Hot Shooting Blazers Remain Perfect In Section 3 As Lancaster Mennonite Fends Off ELCO
Written by: Andy Herr on Monday, December 18th, 2017
To many, it may be hard to find many similarities between ELCO and Lancaster Mennonite on the hardwood. On the contrary however when looking at the recent histories of both the Raiders and Blazers respectively. Just in the last two seasons alone, both ELCO and Mennonite have had spectacular regular seasons that have propelled each to appearances in leagues, districts, and even the state tournaments. ELCO was able to accomplish that feat in the 2016 campaign, while Mennonite has gone on to complete the triple crown in the last two seasons themselves. Ironically, the last time either school danced in the state tournament, both of their rides were cut short by the Neumann-Goretti Saints, a Philadelphia Catholic League powerhouse that has won the last four state championships in the classification for which they resided. And although we are a long way from finding out whether the 2017-18 Raider and Blazer squads can repeat their recently shared histories, both are off to impressive starts in their own right so far this season.
For ELCO, an 0-2 start in the Lebanon Tip Off Tournament preceded an impressive win over a perennial power of the last decade, Manheim Central. And In their last time out, the Raiders were able to give Lancaster Catholic, the LL League and District 3 champion of a year ago, everything they could handle before the Crusaders eventually closed out a 60-55 road victory in Myerstown.
On the other side, Mennonite has been able to build off their successes from the last handful of seasons yet again as the Blazers posted a 1-1 mark coming out of the Gettysburg Tip Off Tournament before battling tooth and nail against neighboring Section 1 foe Conestoga Valley with the Blazers being able to pull that game out, defeating the Buckskins on a literal last second free throw in overtime. And just this past week, Lancaster Mennonite was able to get off to a 1-0 start in the section, checking a big box off their roadmap towards a possible Section 3 crown as the Blazers traveled to Columbia to knock off the Crimson Tide in an always rowdy and raucous atmosphere up on The Hill.
On Monday night, both squads met up at the school alongside Route 30 just outside of Lancaster city to go head-to-head to see who would be able to continue their early-season good vibes with a victory heading into two more section games this week before the holiday break recess.
Although both teams were plagued with relatively sloppy starts to begin the game, it would be ELCO’s Braden Bohannon who would get things started off on the right foot for his Raider team as the freshman showed off his moxie playing in his first section road game by drilling a jumper to tie the score at 2-2 in the early going. The Raiders would then continue on their early 5-0 run as a three point play authored by ELCO senior forward Jeff Lorah made it a 5-2 ELCO lead with 5:10 to play in the first quarter.
But just then, Mennonite would be able to respond with a 4-0 effort of their own as speedy Blazer guard Elijah Terry raced end to end with the rock in his hands to put Mennonite back in front 6-5 with now 3:40 left to go in the opening frame. However the quick Blazer flurry would end there as a trifecta by ELCO senior forward Blake Weary put the brakes on the Mennonite rally, simultaneously putting the Raiders back in front 8-7 just one minute later.
But as fate would have it, that would turn out to be ELCO’s last hurrah with the lead on this night as a long bucket in the short corner from Elijah Terry followed up by two straight buckets by battle-tested senior point guard John Gillespie, gave the Blazers a more commanding lead in the waning minutes of the quarter. Just then however, Gillespie showed off his all-around game as he rifled a pass into a tight window, finding Blazer big man Roman Ali all by his lonesome under the bucket for the easy deuce to put Mennonite up by even more.
It then seemed only fitting that LMH would have the last highlight of the first quarter as a 3 ball dialed up from Elijah Bynum just before the first quarter horn gave the Blazers an 18-12 lead after the game’s first eight minutes.
