Replay: Kutztown Staves Off Valiant Lancaster Country Day Comeback Bid, Grinds Out First Win In Overtime Thriller
Written by: Andy Herr on Sunday, April 5th, 2020
Ed note: We continue with our replays of “Andy’s greatest games 2019-20”. Picts provided by Ke’Shauna Damore of various LCDay games.
Around this time a year ago, there was most certainly still a general sense of “newness” around the inner circle of Lancaster-Lebanon League high school basketball considering it marked the official introduction of Octorara and Lancaster Country Day into the fold. Out of the two, perhaps most everyone had some sense of familiarity with the Octorara Braves considering their relatively consistent non-league scheduling of L-L teams while they themselves were still playing in the Chest-Mont League, much less aside from the fact that Gene Lambert’s Braves had certain fits of greatness over the past decade and change that had been best signified by their handful of deep runs throughout the PIAA state tournament. But it was that other school, Lancaster Country Day, that probably had the majority left wondering what to really expect out of this quiet, tucked away private school sprinkled amidst the neighborhoods located just outside of historic Wheatland.
However, in just their first season of L-L competition last winter, the Cougars, a nickname also probably not known to very many prior to the start of last season, more than left their mark on a basketball-crazed audience that was eager to see what Country Day was all about. And boy oh boy, did they ever deliver.
Although the Cougars would fall just outside the cutline of making the L-L League playoffs in their inaugural season, Country Day went on to have a banner year in the postseason last year — both literally and figuratively — as the Cougs proceeded to capture the program’s first-ever District 3 title in a rematch-induced, 51-43 triumph over Halifax in the 1A title fight inside Hershey’s palatal Giant Center nearly 365 days to the day after Halifax had gotten the better of LCD in the exact same game just one year prior.
After that, LCD was able to parlay their District 3 title into a run through the PIAA playoffs as well, ultimately being the penultimate L-L League team left standing a year ago by just a matter of mere hours, as both Country Day and Lancaster Catholic ended up bowing out of their respective tournaments on the very same night last March.
And while the Cougars would likely feel the sting of graduation hitting them like a ton of bricks considering this would mark Country Day’s first without the services of point guard Andrew Williams and utility man turned power forward Luke Walling this season, LCD had nonetheless started the year off with a bang considering the Cougars were able to roar out of the chute en route to a 4-0 record which included a successful title defense of their season-opening tip-off tournament.
But then came the start of Lancaster-Lebanon League play.
Following their sensational start to the campaign, Country Day had certainly gone through their fair share of difficulties in navigating past fellow L-L Section Five members Lancaster Mennonite, Columbia, and Annville-Cleona, as the Cougars ended up dropping all three in back-to-back-to-back fashion over the course of their last three outings.
However, with the Cougars receiving what had likely felt like a much-needed respite from divisional play on Friday night and a chance to recharge their batteries, Country Day was all set to regroup and steer their ship back on course in a Saturday afternoon matinee in the upper regions of Berks County as LCD paid a visit to another set of Cougars in Kutztown.
And with the idea of Christmas being just four days away, there certainly would be no bigger gift than than the one bestowed upon Kutztown at the end of a wildly entertaining 36 minutes of high school basketball that required literally each and every precious second.
For a team that came into Saturday with an 0-5 overall record, such as Kutztown did, it was certainly hard to fathom that given the way the homestanding Cougars raced out of the gates and had punched Lancaster Country Day in mouth after the first few minutes.
After a 5-0 spurt generated entirely by way of Kutztown junior guard Marlon Creech, the hometown Cougars proceeded to plant their foot firmly on the gas pedal from there on out for nearly the entirety of the opening quarter. In fact, after a pair of buckets that had been sandwiched in between thanks to the efforts of Kutztown senior center Lucas Floyd, Creech was able to give the white-clad Cougars a double-digit lead at 11-0, forcing Country Day to call a timeout and regroup with 4:37 left in the opening period.
But the hill that Lancaster Country Day was then forced to trudge upward on only continued to grow in stature.
As far as the record would officially indicate, the Kutztown lead would eventually swell up to as large as 14-0 before a Lance Lennon free throw at the 2:17 mark of the opening quarter gave Lancaster Country Day their first, desperately needed points of the afternoon as LCD was clearly parched for any shred of prosperity given their current situation.
