They say that getting to the top is hard. They also say that staying at the mountaintop is even harder. Well, “they” clearly were not referring the 2018-19 Lampeter-Strasburg Pioneers in their case study.
By now, you probably already know the story here, but it’s so good that it bears repeating anyway. Last season, the L-S boys’ basketball team was quite good. Well, historically good when you get right down to it. In a season that was filled with a laundry list of accomplishments and accolades along the way, perhaps none more stood out more than the Pioneers’ ascent to the top of Lancaster-Lebanon League summit which came when L-S was able to knock off tradition-rich Lancaster Catholic in the L-L title fight just one year ago. To be sure, it was a celebration that was well worth wait considering their triumph over the Crusaders in the championship game marked the first time ever that Lampeter-Strasburg had earned the right to deservedly call themselves league champions.
And while those in central Pennsylvania were certainly well-aware of just how good the Pioneers truly were, L-S proceeded to put the rest of the state on notice as well.
After their opening round win over Bangor in the first round of the PIAA state tournament, L-S drew a behemoth from the Philadelphia Catholic League, Archbishop Carroll, for the right to advance on the Sweet 16 in the 5A bracket. And while the Pioneers ultimately did come up short that mid-March night at Governor Mifflin, they certainly made the Patriots sweat it out every step of the way before eventually falling by the slimmest of margins, 77-76 in double overtime. But even in their season’s darkest hour, there was a prevailing sense of hope and optimism that remained for the future ahead, despite the undeniable fact that L-S would be forced to say goodbye to the best senior class in program history.
Sure enough, this year’s L-S squad has been able to make good on that confidence and then some up until this point as evidenced by their 8-1 overall record heading into their Friday night affair at Manheim Central. And while the Pioneers’ record may not exactly be the definition of perfect given that lone blemish, they are certainly the closest thing to it considering the fact that L-S has beaten every team on their schedule. It’s an incredible accomplishment that proved true just last week when the Pioneers were able to get the better of Central Dauphin in the E-Town Holiday Showcase, successfully flipping the script on the Rams who had knocked off L-S in the Lower Dauphin Tip Off Tournament to start the season.
Yet even though the Pioneers were clearly riding high heading into their road trip against the Barons, it goes without saying that Section 3 play brings with it a whole different level of attention, passion, and intensity. So, without a shadow of a doubt, L-S found themselves walking into a potential hornet’s nest when they faced off against a Central team that was starving for the opportunity to put a signature win on their resume.
But by the end of the night, L-S would continue to leave Manheim Central hungry.
Right from the opening tip, it was obvious what the gameplan was for Manheim Central. Control and dictate the pace of the game in their favor, all while forcing L-S to expend an enormous amount of energy on the defensive end. And while that indeed did come to pass on the Barons’ opening possession on Friday night, the Pioneers were certainly up to the challenge defensively as evidenced by a Seth Beers’ theft and subsequent layup down at the other end, giving L-S the early 2-0 lead after the minute-long possession by the Barons.
As it turned out, L-S would never look back the rest of the evening.
While continuing his stellar start to Friday night’s contest, Seth Beers would later go on his own 4-0 run midway through the first quarter, helping L-S generate some much-needed breathing room in the process, as the Beers bucket pushed the Pioneers’ lead up to a half dozen at 9-3 following a sensational block on the defensive end that had ignited the L-S run out courtesy of senior big man Adam Stoltzfus.
When watching L-S, is it clear that the Pioneers are the definition of an unselfish basketball team. At all times, the Pioneers are constantly peppering the ball around every inch of the floor in hopes of finding not a good shot, but a great shot. Case in point, their possession near the tail-end of the game’s opening quarter that ended in a dead-on trifecta cashed in by fellow senior big man Pat Holmes, upping the L-S advantage to 12-5 with just 1:45 left to go in the first quarter.
