Lancaster Mennonite Battles Back, Stymies Lancaster Country Day Down The Stretch To Earn Hard-Fought Divisional Win

Written by: on Friday, January 22nd, 2021

 

Let’s talk for a second about schedules, shall we? In terms of who has had the toughest yet to date, one could easily make the argument on Lancaster Mennonite’s behalf. Consider this, the Blazers have already gone up against the following thus far in the young season. Lancaster Catholic, Columbia, Annville-Cleona, Conestoga Valley, as well as Lampeter-Strasburg. Long story short, within that group, you’re looking at what could amount to three eventual L-L section champions within their respective divisions, along with another squad, Conestoga Valley, that just might be the darlings as far as pleasant surprises are concerned this year. Suffice to say, the Blazers came into Wednesday night’s game against Lancaster Country Day more than battle-tested. Their opposition? Well, not so much.

Yes, we all knew this season figured to provide plenty of weird and obscure sightings, especially as fas as scheduling itself was concerned. Still, it was a remarkable sight to see Mennonite bring with them a five-game resume, against stiff competition no less, into Wednesday night’s battle at Country Day against a Cougars squad that had yet to tip the ball off this season. That’s right. A staggering five-game difference.

Yet even though the respective bodies of work shared between the two squads appeared to nothing if not wildly imbalanced, the competition on the floor itself looked almost identical over the course of 32 minutes.

Ironically, for a team that hadn’t played a competitive game against someone not named Lancaster Country Day in nearly a full calendar year, the Cougars certainly didn’t appear to show it. In fact, the initial first few minutes couldn’t have started off any better for the homestanding Cougars seeing as how they raced out to the quick 6-0 lead just 2:08 into the contest. From there, Country Day continued to keep the pedal down as they then escalated their lead by a point better, thanks to the handiwork of Luke Forman as the senior forward’s bucket around the cup made it a 10-3 LCD lead with 3:20 now left showing on the first quarter clock. In reality, it could be argued that Forman’s presence inside was the greatest spark that had helped ignite Country Day’s collective fire coming out of the chute seeing as how he had gone on to score eight of the Cougs’ first ten points.

However, the hits only kept coming as far as the Blazers were concerned.

With Forman willing to do the far less glamorous grunt work inside, his teammate, junior guard Grant Landis, went on to display his shooting prowess as the diminutive yet feisty sharpshooter later gave Country Day the 13-3 lead, forcing Mennonite to burn a timeout just 19 seconds after Forman’s latest bucket.

By this point, it was rather obvious that Country Day had been the team playing with all the momentum thus far. Perhaps that is why it was then somewhat surprising to see Mennonite answer back with such a strong and swift rebuttal.

After eventually spotting Country Day the 16-3 lead, the Blazers clawed right back into the thick of things by stringing together a timely 11-3 run to close the opening frame, the last two of which came courtesy of a determined Jaeden McFadden take to the rack, ending the first quarter proceedings with Country Day somehow clinging to a 19-14 advantage at the conclusion of a quarter it had felt like they had so largely dominated.

Yet while challenged, again with no experience in 2021 yet to their name, Country Day continued to play with the moxie of a squad that seemed to have a quite a few games already under their collective belts.

Case in point, Mennonite closing the gap down to three at 19-16 following a Cam Hurst bucket at the tin, immediately followed by an old-school, three-point play thanks to guess who, Luke Forman, upping the Cougars’ lead back to a half dozen at 22-16 with 5:35 left before the halftime recess. Yet even when Country Day had likely felt as if they had by and large avoided danger up until that point, here came the Blazers once again.

Over the course of the next four minutes and change, Mennonite was able to successfully put the clamps on the Cougars, limiting the hosts to just one point following the aforementioned Forman three-point play minutes earlier, shaving the deficit down to the slimmest of margins, 24-23, following a successful 2-2 trip to the charity stripe from Blazers’ senior guard, Cole Fisher. And while Mennonite would be able to get within one of Country Day with the first half winding down, the Cougars would proceed to expand their existing lead, albeit by just a penny more, as LCD went into the break with ownership of the 27-25 difference.

