Hot-Shooting Buckskins Regain Winning Ways As Conestoga Valley Stings Oxford
Written by: Andy Herr on Tuesday, December 24th, 2019
It’s certainly no secret that the Christmas season is most often a time of the year that has become synonymous with generosity and a prevailing sense of overall giving. In that regard, please forgive the Conestoga Valley Buckskins well in advance if they were found to be feeling anything but joyous and festive just two days before Christmas. In fact, they were feeling downright greedy.
After all, how could they not?
Coming into their Monday night game at home in the cozy yet equally spacious confines of Rill Gymnasium, the Buckskins found themselves amid a current six-game losing skid when they welcomed the Oxford Hornets into Witmer for a nonleague contest in hopes of hopefully snapping their existing hardwood hex. In fact, it was a dry spell had that been in existence since the opening night of the season when CV had taken Kutztown out behind the woodshed, totally declawing the Cougars, in an 83-45 final decision. Since then however, the road ahead has been filled with plenty of sharp turns and deep potholes that had likely thrown the Buckskins out of alignment.
But perhaps no game during that stretch had been more painfully agonizing their last one.
On Friday night, the Buckskins hosted an old foe in Hempfield for a classic Section One vs Section Two crossover clash between two Lancaster-Lebanon League stalwarts. And at the end of a back and forth 32 minutes of play, the Black Knights would be able to ride back home to Landisville as triumphant winners after earning a last-second buzzer-beating win against their Conestoga Valley counterparts, 39-38. Needless to say, such a heart-breaking defeat had likely left nothing but a bitter taste on the Buckskins’ collective palates as they tried and power through it this past weekend when they prepped for Oxford.
So, with CV having a rare respite outside of the mandated L-L section crossover slate just prior the holiday recess, the Buckskins were certainly motivated at the opportunity to be the team on the opposite end of their recent transactions, eager to try a steal a victory from Oxford on the night before Christmas Eve.
Even before the varsity game got underway and the JV’s were just wrapping up their affair beforehand, it quickly became apparent that both Oxford and Conestoga Valley would have to manufacture their own energy on Monday night as the atmosphere – or lack thereof — inside Rill Gymnasium was about what you’d expect for a game that would be held so close to one of the biggest holidays of the year.
In that regard, it probably shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise to see both the Hornets and Buckskins struggle to get out of the gates without a jolt of momentum. Add in the two teams’ sluggish start combined with both defenses retreating back in a stretched-out zone, and you understandably found yourself with a deadlocked contest at 2-2 with 4:20 left to play in the opening quarter following a bucket inside by Oxford 5’10 senior point guard, Christian McCartney.
That said, someone would inevitably find some mojo and proceed to head off on a run. It just so happened that team claiming those honors would be wearing the home colors.
Over the course of roughly the next 50 seconds following the McCartney bucket from point-blank range, the Buckskins would begin to mount their charge as CV’s 5’8 junior sniper, Luke Rumbaugh, found the bottom of the well for a knock-down triple which kick-started the Bucks in authoring the game’s next seven points, eventually racing out to an early 9-2 advantage as the opening quarter elapsed past its midway point.
But, just when the Buckskins may have started to feel good about things, the visitors from Oxford expressed their desires to change that narrative.
Despite CV’s early and somewhat comfortable cushion in the early going, the Hornets proceeded to rally right back by ripping off a 5-0 run, capped off by a Luke Campbell 3-ball, as the 5’10 senior shooting guard was able to get his Hornet troops back within a pair at 9-7 once the first quarter clock ultimately expired.
However, Oxford’s counterpunch was so large that it simply couldn’t be contained within one quarter.
That’s right. For as hot as Oxford had closed the first period proceedings, the Hornets continued to pester their hosts, eventually taking their first lead of the night at 11-9 on a smooth turnaround jumper splashed home by Christian McCartney just one minute into the second frame before a Luke Campbell steal and finish would quickly put the Hornets up by two possessions.
Yet to their credit, Conestoga Valley refused to take the easy way out and fall victim to their old nemesis named adversity.
Suffice to say, the Bucks would later reap the benefits in remaining unrelenting as a timely trifecta sunk by Conestoga Valley 5’10 junior guard, Gabe Matos, tickled the twine, making things all square once more at 17-17 with five minutes left to go before the half.
