Lancaster Catholic Outduels Columbia As Crusaders Prevail, Move On To League Semifinals In Four Overtime Thriller

Written by: on Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

 

In Lancaster-Lebanon League circles, there are few rivalries that can compare to the high intensity, drama, and let’s just say “feelings” toward one another than that of Columbia and Lancaster Catholic. Yet for all the heroes, champions, and yes, even state champions, who have donned the uniform for both the Crusaders and Crimson Tide over the years, they likely hadn’t ever been a part of anything like what took place on Tuesday night at Lancaster Catholic.

For years, Columbia and Catholic were consistently pitted against one another in the same division of the L-L League, most recently in Section Four. Being division playmates for so many years, the two foes rarely had the opportunity to kick their contentious rivalry up even another notch by meeting in the postseason. This year though, with Crimson Tide and Crusaders having gone their separate ways –in addition to invitations into the playoff field this year being extended to divisional champions only— the two kingpins hailing from Section Four and Section Five respectively more than made up for lost time as far as a much-anticipated postseason meeting between the two was concerned when they officially tipped off the 2021 L-L League playoffs against one another on Tuesday evening. In fact, the meeting was so good that both Columbia and Lancaster Catholic decided to play a game and a half as it turned out.

As any good movie director will tell you, things inevitably get left out on the cutting room floor. And for a matchup that was as good as this one, that was indeed the case as well. That said, here are a couple few notables for the opening minutes of play on Tuesday night.

First and foremost, although Columbia would break the scoring seal with a cool, step-in trifecta knocked down by 6’1 guard, Kerry “Hov” Glover, on the Crimson Tide’s opening possession of the ballgame, Lancaster Catholic would have none of it for the remainder of the opening period.

After spotting Columbia the early bucket, the Crusaders made the remainder of the first quarter an exhibition in Lancaster Catholic’s brand of basketball. With their defense clicking and their offensive attack not far behind, the hosts would see their lead swell up to 22-4 following a Ross Conway triple with 40 seconds left in the quarter before a Brelon Miller bucket inside on the Tide’s ensuing offensive trip gave Columbia their first field goal since the aforementioned Glover 3-ball just seconds into the contest. In all, it amounted to an extremely impressive showing from Lancaster Catholic in the opening eight minutes given their sizable 22-6 lead.

Needless to say, while Columbia couldn’t make the existing 16-point difference up in one fell swoop, they certainly couldn’t waste any more time in clawing back into the thick of things either given that their opposition was arguably the best team found residing in all the Lancaster-Lebanon League this season. Thankfully, as far as their contingent was concerned, here came the Tide right on cue.

Ignited by a Brady Smith triple on their opening possession of the second frame, the guests found the 3-ball to be contagious. So much so in fact that another Columbia 3-ball –this one from 6’2 senior guard, Michael Poole—quickly got the Tide back within shouting distance, 25-18, with just 2:45 having ticked off the second quarter clock. And while the Crusaders would be able to build their lead back up to double digits thanks a trifecta of their own –this one from 5’10 senior guard, Nevin Roman—which made it a 33-22 affair in favor of Catholic, the Crimson Tide were able to right the ship once more, cutting the Crusaders’ lead back down to a far more manageable seven-point difference heading into the half at 35-28.

In many ways, Columbia’s second quarter helped pave the groundwork for their third quarter display.

Again, while sparked on their opening offensive possession by way of a 3-ball –a feat which the Crimson Tide achieved in all three quarters of play up until that point—Hov Glover’s trey got the maroon-clad guests back within reach, 35-31, to start the third quarter proceedings.

However, the one thing that Lancaster Catholic has going for them is that arguably the league MVP happens to suit up in purple and gold, that of course being Devin Atkinson.

While Atkinson may not seem like he would be the first player picked in a pickup game, if you want you and your team to stay on the court with winner rules, you make sure you pick the Lancaster Catholic 6’0 senior floor general. Case in point, with the Crusaders’ lead seeming to hang on by a thread, Atkinson promptly fired in a cold-blooded pullup J, upping the Catholic lead back to a half dozen at 39-33 shortly thereafter. That said, the Crusaders’ existing cushion wouldn’t stand for much longer seeing as how the Crimson Tide went on to bomb in back-to-back triples in successive fashion thanks to Robert Footman and Michael Poole respectively, allowing Columbia to draw back even at 46-46. Then, just as he had moments earlier, Atkinson put his fellow Crusaders on his back once more with a man-sized three-point play, handing the lead back to Catholic at 51-48 with 1:05 left to play in the third. And once the dust finally settled on the third frame, it showed Lancaster Catholic still in control of the lead, 53-48.