Shortly thereafter however, Country Day would go on to finish the first quarter with a solid burst all things being considered. In fact, LCD would proceed to tally their first field goal of the game after a nice take to the rack by way of 5’9 sophomore shooting guard Grant Landis at the 1:35 mark, before a largely-dominated Kutztown first quarter would later expire with the homestanding Cougars out in front, 16-5.
They often say that basketball is a game of runs. Well, did Saturday afternoon inside Kutztown high school’s cozy gymnasium ever make that phrase ring true in spades.
For as poorly as Lancaster Country Day had started off, there was certainly more than enough time for the Cougars to claw back into it and make a game of things. Sure enough, after another strong take to the tin, this one by way of 6’3 junior forward Luke Forman, Country Day had clipped the Kutztown advantage back down to single figures to get the second stanza underway at 16-7. From there, the Lancaster Country Day train was clearly running full-steam down the tracks as the visiting Cougars eventually cut the deficit back down to a half dozen at 20-14 following a kiss off the glass from 6’5 junior forward Greg Mizili operating down low in the post near the midway point in the second quarter.
However, just when it had likely felt as if Kutztown would end up relinquishing their once-imposing lead, the hosts were able to lean on the efforts of Marlon Creech to help bail them out of jail as Creech proceeded to follow up his silky smooth step-back jumper with a strong-willed and determined take to the cup for a pair of buckets that helped Kutztown push Lancaster Country Day back away at 24-15 before a late LCD deuce right before the first half horn sent the two teams into their dressing rooms with Kutztown out in front, 24-17.
The good news for Country Day once the second half got underway on Saturday was that they clearly plenty of fuel left in their tank in terms of roaring back to hopefully take their first lead of the game. That said, their effort and desire would only continue to be put to the test after Kutztown kept nudging their pesky houseguests from Lancaster County away seemingly at every possible turn.
Case in point, Country Day storming all the way back to within four at 26-22 after a bucket inside from 6’0 freshman guard Christian Hoin early on in the third quarter, only to then see Kutztown immediately come right down the floor and fire in a back-breaking triple to answer, such as Kutztown junior Carson Shaffer did right on the heels of the Hoin bunny inside. In fact, the Kutztown’s third quarter cushion would eventually rise back up to a dozen at 36-24 following a spot-up jumper splashed in by Lucas Floyd with 3:10 left to play in the third.
But, even for all the counterpunches that Kutztown had seemed to land on Lancaster Country Day all day long up until that point, the black-clad Cougars would be able to regain their strength and muster up an impending charge as the third quarter continued to wear on.
Suffice to say, Lancaster Country Day needed a catalyst for their comeback to truly come to fruition. For that, the Cougars turned to what may have been considered an unlikely source at the time, but a source nonetheless trustworthy, sophomore shooting guard, Grant Landis.
Over the course of the final three minutes and change, Country Day, most specifically Landis, proceeded to rattle off an 8-0 rally, including a deadly pair of back-to-back corner triples to help bring LCD back within reach at 36-32 with the final quarter all set to commence.
And while Landis was largely the one who had done the heavy lifting up until that point, it would prove to be Luke Forman who nearly brought Country Day back over the hill for good as Forman was able to score a bucket inside with a free throw added on top at the conclusion of LCD’s next trip down the floor to shrink Kutztown’s lead down to its most modest all day long, 38-37, just past the midway mark of the fourth.
So, with Landis and Forman sharing in the lion’s share of the work in terms of the scoring effort to assist in Country Day’s comeback effort, it would ultimately be LCD’s most veteran player, Lance Lennon, who would then give the Cougars their first lead of the afternoon courtesy of a powerful move inside, complete with an impromptu flex and yell at its conclusion added in just for good measure, as Country Day had miraculously come all the way back to take the 39-38 lead with 2:30 left to play in regulation.
The keyword there being regulation.
Just when it may have appeared that Country Day had finally at long last been able to solve the Kutztown riddle once and for all on Saturday afternoon, Marlon Creech clearly had other ideas, as Creech proceeded to take off down the floor and finish through contact before adding the foul shot on top of things as Creech’s traditional three-point play gave Kutztown the lead once more at 41-39 with just 1:10 left to play.
