Lancaster Country Day Handles Business, Rides Strong Second Half Performance To Second Straight League Victory As Cougars Best Annville-Cleona On Senior Night
Written by: Andy Herr on Wednesday, February 10th, 2021
Even though Lancaster Country Day has only been a full-fledged member of the Lancaster-Lebanon League for just three years now, the overarching outlook of the Cougars’ basketball season seems to consistently take on the same narrative perennially. First and foremast, scratch and flaw to get somewhere within the first two slots of the L-L Section Five standings to secure the school’s inaugural berth in the esteemed league tournament. From there, hope that the balance of your top-heavy schedule ends up benefiting you rather handsomely in the long run as you simultaneously work to clinch a bid into the District 3-1A tournament as well. Sure enough, even while competing amidst a global pandemic, the 2020-21 Cougars appear to be following that very same script once again.
But it hasn’t always been rainbows and butterflies mind you. Not when you consider that Country Day’s first game of the season, January 20th against Lancaster Mennonite, was the Cougars’ first competitive interaction against a foe not named Lancaster Country Day for the first time in nearly a full calendar year. And while the Cougars did end up dropping that game against the Blazers –and three more from there on out—LCD was also able to garner four wins over their next seven games as well, good enough for an even 4-4 mark heading into their Tuesday night home game against fellow Section Five member, Annville-Cleona. And as far as that District 3 seed was concerned? Just inside the cut line at #8 in the ten-team field.
Suffice to say, Country Day was looking to pick up right where they had left off just 24 hours earlier in an emphatic 59-36 takedown of Pequea Valley, the Cougars’ first league win of the season, vaulting them up two more spots within the District 3 power rankings in just an evenings’ time.
Speaking of Annville-Cleona, it’s been a tough go of it so far for the Dutchmen this season. In their first seven games of the year to date, A-C had not been able to get within 18 points of an opponent once the final buzzer sounded so far this season, an undoubtedly tough pill to swallow given that A-C made the District 3 tournament field last season, bowing out to former state champion runner-up, Trinity. But even for all the difficulties that 2020-21 has presented on the floor for the Dutchmen thus far, Tuesday night at the Parents’ Fieldhouse on the palatial grounds of the Lancaster Country Day campus made for arguably A-C’s best shot yet to date for scrounging up a much sought-after victory for the first time this season when playing against a much smaller single-A school in Country Day.
In the end though, Tuesday evening proved to be another night in which Country Day continued to pursue their bid of chasing down a District 3 tournament berth, much to the chagrin of Annville-Cleona.
That said, A-C appeared up for the challenge in the early going seeing that their 6’3 junior forward, Isaac Good, was able to keep the visiting Dutchmen within a deuce at 4-2 near the five-minute mark of the opening stanza. From there though, Country Day proceeded to score the next five in succession, capped off by a Grant Landis 3-ball, making it a 9-2 affair in favor of the home team nearly one minute later. Eventually, the Cougars’ cushion bubbled up to as many as ten at 14-4 following an old-fashioned three-point play authored by 6’3 senior forward, Luke Forman, with roughly two minutes left to play in the first. On the night, Forman proved to be a quintessential “stat stuffer” for Country Day, not only finishing with a game-high scoring output of 19 points, but also snaring more than his fair share of offensive rebounds to assist in the Cougars’ effort as well.
Needless to say, the visitors from Annville needed someone to step up and take command of the ship seeing as how the Cougars had appeared to come untethered in racing out to such a commanding early lead. Well, fortunately for them, senior guard Yadiel Cruz was up for the challenge as the Dutchmen’s 5’7 senior point guard was able to splash in a much-needed trifecta to cure A-C’s offensive woes, cutting the Country Day advantage back down to ten at 17-7, which is where things would remain once the first quarter buzzer ultimately sounded roughly two minutes later.
In the second frame, Country Day only continued to improve upon their standing up on the scoreboard.
Case in point, a 3-ball knocked down by way of 6’1 sophomore forward, Christian Hoin, upping the Cougars’ lead to 27-10 with 4:10 left before intermission. However, speaking of the aforementioned Cruz, the A-C floor general was able to put together a scintillating finish to aid in his team’s collective cause to end the first half proceedings with Cruz personally going on to tally an 8-0 salvo –capped off by a pair of back-to-back treys—cutting the Country Day lead back to a baker’s dozen at 29-16 shortly thereafter. On the night, Yadiel Cruz proved to be Annville’s most prolific scorer given his 11-point outing to commandeer the Dutchmen charge by the end of Tuesday night. And while things may have appeared to be somewhat precarious for the homestanding Cougars given that it felt as if LCD’s lead should have been far more impressive at that juncture, the Cougars were able to close the first half in style, highlighted by a sweet inside exchange from Lance Lennon to Taamir Brice-Young, making it a 33-18 Country Day lead before the first half expired 2:30 later with the Cougars out in front, 35-19.
The second half continued to be much of the same as far as Country Day was concerned. Well, not necessarily that is.
Up until that point, Country Day was able to distance themselves from Annville-Cleona behind a tried and true method of crashing the offensive glass with reckless abandon, finishing things off with easy bunnies inside, before also stepping out from beyond the arc and lighting the Dutchmen up from there as well. But never in amongst that stretch had there been any dunks. Well, that all was about to change once Lance Lennon stepped in front of an A-C pass near the timeline before snatching up the theft accordingly and racing all the way back down to other end before throwing down an emphatic one-handed jam, effectively making it a 40-19 Cougars’ lead with 5:35 left in the third quarter. From there, the Cougars’ onslaught pressed onward as the LCD lead eventually grew out to 50-19, highlighted by a Grant Landis trey and Chris Hedbavny steal and finish amongst the stretch. Finally, and not a moment too soon as far as A-C was concerned, the Dutchmen were finally able to crack into the third quarter scoring column thanks to a much-needed 3-ball sunk by freshman guard, Ben Morcom, giving the visitors their first points of the third stanza with the score standing at 50-22 before the final 2:30 ran out via the mercy rule with Country Day riding in cruise control, 55-23.
