Knights’ shot attempt with a timely hoop of his own, narrowing the Penn Manor lead down to three at 43-40 with 22.5 left to go. Now on defense, Hempfield was forced to foul in an effort to try and prolong the game for as long as they possibly could. And prolong they would as the Comets would come up empty at the charity stripe with the game on the line, as Hempfield quickly snatched the defensive board out of the air and promptly headed off on the offensive attack.
Ironically, foul shots would continue to treat the Comets in the cruelest of ways in the final 13.6 of the second overtime as Eli Washington was fouled in the corner while shooting what would have been a game-tying triple, sending the grizzled veteran back to the foul line with the chance to extend the game once more. Sure enough, Washington would do precisely that as his crucial 3-3 trip line with six seconds left ended up sending Hempfield and Penn Manor in a third sequence of overtime with things all knotted up at 43-43. On the night, Washington would end up posting yet another incredible display of yeoman’s work once the dust had finally settled, contributing a game-high 19-point mark to aid the Hempfield troops.
To their credit, Penn Manor could have easily folded up the tents and prepared to head home after seeing their five-point lead suddenly dry up and evaporate over the course of the final 1:20 of the second overtime. But instead, as one may have already imagined, the Comets came out even more determined to right the wrong which had besieged them just moments earlier. In fact, after an Adam Wernoch triple for Hempfield which got the scoring underway in the third overtime, Penn Manor would come right down the floor and immediately answer back with a smooth flip in the lane put home by Ty Erisman to shave the Black Knights’ lead down to just one at 46-45 in the opening minutes. From there, the back forth and battle only continued to rage on as a 2-2 trip to the line from Hempfield’s Austin Groft opened the Black Knights’ lead back out to three at 50-47, only to see an Ethan Hine bucket in transition for Penn Manor trim the deficit back down to a one-point cushion with just one-minute left to go.
In many ways, it may have seemed like a case of déjà vu had just taken place for those in attendance in the ensuing moments as yet another monstrous 2-2 trip to the line from Groft was answered with another Hine layup in transition, now making it a 52-51 Hempfield lead with 15.4 to play.
With the ball back in their possession following the Hine fast-bucket, Hempfield was immediately fouled, sending the Black Knights back to the line with a chance to create some much-needed separation between themselves and the feisty Comets who were clearly hungry to complete the season sweep when they decided to send Austin Groft to the charity stripe once again with 11.8 left to play. And while Groft would be able to knock down a freebie when called upon, the 1-2 trip left the window a smidge open for Penn Manor, leaving the Comets with opportunity to extend the game yet again, or cap this season’s series off with another buzzer-beater.
Unfortunately for the contingent from Millersville, neither option would come to pass as the Comets were whistled for a traveling call on their ensuing offensive possession, giving the ball back to Hempfield with the two-point lead and the ball with the game now under 10 seconds left to go. And after successfully navigating past the relentless Penn Manor havoc administered defensively on the inbounds pass, Hempfield senior forward Brad Atkinson was fouled with 2.2 seconds left with the chance to put this one on ice.
After seeing his first attempt dance around the rim before ultimately falling off, Atkinson responded with an incredible amount of courageousness on his second try as Atkinson’s 1-2 trip gave Penn Manor the opportunity for one last heave, albeit setting up shop 94 feet away from their desired basket with next to no time left to negotiate.
Needless to say, the situation at-hand for Penn Manor was clearly not one that is readily found in the opening pages of the Coaching How-To manual. All things considered, Penn Manor would be able to draw up a pretty nifty play given the circumstances. But unfortunately however, the Comets’ last-second prayer from half-court would go unanswered by bouncing rudely off the glass, giving the Hempfield the highly dramatic and much-needed triumph over Penn Manor after three incredible overtimes, 54-51.
As one can imagine, a back and forth battle such as the one that had just taken place can often leave those involved with a loss for words. But nevertheless, Hempfield head coach Danny Walck was quick to acknowledge the incredible fight put forth by both ballclubs.
“Those types of games there, they’re bittersweet because both teams deserved to win,” an excited but understandably exhausted Walck offered afterwards. “We were both playing so hard,” the Black Knights’ head man went on to add. “We were just very fortunate.”
Fortunate or not, Tuesday’s night triumph over a very game Comets squad was certainly one that was preceded with all sorts of possible motivation as far as Hempfield was concerned. But make no mistake about it, Coach Walck and his and players weren’t about to get caught up in all the outside noise. Instead, they were solely focused in on bettering themselves in the days leading up to their second battle with Penn Manor, and were justly rewarded in doing so. All in all, it’s a pretty remarkable feat when you consider that the core nucleus of this year’s Hempfield squad was not one that had been accustomed to flirting with the District 3-6A bubble during their careers as Black Knights.
“That’s sort of like that hidden thing,” said Walck in regard to his team’s mental makeup heading into a stretch that ultimately define their season. “They’re well-aware of it because a number of them were involved in that,” Walck added. “Different roles, but well-aware of what’s at stake.”
“They have great pride,” Walck said illuminating a key collective characteristic of this year’s club. “They have great pride in carrying the name on the front that jersey which I’m proud of. But they’re also finding out that with that comes responsibility and accountability. It’s like when an assistant coach says, ‘I want to be a head coach.’ Just understand what goes into that six-inch slide on the bench. It’s definitely a learning curve.”
NEXT UP: With a big win over Penn Manor now behind them, Hempfield will look to close this week out with a bang as the Black Knights look to make it a perfect 2-0 showing over Cedar Crest this year while on the road in Cornwall on Friday night before finishing the week out with yet another key game on the horizon against Dallastown while going back on the road Saturday afternoon.
For Penn Manor, the message is clear. Do not let the most recent Hempfield game end up defeating you more than once. In other words, the Comets must quickly rebound from the disappointment of Tuesday evening when they play host to an up and coming McCaskey bunch on Friday evening. If anything, it promises to be an exciting one in Millersville given the six-point battle that the Comets and Red Tornado played to just two weeks ago in Lancaster City.
And while final stretch runs are always vital for a handful of different reasons, perhaps no two teams when looked at in a vacuum have more important games in the Lancaster-Lebanon League yet to be contested than both Hempfield and Penn Manor. After all, these final few challenges will serve as the underlying factor as to whether or not either squad will continue to play on come playoff time in mid-February.