Now, seeing as how Columbia had come all the way back, the stage was set for a wild and frantic final quarter of play. Sure enough, that’s exactly what transpired.

After spotting Catholic the five-point lead at 55-50 in the opening stages of the fourth quarter, the Crimson Tide rallied right back just as they had so many countless times before, eventually knotting things back up at 55-55 following a Brady Smith triple, good for three more en route to his sharing of team-high scoring honors with Hov Glover on the night, as both Glover and Smith combined for 16-point performances respectively.

But the drama was only just getting started.

With Lancaster Catholic getting whistled for an over and back call with the game tied at 57-57 and just a handful of seconds remaining in regulation, the ball was both literally and figuratively in Columbia’s court with time running out. However, with the Crusaders having a bevy of fouls left to give, Lancaster Catholic played the foul game marvelously, ultimately executing their plan down to the whisker’s edge. In fact, the plan almost worked out too well considering that Lancaster Catholic was sitting at five team fouls with just under five seconds left to go when they committed the cardinal sin of fouling a jump shooter in the act. Or so it appeared. While the foul was indeed called with Columbia’s three-point shot simultaneously rolling around the rim before ultimately falling off, the call was deemed to be on the floor, allowing the Crusader fans to undoubtedly let out a collective sigh of relief. So, with the Crimson Tide being negated out of the possibility of three free throws with time running out, Columbia’s final inbound play of regulation didn’t amount to anything serious, sending the contest into extra time at 57-57.

In the first overtime, Columbia once again seized upon the opportunity of drawing first blood. And while this wouldn’t come in the form of a 3-ball as it had so many times before, a Hov Glover to Michael Poole dish inside nonetheless gave the Crimson Tide the early 59-57 lead. It would be a relatively short-lived venture with the lead however seeing as Lancaster Catholic proceeded to tally the next six –capped off by a 2-2 trip to the charity stripe from Atkinson– making it a 63-59 Crusaders’ lead with 1:37 left in overtime. Yet as they had consistently so many times over up until that point, Columbia stormed right back to tie things up at 63-63 following a deadly pullup J cashed in by Robert Footman with roughly one minute now left to go. And with Lancaster Catholic turning the ball over following the Footman jumper, the Crimson Tide and Crusaders regrouped for yet another overtime session while still tied up at 63-63.

In the second overtime, Michael Poole would have the honors of scoring Columbia’s first points of the period with another hard-earned bucket inside, giving the Crimson Tide the lead once more, 65-63. That said, Catholic’s man of the hour, Devin Atkinson, responded by knocking down a pair of freebies to knot things back up at 65-65 in the moments afterwards. On the night, Atkinson was simply automatic from the foul line considering his perfect 15-15 showing, all en route to claiming game-high scoring honors by netting a 27-point evening’s worth of work.

So, with the game all tied up, Columbia opted to run the delay game. To their credit, the Crimson Tide was able to implement the plan rather masterfully, avoiding turnovers and traps among the like, ultimately having things culminate in a final timeout with 9.2 seconds left to draw up one final play. And whether it was the original design or the play itself had broken down, Columbia’s last-second pullup shot bounced off the front of the rim, sending things into a third overtime period.

At the start of the third session, it was apparent that Ross Conway had enough as far as seeing Columbia strike first. So, as a means to put a stop to most recent Crimson Tide-generated events, the Crusaders’ 6’3 senior stretch forward knocked down a dead-eye triple to start the third overtime period, only to then see the Crimson Tide refuse to budge given Hov Glover’s 3-ball on Columbia’s ensuing offensive trip, making things all square yet again. Then, after having stymied the ensuing Lancaster Catholic possession, the Crimson Tide got the ball right back and opted to go forward with taking the air out of the ball once again. This time, the plan worked like a charm as the Crusaders’ D ultimately broke down, creating a clear path for Glover to dish it off to a waiting Brelon Miller inside, giving the lead back to Columbia at 70-68.