Granted, while the eventual outcome had already been decided by the time that the final eight minutes rolled around on Tuesday night, there was still more enough time left on the clock for LCD to cap off the Senior Night proceedings with some final outgoing highlights. Chief among them, a Logan Lee bucket inside, an emphatic rejection of a would-be Dutchmen shot thanks to the towering and lanky 6’4 presence of Taamir Brice-Young, all of which occurred before Annville-Cleona was able to net their first points of the final frame which came courtesy of a 3-ball dialed up by 5’6 sophomore guard, Ricardo Cruz. Then, in the waning moments, the crowd inside Parents’ Fieldhouse gave arguably their loudest roar of approval all evening long once 6’3 junior forward, Skyler Wright, was able to get in on scoring party in his own right down the final stretch with a bucket inside, effectively serving as the perfect punctuation mark to end Country Day’s resounding divisional showing against Annville-Cleona on Tuesday night, 59-26.
With their win over the Dutchmen on Tuesday, it was a triumph crucial to Lancaster Country Day for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it gave the Cougars their first Section Five wins of the season in back-to-back fashion two consecutive nights in a row. Not only that, but it also improved their standing in relation to the District 3 tournament picture. Rest assured, feats that were not lost on Cougars’ head coach Jon Shultz.
“Absolutely,” Shultz said without hesitation as to whether or not the Cougars’ collective L-L League schedule consistently keeps them in the hunt for a single-A District 3 playoff berth come regular seasons’ end on a yearly basis. “Last year, we went 7-15 and missed out by mere points which is nice,” he added honestly. “I’ve been on teams where you’re just slogging through the season, you get to mid-January and you’re saying, ‘How much longer do we have to go here?’ You don’t have that here (at Country Day) which is nice.”
“That’s the thing,” Shultz went on to say of his overall game plan while in charge at LCD. “I want to be competitive in the league, I want to be competitive in the section and I want to play for districts. It’s always like we kind of have two competing seasons going on at once here and we use these league games as ways to prepare ourselves for that.”
And as if to right on script, Lancaster Country Day appears to be rounding into form as the season heads for home.
“We played Columbia tough here at home,” Shultz said of his team’s performance against this year’s Section Five champion in a game played last Thursday night. “(Columbia) beat us by 39 the first time and we gave them a game. Things were starting to click. Then, we up to Mount Calvary and that’s a really, really good basketball team. We were down 28-7 at the end of the first quarter (against Mount Calvary) so we actually won the game the rest of the way. But we said, ‘Ok. We just played the #1 team in AAA (Columbia), the #1 team in A (Mount Calvary).’ The scores might not have always been indicative, but we knew we were in there. We knew that we can get into some games here. We’re playing together.”
“Last year was rough to where you would pull guys off the floor and heads would hang with no communication,” Shultz said. “I’m pulling guys off the floor now and they’re running off saying, ‘Hey I had #13. Make sure you pick him up.’ That’s good. That means we’re taking care of business in that way. The last couple nights I draw a heart on the board in pregame. That’s what it is. Box-out, play together, cheer each other on, all of those things that don’t take any skill. We work on the skill stuff and that’s coming together, but that teamwork stuff matters. That’s huge for us.”
But perhaps the most interesting tidbit regarding Country Day’s chase of a District 3 playoff bid takes on the most apropos of all aspects in terms of this season- The subject of mask wearing considering that a majority of the single-A field will hail from conferences that do not have mandates regarding mask-wearing while playing as opposed to the L-L League which does have such a mandate.
“We’re going to hope that everyone does it the right way,” Shultz said of the possible situation that is rapidly approaching. “As far as I know, District 3 has not yet come out with anything in terms of a definitive statement. We’ve played a few schools already that don’t play with masks, but when we do schedule and play them, they are wearing masks. I’m going to think that we’re going to have a fair shake to where if we get in the playoffs, we’re not going to have to forfeit because Team XYZ doesn’t want to wear masks. I don’t think that’s going to be the case, but it’d be unfortunate if it is. We’re doing it the right way and I do think people are doing it the right way when they should.”
NEXT UP: After their second straight league victory on Tuesday night, Lancaster Country Day will look to make it three in a row come Thursday night when they meet up with Lancaster Mennonite for the final time this season before dipping out of L-L League competition briefly on Saturday afternoon when the Cougs travel up to Berks County to tangle with Tulpehocken. From there, LCD will embark on a three-game stretch to close the regular season campaign –hopefully on a winning streak as far as the Cougars are concerned—when they finish with Annville-Cleona, Lancaster County Christian, and Pequea Valley respectively.
For Annville-Cleona, it’s right back to the drawing board. But all is not lost for the Dutchmen mind you. Not when you consider the fact that they had played Country Day tough throughout most of the first half on Monday night, before yielding the eventual 33-point defeat. Following their game against Country Day, A-C will return home for a three-game homestand against the likes of Pequea Valley, ELCO, and the rematch with Country Day, all within a weeks’ time as the Dutchmen continue their pursuit of finding that elusive first victory this season.
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