At the outset of the third quarter, Country Day seemed to be able to replicate some of that same early mojo which they had built for themselves in the opening stages of the first half as well. Look no further than Grant Landis’ and Christian Hoin’s buckets inside respectively in the early moments, upping the Country Day lead to 31-25 just 45 seconds into the new half.

And is to be right on cue, here came Lancaster Mennonite charging right back once more.

Sparked by a Cam Hurst drive to the hoop, the Blazers cut the Cougars’ lead down to just four at 35-31 before a timely triple, this time poured in by McFadden, that had sliced Country Day’s lead down to just a point once again, 35-34, with a hair over half of the third quarter clock having been expired.

Yet just as they had done so many times before, Country Day was able to right the ship and author back an impressive volley in exchange.

Seeing their game-long lead hanging on by the narrowest of the threads, the homestanding Cougars turned to their seasoned vet, Grant Landis. Good choice too considering that Landis went on to post team-high scoring honors with a very impressive 27-point night of work at the end of the evening, yet no two more important at that point in time than his hoop plus the harm as Landis’ eventual three-point play gave momentum right back to Country Day with the Cougars’ lead now expanding out to 40-34.

By now, it was clearly apparent that this game had featured serious cases of déjà vu shared between the two teams given how they consistently battled back against one another in the face of wild momentum swings. Well, speaking of déjà vu, seeing Lancaster Mennonite’s Cole Fisher score seemingly at will on Wednesday night also proved to be Wednesday night’s overarching theme.

Last season, no one put the leather through the net more than Fisher. Not too shabby in claiming the Lancaster- Lebanon League top scoring honors in 2019-20 considering he stands at a generous 6’2 listing, was a junior last year, and comes from a Section Five outfit, which let’s be honest, often gets overlooked as a whole more than those programs should. Fair enough, but it certainly appears that Fisher has no desires whatsoever of bestowing the title of league scoring champion over to someone else this season, especially given the manner in which helped turn the tide in favor of the Blazers with bucket after bucket from there on out Wednesday evening.

After being fueled by an impromptu 5-0 Mennonite spurt, the last two of which coming from Fisher, the Blazers had quickly trimmed the Country Day lead back down to one at 40-39 with two minutes left in the third. Then, a mere 20 seconds later, yet another Fisher bucket at the tin, two more en route to his game-high 29-point outburst, gave the visitors their first lead of the evening, 41-40, before Fisher went on to follow that up with another hoop inside, this time allowing Mennonite to close the third frame with the lead to their name, 43-40.

If by now you had figured that Lancaster Country Day would be up to the challenge as far as battling right back, right you’d be.

Despite falling victim to four consecutive points coming by way of Lancaster Mennonite 6’4 senior forward, John Ritchey, the Cougars were still well into the thick of things despite their deficit remaining at three, 47-44. That said, Grant Landis proceeded to turn the tables right back in the Cougars’ favor once again with his own 6-0 salvo, three from the foul line and another trio from behind the arc in the more conventional manner over the Cougs’ ensuing two possessions, handing the lead back to the hosts at 50-49.

Guess what? More from Mr. Fisher.

Seeing his team down 54-53 just a few possessions later, two consecutive Cole Fisher layups in transition gave the lead right back to Mennonite, prompting Country Day to call a timeout and regroup now down 57-54 with 3:53 left to play.

It would be lead that Mennonite would no longer relinquish.

Then, with frustration ultimately boiling over, Lancaster Country Day was whistled for an ill-timed technical foul following yet another Cole Fisher drive to the hole, which ultimately culminated in a smattering of Fisher freebies in the immediate aftermath, escalating the Blazers’ lead up to 61-56 just 1:04 later.

Unfortunately, as far as the Cougars were concerned, there would be no more gas left in the tank.

Down 61-57 with just a shade over one-minute remaining, a Country Day turnover in the half-court ultimately helped close the proverbial curtains from there on out. With the game then hinging on the Blazers’ collective prowess from the free throw line that would help determine the eventual outcome, the Blazers were able to find their man in another “walking bucket,” Cam Hurst, as the sophomore guard’s 4-4 trips to the charity stripe over the final minute and change helped prove to be the difference, helping send Lancaster Mennonite home down US Route 30 happy with a well-earned 65-60 triumph over Lancaster Country Day.

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