But if there was an unsung hero for Lancaster Catholic on Tuesday night who helped the Crusaders get over top of the mountain, it was undoubtedly 5’10 junior, Mason Moore.

Time after time, Moore consistently delivered in defense of the Catholic cause, but perhaps none more than importantly –certainly at that point in time—than his bucket following the Miller bucket down on the other end, knotting things back up at 70-70. On the evening, Moore was arguably the keynote spice in the Crusaders’ secret sauce that made them tick, finishing the game with an 18-point outburst.

That said, the ball was back in Columbia’s hands with a chance for a walk-off victory. In the end though, it was not to be as the Crimson Tide’s go-ahead, one-and-one attempt at the foul line with 1.5 seconds remaining in the third overtime bounced off the front rim yet again, as had their early opportunity at the end of the second overtime, sending these two tired troops into a fourth overtime period with the score standing at 70-70.

Finally, in what had amounted to the end of the sixth quarter, Lancaster Catholic took charge.

Sparked by yet another gargantuan bucket tallied by way of Mason Moore off the opening tip, the Crusaders never looked back the rest of the way. After holding Columbia without any points on the Tide’s ensuing trip, Devin Atkinson went back to the foul line and tacked on two more freebies to up the Crusaders’ lead to 74-70 with 1:02 left. Then, after Columbia coming up shy on their last realistic opportunity after having missed a crucial late-game layup, Atkinson once again toed the charity stripe and knocked down another pair, making it 76-70 in favor of Lancaster Catholic before a Ross Conway free throw in the closing seconds put the punctuation mark on things as the Crusaders were able to remain the last team left standing in a thrilling 77-70 four overtime classic over their old rivals from the western side of the county.

Classic may have ended up being the word used to sum up what the fans in attendance thought of the nearly two-hour long proceedings. However, the word relief was most likely Lancaster Catholic head coach Joe Klazas’ first pick.

“That was a heck of a game,” an understandably exhausted Klazas offered while standing outside the Crusaders’ victorious locker room late Tuesday night. “Columbia is a great team. They really are. They’re so disciplined and fundamentally-sound,” said Klazas of the opposition. “Teams that have guys like that who can handle the ball and shoot like that are very dangerous…We’ve been more of a pressure team that tries to frustrate other teams that way, but they were able to handle the pressure. We were both exhausted at the end there. We got fortunate.”

“It’s a different atmosphere and you can try to simulate stuff like that in practice, but you just can’t do it,” the Crusaders’ head man said of the overall tension in the gym that comes attached at the hip with playoff basketball. “I took fault in the locker room. There’s some things I know I could have done a better job of drawing up in timeouts or in various situations, so I’m upset with myself for not doing a better job,” Klazas candidly admitted. “But, I know we’ll learn from this. I know there’s a lot on film that we’ll be able to show the kids that will give us some better opportunities in the future, but it’s a great win. We’re excited that we get a chance to move on. I definitively think we can learn and get better from this situation.”

But perhaps most ironically, for a series that didn’t occur during the regular season slate for the first time in anyone’s recent memory, Tuesday night’s L-L League playoff lid-lifter may end up being the first of two meetings between Columbia and Lancaster Catholic in the coming days. The next time coming with far greater stakes on the line considering the next meeting will likely occur in the District 3-3A championship game if the stars were to align with the winner venturing off into the PIAA tournament. And yes, for a coach as good at his profession as Klazas, he was well aware of that too.

“We very much could do that,” he acknowledged regarding another possible meeting with the Crimson Tide. “That’s what we talked about. We’ll celebrate today, but we have to get back to work tomorrow. We’re looking at this as our second season, the league playoffs. Who knows where that will take us, but then our third season will be district play and we’ll spend some time to prep for that as well.”

 

NEXT UP: After getting past Columbia, Lancaster Catholic now moves on to the semifinal round of the league tournament opposite of Section One champ Hempfield on Thursday night on the Black Knights’ home floor after Hempfield was able to defend their prior 2-0 season sweep over McCaskey on Tuesday evening with a third and final defeat of the Red Tornado yet again, officially locking up the division title in their name.

For Columbia, the Crimson Tide will now await their fate and seeding in the upcoming District 3-3A tournament, a bracket which Columbia thinks they ultimately take. And after witnessing their fearlessness on Tuesday, it’d be foolish to bet against them in that pool as well.

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