Okay, before we begin, let’s make one thing perfectly clear right off the bat here. Nobody in the Lancaster-Lebanon League has had a better start to the season this year than Lampeter-Strasburg. End of discussion.
On the surface, the Pioneers’ start to the 2018-19 campaign would be remarkable in its own right. But when you consider the fact that L-S was coming off what was literally one of the best seasons in school history, it truly makes this year all the more special.
Win and losses aside, something by the way that L-S has been able to master with ease so far this year as evidenced by their 7-0 Lancaster-Lebanon League record and 13-1 overall mark which they carried with them into their Friday night home against Garden Spot, it has been the sheer and utter dominance that the Pioneers have been able to inflict upon their opposition thus far that perhaps speaks the loudest volumes. Just consider this. In their games thus far against L-L League competition, the Pioneers have run roughshod over the oncoming challengers, dismantling them by an eye-popping average of 22 points per ballgame. Included among that stretch? A resounding 19-point defeat of Cocalico on the road in Denver Tuesday night in a highly-anticipated matchup that featured the Eagles riding high on what had been a five-game winning streak. But just as they have been able to prove all year long, taking down the beasts of Section 3 is an assignment that is far easier said than done, as L-S was able to pull away from their hosts, coming away with the 50-31 triumph.
With the Cocalico win now behind them, the Pioneers were forced to mount up and ride once again on Friday when they entertained Garden Spot, a Spartans team mind you that came into the evening trailing only the Pioneers in the Section 3 standings that fully has the potential to rise up and bite even the stiffest of challenges.
But this night, like so many others that had already come before it, would be one bathed in the blue and white dominance of the Pioneers.
From the outset, L-S wasted little time in administering the tone that would be set for the remainder of the evening. Right out the chute, while undoubtedly fueled by a Chase Broderick triple on their opening possession no less, the Pioneers were able to knock their guests back on their heels to start the contest with an early 5-0 jab.
However, just when it may have appeared to the neutral observer that the eventual outcome of the contest may have already been in the works based upon the events of Pioneers’ initial handful of offensive trips, Garden Spot would immediately counter back behind four straight points tossed in by 6’7 junior big man Andrew Zentner, narrowing the L-S lead down to three at 7-4 with roughly 2:20 having been expired off the first quarter clock. From there, the Spartans would continue to push the envelope, eventually narrowing the gap down to a pair at 9-7 after a corner 3-ball tossed in by 6’2 sophomore Jesse Martin just 40 seconds later.
Yet that would prove to be all the closer the visitors from New Holland would get the rest of the evening.
In the immediate aftermath following the Martin knock-down triple, L-S proceeded to rattle off a an 8-2 run over the ensuing four minutes using a magnificent mixture of punches thrown from both the inside and outside, eventually pushing their lead back up to a much-more comfortable eight point cushion following a Seth Beers trifecta, as the L-S junior guard was able to make it a 17-9 contest in favor of the Pioneers with 1:30 left in the first. But to their credit, Garden Spot would be able to muster an immediate retaliation as four straight points courtesy of Spartans’ big man Jon Morales inside helped trim the L-S advantage down to a modest four points in the waning moments of the opening period, sending L-S into the second quarter with possession of the 17-13 lead.
As mentioned, the opening minutes of Friday night’s contest helped serve as a magnificent example of the many weapons and ways in which L-S creates many a sleepless night for those that are tasked with the assignment of trying to slow them down.
In the early portions of the second quarter on Friday night against Garden Spot, the Pioneers were equally as impressive. But this time however, L-S opted for the long-range attack as back-to-back triples cashed by Chase Broderick and Seth Beers respectively helped widen the Pioneers’ lead out to a dozen at 25-13 throughout the first few minutes of the second frame.
To add insult to injury, just when it had seemed like Garden Spot was perhaps tinkering with a possible run to draw closer to their hosts up on the scoreboard, L-S would seemingly always have the emphatic rebuttal. Sure enough, with the Lampeter-Strasburg lead now back within single-digits following a strong Morales bucket inside for the Spartans, Seth Beers was able to come right down the floor and fire in yet another back-backing triple, pushing the Pioneers’ lead back up to 11 at 28-17 with three minutes to left go in the first half.
But yet again to their credit, Garden Spot would continue to hang around and chip away at things over the next few minutes, eventually closing the deficit back down to a half dozen at 29-23 following two consecutive 3-balls pumped in by Jesse Martin. Unfortunately for the Garden Spot contingent however, L-S would continue to find yet another dagger in the face of a Spartans’ charge, as a timely triple splashed in by junior marksman Caleb Smoker helped catapult the Pioneers into the intermission with the 33-23 lead.
The bad news for Garden Spot coming out of the break? L-S only continued to successfully play the part of a state-ranked team in the second half as well.