Over the span of the first half’s remaining handful of minutes, both the Hornets and Buckskins took turns trading volleys back and forth between one another. In fact, just when it had appeared that Oxford would be the team heading off into their dressing room with ownership of the lead such when Christian McCartney bombed in another 3-ball which gave the Hornets a 20-18 lead, the Buckskins closed the opening 16 minutes out with a perfect punctuation point. Well, to be fair, it was much better than a simple grammar notation. In fact, it would prove to be a supremely-designed play drawn up by the Buckskins’ braintrust, as 6’0 sophomore guard Austin Wertz took the handoff at the elbow and immediately blazed a path to the rack with the ball in his hands, finishing off the gorgeous halfcourt set right before the first half horn, as CV and Oxford found themselves locked in a stalemate at 20-20 when the game went to recess.
Ironically enough, that last play of the first half must have appeared to look so tantalizingly appetizing that CV had decided to throw caution to the wind and run it again once the third quarter got underway. And just as it had moments earlier, an Austin Wertz bucket at the tin would get the Buckskins started off on a high note as the CV lead would then swell up to five at 25-20 following another Luke Rumbaugh triple, this time forcing Oxford to call a timeout amidst the mini Buckskin run just 1:08 into the third stanza.
But there would more to come from Rumbaugh. So, so much more in fact.
In an age of high school basketball where everyone thinks they possess the ability to rise up and shoot the 3-ball, the fact of the matter is that not everyone can. Nor should they for that matter. That said, ask any coach who happens to line up against CV if they’d take Luke Rumbaugh’s marksmanship on their squad. Chances are, there wouldn’t be much hesitation in them offering with an emphatic, “Yes.”
If you need proof, simply send your questions to Oxford following Monday night.
After seeing his teammate, 6’3 senior forward Will Stone, get the party started with a trey in his own right, Rumbaugh would play like a man possessed over the next few minutes, ultimately registering four more triples to his name inside the third period alone, as Rumbaugh’s five third quarter triples had helped the Bucks surge out to a 42-26 lead before the Hornet contingent likely knew what had hit them.
Ironically enough however, especially in a time of year when illnesses are thought to be at their most contagious, apparently the Buckskins’ shooting prowess was equally prone to be spread like wildfire as well. On that note, Rumbaugh’s final 3-ball of the third quarter was immediately followed by Austin Wertz coming up suit with a triple in his own right, as Conestoga Valley sailed into the final quarter with the decisive 46-28 cushion.
Or so they thought.
At this point in the contest, there was no doubt whatsoever that the Buckskins cleared had ownership rights to the momentum. Yet when a team is pressed up against the wall, such as the Hornets clearly were heading into the final eight minutes, that is often when a team is at their at their absolute most dangerous. In short, the Buckskins were about to find out just how true that phrase can be.
It all seemed to start off rather innocently though. After all, who could’ve possibly faulted those in attendance for looking the other way and not thinking much of it when Luke Campbell rifled in another Oxford triple, cutting the Buckskin lead down to a still sizable 15-point difference at 48-33 with seven minutes left. However, those same fans surely had knuckles that grown whiter from extreme clenching after witnessing Christian McCartney get hot and pour in two more triples, adding his team-high total 15 points on the evening, simultaneously slicing the Buckskins’ lead down to a much more manageable eight-point difference at 48-40 with 5:10 left to play. And truth be told, the situation would only grow troubling for the Bucks in the game’s immediate future as a bucket inside courtesy of 6’6 senior Hornet Thomas Repetz inched Oxford even closer as the CV lead now stood at a half dozen.
Granted, while the CV lead had seemed to be melting away at a dangerous rate of speed, the fact of the matter was that the Buckskins were still enjoying the existing cushion thanks to their success at firing in back-breaking triples, many of which came just minutes earlier inside the third quarter. And in an ironic twist of fate, the three-point play, of the old-school variety mind you, would serve as the catalyst for Conestoga Valley in regaining the bounce in their step.
For that, the Bucks turned a familiar face, Austin Wertz, as CV’s gutsy sophomore continued to play well beyond his years, coming up with a titanic-sized momentum shift courtesy of his hoop plus the harm, adding the key free throw on top just for good measure, emphatically finishing off a game-changing play which had allowed CV to exhale somewhat with their lead now hovering near double figures once again at 51-42 with 3:35 left to play.