Arguably ELCO’s highest-performing player in the first quarter, sophomore center Asher Kemble, continued his stellar first half play when the second quarter commenced as the 6’5” Raider big man scored another bucket from close range to bring ELCO within four to start the quarter at 18-14. From there however, Mennonite would be able to distance themselves from the visitors from Myerstown as a triple splashed home from Elijah Terry made it a 22-16 Blazer lead, with the LMH offense beginning to resemble a finely-tuned machine.
The Blazer offense then continued to play in first gear as Mennonite promptly rattled off a 5-0 run following the Terry trey as a clean and emphatic rejection by Blazer big man Cole Forte on defense led to a Carter Hurst triple on the other end as Mennonite saw their lead swell to 27-16, forcing ELCO to call time and regroup the troops with 5:36 left in the half.
But unfortunately for ELCO the timeout did not do much to fan the flames, at least momentarily, as a beautiful display of the fast break offense as authored by Gillespie to Elijah Terry showed why this would turn out to be the Blazers’ night.
To their credit however, ELCO was able to scrap and claw their way back into things as a strong take to the rack by Jeff Lorah brought the Raiders back to within single digits as the Lorah bucket made it a 29-20 Blazer lead with 4:30 left in the half.
However with ELCO employing a 2-3 zone on defense, the Blazers were able to exploit it as yet another Mennonite trifecta, this one from Elijah Terry, immediately answered the Lorah hoop on the other end to keep ELCO at arm’s length.
But ELCO would refuse to go quietly into the halftime break as they found a spark plug in the form of Bryce Coletti. The 5’7” sophomore guard was able to knock down a pair of free throws later in the half before going on to create a turnover on the defensive end which ultimately led to an Evan Huey jumper to close out the half for ELCO although Mennonite was still in control leading 37-28.
New half? No problem. The Blazers came out firing following the intermission as well thanks in part to back to back buckets by Cole Forte to begin the half before a corner trey by Elijah Terry put the Blazers up 44-31 with just under six minutes left to go in the third.
ELCO would continue to keep plugging away however as a jumper by Blake Weary cut the Mennonite lead down to size at 46-35 with under four minutes to in the third quarter before John Gillespie decided to take over.
Having gone through the nightly battles of Lancaster Lebanon League Boys’ Basketball for a few years now, Gillespie now looks to be using all that experience to his benefit, giving opposing players even more fits as the Blazer’s starting point guard is back and looks even better than ever. Never was that on display more than in the waning minutes of the third quarter as Gillespie knocked home a step in trey to increase the LMH lead to 51-37 with a minute left to play in the third quarter before he wrote the highlight of the night. The signature play of this game came shortly the trifecta when Gillespie swiped the ball from the man he was guarding at halfcourt then proceeded to take off. Literally. As the crowd began to sense what was about to happen, Gillespie had already exploded off the ground and threw down a nasty one-handed slam that sent a roar that went reverberating off the gymnasium walls as Mennonite went into the fourth and final quarter in possession of the 55-37 lead with authority.
Once again to their credit, ELCO kept fighting until the end as a steal on the defensive end followed up by a hoop plus the harm on the other end all accomplished by freshman Braden Bohannon, began a very quiet ELCO rally that largely went unnoticed until Jeff Lorah dialed one up from long distance, making it a ten point ballgame in favor of Mennonite 55-45 with under six minutes to go.
But unfortunately for the Yellow and Blue from Myerstown, that turn out to be all the closer they would be able to get on this night as a sensational reverse layup at the tin by who else, John Gillespie, fittingly put a bow on this one as Mennonite was able to walk away with the 65-49 victory over ELCO.
NEXT UP: With their triumph on Monday night, Lancaster Mennonite remains unblemished in the Section 3 standings. The Blazers will now look to retain that status for the rest of this week as LMH will do battle with Pequea Valley on Wednesday night before closing things out with Lebanon Catholic at home on Friday.
ELCO now will try to right the ship against fellow county foe Lebanon Catholic on Wednesday before heading back out on the road to continue with the Lebanon County flavor when the Raiders travel to take on Annville-Cleona.
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