However, just as he had been all day long, Grant Landis would continue to come up massive for his squad once more by fearlessly firing in cold-blooded deuce to knot things back up at 41-41 with just 20 seconds left in the final quarter. On the day, Landis would go on to steal the show, championing a team-high total of 17 points — a dozen of which came from behind the arc — to engineer the Lancaster Country Day scoring charge.
Fortunately, for those who had traversed up to the other side of Berks County on Saturday afternoon, their efforts would not be in vein as Kutztown’s last-second shot came up begging, sending the game into a well-deserved overtime session.
In extra time, the volleys only continued to be lobbed back and forth between the two pairs of Cougars.
Just when Kutztown likely felt like that had captured some momentum, such as the case when Marlon Creech was able to finish strong amongst traffic which gave the hometown team the two-point lead at 43-41, they would eventually bear witness to Lancaster Country Day stealing the momentum right back from them, which precisely what took place when Grant Landis got loose from the Kutztown defense and popped in yet another 3-ball, giving LCD the slim 44-43 advantage.
However, try as they might, Country Day seemingly had no answer for Marlon Creech all afternoon long. And as if to be right on cue, Creech would then rebuke the Landis triple with another strong take the rack, giving the lead right back to Kutztown at 45-44.
From there, arguably the biggest play of the ballgame would be one not tabulated in the scoring column. In fact, it might have come from one of the unlikeliest of sources.
After seeing Lancaster Country Day come away with nothing on their ensuing offensive trip following the Creech go-ahead bucket, Kutztown found themselves in a rare position they had yet to experience so far this season: Having the opportunity to salt the game away down the stretch. And while Kutztown would eventually be able to generate some of that much-needed breathing room with the game now running inside just a minute left to play in the overtime period, it was not without its difficulties.
While Kutztown would be able to get a shot off from the field on their next offensive series after forcing Country Day to come up empty-handed, the Cougars’ shot was off, ultimately winding up in a frantic loose ball scrum that would see Kutztown freshman forward Dalton Furst come out of the pile with the loose pill to help prolong the Kutztown possession. From there, Marlon Creech would then be fouled by the LCD defense, sending the dynamic, shifty junior guard back to the foul line where he would proceed to add his already Herculean-effort by coaxing both shots over the forgiving rim, handing his team the assignment of now protecting the 47-44 with a mere 24 seconds left to play. On the day, Creech would be a star amongst stars, finishing the afternoon by bucketing a game-high total of 27 points from nearly every which way imaginable to pace the Kutztown troops.
In short, Kutztown’s lead would quickly fall by the wayside.
After seeing their initial play design kyboshed by the Kutztown’s defensive strategy, Lancaster Country Day continued to remain calm and proceeded to work the ball around the perimeter, looking for anyone wearing a black jersey to hoist a shot from behind the arc if the right opportunity presented itself. And while it may have made the LCD contingent fidget and squirm in their seats given how long it seemed to take, Country Day, well, John Stewart rather, was able to rise and fire in a dead-on trifecta which knotted things back up at 47-47.
Given the situation now at hand, Kutztown decided that their best option was to have Marlon Creech create and draw something up in his own mind while fully on the run.
Suffice to say, it would prove to be the correct decision as Creech proceeded to pull up while in full gallop, launching the game-winning 3-ball from NBA range, a dagger that came complete with a generous kiss off the glass, creating a late December court-storming in a college town as the Kutztown Cougars were able to truly outlast a truly gritty and gusty Lancaster Country Day comeback bid in overtime, 50-47.
NEXT UP: As hard as it may be, especially given the way Saturday afternoon’s contest eventually transpired, Lancaster Country Day must now get right back in the laboratory and fine-tune their issues as the Cougars now head into the Christmas holiday while having the dubious distinction of riding a current four-game losing skid. That said, if LCD can dust themselves off and rise up from off the mat, the Cougars will have to do so while on assignment in Berks County once again as Country Day has entered themselves to play in Wyomissing’s holiday tournament which will take place late next week before jumping back into Section Five play against Lancaster Mennonite on the night of January 7th.
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