Speaking of free throws, there were perhaps none bigger than the ones tossed in by way of CV 6’0 sophomore forward Ethan Wertz heading down the homeward stretch, capping off an exchange which put the Buckskins back over the aforementioned double-digit plateau at 55-46 with 2:18 left to go.
Yet for as well as Luke Rumbaugh had played on Monday night, something best evidenced by his game-high 23-point outburst, one of his nicest plays of the entire evening might have when he collected a loose ball steal before promptly firing it ahead to a streaking Will Stone who was running free on the outlet with Stone going on to finish things off with the easy deuce, effectively putting the exclamation point on CV’s 61-46 triumph over Oxford, a win which marked CV’s first since the opening night of the season.
To be sure, there are likely few teams in all the Lancaster-Lebanon League this early season that have dealt with their fair share of adversity more than the Buckskins have. Aside from the laundry list of inactives that currently makes the Buckskins’ roster resemble that of a M*A*S*H unit, this was also a team that was forced to dig deep and find something within themselves after falling in the cruelest way possible their last time out against Hempfield. Add in the fact that the Conestoga Valley bench had to double up and assist their cheerleaders in terms of adding some desperately-needed energy to their home gym on Monday evening, and you suddenly had the prefect concoction for what is to be considered a very impressive CV victory given the circumstances.
“It had to be. I don’t think we had a choice at this point,” Conestoga Valley head coach Brad Herr said afterwards when asked if his team could use this victory as a stepping stone in the growing process. “Friday was extremely disappointing,” Herr said rehashing the Hempfield defeat. “You come out and you feel like you did everything you needed to do to win a game and you don’t. All credit to Hempfield for gutting it out at the end. We shot ourselves in the foot a few times and we are in many respects very young in terms of varsity experience.”
“We’re growing a lot,” Herr added. “We’re working a lot on individual skills at practice. We’re working a lot on situational awareness at practice. I think we’re slowly starting to see that pay off. We’re trying to fix some bad habits. We’re trying to replace them with better habits.”
“It’s a situation where other kids are going to have to come in, step up, and contribute,” the CV coach exclaimed. “We’ve had more injuries this season than my previous 12 seasons combined with the number of kids that we’ve had with ACL tears, in a boot, an ankle sprain, and we even had a case of mono. We have not put our full lineup on the court yet, not even for practice. We have yet to put our full team on the court together for anything.”
“I hope this injury bug is over,” said Herr with optimism. “That’s all I can hope for at this point because we need to get healthy.”
Speaking of getting healthy, seeing the ball go through the net as much as it did for the Buckskins on Monday night would be enough for most anyone to get up and feel able-bodied. But when talking about CV and how they plan to go about winning more games from here on out, don’t be surprised if the trifecta will serve as CV’s proverbial ace in the hole.
“We’re gonna live and die by that 3-ball on a lot of nights,” Herr admitted after seeing his squad pop in a spread of 10 dizzying treys in their triumph over Oxford on Monday evening. “We haven’t really shot it that well since opening night. Luke (Rumbaugh) obviously got very hot and his teammates found him to put him in a good position to make some open looks. That’s something we stress about being aggressive but still being patient. We’ve had a hard time finding that balance up to this point sometimes. I think again, that’s part of that growth we’re experiencing.”
“When we’re able to get an open look, our system is telling our shooters to step into the pass with confidence and shoot the ball,” Herr stated. “We’re not going to make them all. We know that. But if we can shoot with reasonable proficiency, that’s what we work on every day.”
NEXT UP: With an added boost of momentum that will likely do the Buckskins wonders as they prepare for the rest of their week, the road ahead for CV is not exactly anything but a stroll through Witmer. In fact, the Bucks will have the unenviable task of taking on a team that is hosting their very own holiday tournament which is the foremost assignment for Conestoga Valley when they head south to Quarryville to tangle with Solanco. And if you ask Coach Herr, he’ll likely have the Golden Mules on his mind when he sits down to enjoy his Christmas dinner.
“I wouldn’t even think of a championship in a tournament at this point. I’m just thinking about how we have to get through Solanco on their home floor coming out of Christmas which is always exceptionally tricky and challenging,” the Buckskins’ boss explained. “You never know where kids are going to be at over Christmas break with where they are mentally or emotionally. We need to have a good practice on Thursday to go down and play a Solanco team that I think is much better than their record. I’ve watched a couple of their game films and I don’t think that’s going to be an easy task by any stretch for us.”
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