And while a Chase Marquette floater would immediately follow suit to help calm the waters for the Manheim Central effort, the Pioneers would continue to keep the Barons at bay for the remainder of the period, carrying the 15-7 advantage with them into the second stanza.
Once the second quarter got underway, the Barons were finally able to find their groove, eventually going on a 5-0 run to trim the L-S lead back down to size at 17-12 in the early going. But just when it seemed that Manheim Central had seized the momentum, Jarred Getchis was there to steal it right back with an immediate rebuttal, as the L-S senior helped put the Pioneers back up by seven at 19-12.
As mentioned, the Pioneers were by and large able to keep the Barons at arm’s length. And while a strong take to the rack by Manheim Central’s fearless senior guard Cam Sell would close the deficit back down to six at 20-14 with three minutes left to go in the first half, the Pioneers remained unphased by the Barons’ challenge as the L-S went into the intermission with possession of the 23-16 lead.
Ironically, for as much as the first half was largely dictated by L-S and the formidable challenge they presented defensively, the start to the second half on Friday night appeared to be set to a much different tune.
In fact, after a humongous triple was dialed up by 5’10 senior guard Carson Brenize in the early going, the Barons had suddenly found themselves back within striking distance at 23-20 with 5:20 still left to be played in the third quarter.
However, as good teams always do, the Pioneers proceeded to put their foot down and squash any Manheim Central belief once and for all from that moment on.
Almost immediately, L-S proceeded to go back to work and generate some distance between themselves and their hosts in the wake of the Brenize triple. And while the offense certainly had its moments during that stretch as evidenced by a sensational take to the rack by L-S junior guard Seth Beers, the Pioneers’ effort defensively continued to remain stifling during this critical juncture, holding the Barons scoreless over the ensuing four minutes. And before anyone knew it, the L-S lead was quickly back up to double digits following an old-school, three-point play administered by Adam Stoltzfus, upping the Pioneers’ cushion to 30-20 with 1:40 left in the third. From there, Stoltzfus continued to be a nightmare matchup for the Barons defensively as evidenced by the senior big man’s tip in right before the third quarter buzzer which increased the L-S lead to a two touchdown advantage heading into the fourth, 34-20.
The only thing was, the brief respite in between quarters seemingly did nothing to cool down the white-hot Pioneers. While starting the fourth quarter off in the midst of an 11-0 run, the blue-clad Pioneers only continued to pour salt in the Manheim Central wound on the opening possession of the final eight minutes with a triple bombed in by senior guard Nevin Book which made it a 37-20 L-S advantage.
And while a Manheim Central bucket authored inside by sophomore big man Colton Book with 6:55 left to go would finally extinguish the L-S salvo, the bulk of the damage had already been done.
With the game winding down, L-S was eventually able to push their lead over the 20-point threshold after a 3-ball was popped in the corner by senior guard Zack Kingsley, making it a 44-23 Pioneer lead with 3:15 left to go.
Fittingly, there was still time for one last L-S highlight on the evening. For those honors, the baton was passed on to senior guard Aaron Snyder who promptly delivered with a bucket inside, much to the roaring delight of the L-S crowd that remained in Manheim Central’s cozy gym.
And with Sndyer’s bucket proving to be the perfect exclamation point, the Pioneers continued to remain perfect Lancaster-Lebanon League play after grinding out a tough win road at Manheim Central Friday evening, 48-29.
NEXT UP: As it stands right now, arguably nobody in the L-L League is playing as well as Lampeter-Strasburg. However, this no time to start resting on your laurels as the Pioneers have yet another big week in front of them, starting things off with a home game against arch-rival Solanco.
For Manheim Central, it’s right back to grind for the Barons as Central is set to square off against Hershey in the Saturday afternoon lid-lifter of the annual Rhoades Classic at Lebanon Valley College. After that, the Barons will jump right back into the Section 3 pool with an enormous game on the road Wednesday night in New Holland with a trip to Garden Spot.