Sparked by one his trademark triples, Seth Beers would help L-S extend their back out to a baker’s dozen at 40-27 as the Pioneers’ exceptional floor general would go on to finish his impromptu personal 5-0 run midway through the period with a fearless take to the tin, making it a 40-27 L-S lead with 3:30 left to go in the third. Just then, seemingly right on cue, Nevin Book was able to replicate his teammate’s hot-shooting touch from the outside as the L-S senior guard cashed in on a 3-ball of his own just two minutes later, making it a 48-31 Pioneers’ lead with time winding down in the third. And once the quarter ultimately did expire, L-S found themselves comfortably in front once again, 50-33.
By now, it should be apparent that L-S had no trouble whatsoever in dialing long-distance on Friday night. In fact, the Pioneers would go on to rifle in 11 triples on the evening, including one from Caleb Smoker in the corner on L-S’ opening possession of the fourth which put the home troops up by 20 at 53-33.
Over the course of the next minutes though, in a way which seemed eerily quiet, Garden Spot would proceed to grind away, eventually closing the L-S back down to 12 at 53-41 after yet another nice offering inside from Jon Morales with three minutes left to play as the Spartans’ big man would add to his team-high 15-point effort.
But just as they had been all able to do all night long, the Pioneers would continue to have the answers for all Spartan challenges as strong take plus the foul from senior big man Adam Stoltzfus effectively calmed the waters for L-S the rest of the way. Speaking of Stoltzfus, he would author a magnificent game on Friday night by effectively patrolling the paint for the Pioneers on both ends of the floor en route to a team-high 16-point performance and a laundry list of shot blocks and alterations at the tin.
And with the outcome already decided down the final stretch, a late free throw sunk at the charity line from senior Aaron Snyder helped serve as the appropriate icing on the cake as the Pioneers went on to claim yet another victim on their romp through Section 3 with a dispatching Garden Spot, 66-47.
When talking to any member of L-S basketball family, they are all quick to mention that their number one goal each and every year is to take care of business and go on to win the section. Well, so far so good in that regard as the Pioneers’ takedown of Garden Spot completed the first leg of a possible season-long unbeaten sweep through Section 3 play this year.
“I’ll be honest, I haven’t even thought of that,” Berryman said of a possible undefeated mark in Section 3. “Our goal is just to win the section. We didn’t really think about sweeping the section. It hasn’t really crossed my mind until you said something,” Berryman added with a laugh.
But even with all hypotheticals pushed to the side, it’s obvious that Berryman truly enjoys coaching and watching his team this year. After all, how could you not?
“They’re not caught up in their individual statistics. They’re caught up in winning,” the third-year L-S head coach said of his team. “They play well together.”
“A lot of that is that they’re really good kids. They like each other. They have a comradery,” said Berryman. “When they’re not on the court together, they’re playing video games together, or going out to eat somewhere together. They’re just a really tight group. That says a lot and it really shows out on the floor.”
NEXT UP: With their win on Friday night behind him, L-S will look to keep their already spectacular season in full gallop as the Pioneers welcome neighboring rival Conestoga Valley down to Lampeter for a Saturday afternoon showdown before jumping back into the second round of Section 3 play with a date against Manheim Central back at home on Tuesday evening.
And while their average margin of victory so far this season has truly beyond compare, perhaps what is the scariest part of all of it? The fact that the Pioneers have been able to take and apply the lessons learned from those rare bouts when dealing with adversity so far this season.
“Our first two games of the year were really tough games against Lower Dauphin and Central Dauphin,” Berryman said reflecting back to the opening weekend of the season. “We learned something from that Central Dauphin game,” he added. The only game in which a team was better than the Pioneers at the end of the night.
“We turned the ball over and (Central Dauphin) got a lot of offensive rebounds,” said Berryman of the first Central Dauphin contest. “We were able to clean that up which is why we were able to beat them a second time.” And with it, the Pioneers were able to lay claim to the fact that have beaten literally every team on their schedule so far this year.
But perhaps what speaks the loudest volumes is the way in which this group of Pioneers continue to handle such a high level of achievement as the season continues to evolve.
“Very well-grounded,” Berryman went on to add of his ballclub. “We talk about that all the time. I’ve been around long enough that I have an example of situations where I can go back a couple years to when CV only had one or two wins and they beat us and then we lost to Northern Lebanon which knocked us out of the playoffs.”
“I try to share those stories with them and let them know that a lot of things can happen and that you’ve got to respect your opponent every night and stay focused. They do a pretty good job of that.”
For Garden Spot, even though Friday night did not go in the direction which the Spartans were hoping for, the race for a league playoff berth is still ripe for the taking as Garden Spot will look to battle out it out with challengers Cocalico and Manheim Central heading down the stretch. To be sure, a big week is on the horizon for the Spartans as they prepare for a four-game gauntlet against Lebanon, Solanco, Cocalico, and Wilson just for good measure.