Lancaster Mennonite Digs Deep, Fends Off Lancaster Country Day In L-L Section 5 Opener
Written by: Andy Herr on Friday, December 14th, 2018
When Lancaster Mennonite and Lancaster Country Day faced off against one another in Thursday night’s Lancaster-Lebanon League lid-lifter, there were storylines aplenty.
For Lancaster Mennonite, last year was year to remember. In fact, only one other year, 2002, can rival what the Blazers were able to accomplish last year — A berth in the state semifinals. And had it not been a running halfcourt heave at the buzzer by Richland’s Tyler Zimmerman with just 3.2 seconds remaining, Mennonite would have been playing in their first-ever state championship game just days later against Pennsylvania high school basketball juggernaut, Neumann-Goretti. And with some nice holdovers from last year’s squad coming back into the fold, it wouldn’t be an unreasonable goal to account for Mennonite playing deep within postseason tournaments yet again this season. However, before you can think about districts and possibly even states, you first have to take care of business within your own section, a task the Blazers were hoping to get to a fast start on with their early season road assignment at Country Day.
Without question, the 2018-19 academic year for LCD will forever go down as a historic one. Why? Well, this just so happens to be the first season in which the Cougars will compete with full-time member status within the Lancaster-Lebanon League. And while some L-L fans may have been left scratching their heads as to the league’s invitation which was presented to Country Day, rest assured, this a program that is not devoid of success. Just last year alone, the Cougars were able to make it all the way the District 3-1A Championship, where they would fall 61-54 ironically enough to York Country Day. However, if more recent production is more your style, LCD has that as well, as evidenced by the Cougars taking of the title in their season-opening tip-off tourney this past weekend. So needless to say, Country Day certainly appeared willing and able to battle it out amongst their new fellow L-L brethren, with Thursday night’s contest serving as their first foray into the brave new world.
And as far as the Lancaster-Lebanon League as a whole was concerned, Thursday would also mark the official dawn of a brand new day with the first-ever game within L-L Section 5.
So, with the excitement surrounding Thursday night at a literal never-before-seen level, the Blazers and Cougars were set to raise the curtain on what promises to be another sensational season of L-L basketball.
For a team that was playing in such a historic game, Lancaster Country Day seemed to show no ill-effects of the bright lights and big stage as the Cougars roared out of the gates to an early 7-4 start after a sweet trifecta dialed up by Cougars’ senior guard, Andrew Williams. After the Williams bucket just a few minutes later, Country Day would be able to build upon their lead at 9-4 after a magnificent fast break lay-in by senior forward Luke Walling, with Williams earning himself an assist in the process.
But as Country Day would soon discover, the Blazers from Lancaster Mennonite aren’t exactly a team that is willing to go away without a fight.
While the home-standing Cougars understandably knocked Mennonite back on their heels somewhat to begin the contest as evidenced by a laundry list of Mennonite turnovers early on, the Blazers turned to Derek Burnside to answer the bell. In doing so, first-year head coach Seth Buckwalter was rewarded handsomely for his efforts as the 5’8 senior guard proceeded to rattle in back-to-back triples, the last of which came right before the first quarter buzzer, slicing the Country Day lead down to the slimmest of margins at 11-10 after the first eight minutes of L-L League basketball for Lancaster Country Day.
But much in the same vein that they were able to begin the contest, Country Day coming out firing on all cylinders to start the second stanza as well.
Aided behind four straight tallied home by the aforementioned Walling, the Cougars were clearly getting into a groove as evidenced by their 17-12 advantage. Yet much in the same way that Country Day had begun the game in their own right, Mennonite was there to scratch and claw their way back into the thick of it as a 3-ball popped in by guess who, Derrick Burnside, cut the Country Day lead down to just a deuce at 17-15 with three minutes left to go in the half. However, unlike the conclusion of their first rally, the Blazers would ultimately be able to seize control of the lead this time around thanks to a spot-up jumper sunk by Mennonite’s Joel Horst as the 6’3 senior forward gave the Blazers their first lead of the contest at 18-17 shortly thereafter.
As mentioned, throughout much of the contest, Country Day showed a fearlessness and fight that might have caught some in attendance off guard. But most importantly, not the Cougars themselves. Never more was that same grit and relentlessness put on full display than in the immediate aftermath following Mennonite’s first dance with the lead as LCD proceeded to then retaliate with a 7-0 run of their own, all of which were authored by senior guard Andrew Williams, as the Cougars quickly regained the lead as LCD found themselves up by half a dozen at 24-18 with just 1:10 left in the opening half.
However, the Blazers weren’t about to let their hosts get away that easily as a 4-0 run to close the half, all chipped in by Mennonite senior forward Naim Taylor, sent the visitors into the intermission down by just a bucket at 24-22, closing the books on what had been a first half exhibition of end-to-end basketball.
And while Mennonite would out of the starting blocks just as strong as they had finished as evidenced by a bucket on their first offensive trip of the second half courtesy of 5’9 senior guard Elijah Bynum, the Cougars continued to look last year’s 3A state semifinalist directly in the eye as a yet another 3-point bomb cashed in Andrew Williams put LCD back in front at 27-24 for the immediate Cougar answer.
Over the course of the next few minutes however, Mennonite would proceed to go on a run of their own, eventually overtaking the lead thanks to a trifecta splashed in by Mennonite senior guard Elijah Terry which put the Blazers up 32-29. From there, the late third quarter Mennonite lead would swell up to five points, as a nice put-back at the tin by Niam Taylor put the black-clad Blazers up 34-29 with 3:45 left in the third. And while a Lance Lennon jumper would put the brakes on the Lancaster Mennonite surge, the Blazers were able to play with the lead for the remainder of the third frame, leading 38-34 with the final eight minutes afoot.
In terms of starting fast and creating some much-needed separation up on the scoreboard, the outset of the final quarter could not have started much better for Mennonite. In fact, the Blazers would jump out to what had been their largest lead of the ballgame at 40-34 coming on the heels of a 2-2 trip to the charity stripe from Elijah Bynum.
For Mennonite’s sake, the current bulge of half a dozen would prove to be monstrous over the next few minutes as Country Day began to mount yet another charge. And before anyone knew it, the Cougars looked up and found themselves down by just a deuce at 42-40 following a nice bucket down low by senior forward Bradley Fry, with the home crowd proceeding to acknowledge their team’s efforts by belting out an ear-ringing roar of approval.
So, with the game on the line, the stage figured to be set for two of the biggest headliners to duke it out amongst themselves blow for blow. Sure enough, that is precisely what took place over the game’s next few minutes.
With his team down five at 45-40 and the opportunities starting to become few and far between, Andrew Williams began to take matters into his own hands by taking off on a drive to the cup, breaking some ankles along the way, effectively cutting the Mennonite lead down to just three at 45-42 with 3:29 to go.
The next trip down the floor, it was Elijah Terry’s turn to answer. And answer he would.
With Mennonite starting the recognize the time and score situation currently at hand, the Blazers decided to take their foot off the accelerator ever so slightly, taking some air out of the ball while playing with the late-game lead. In the end, the idea seemed to work like a charm as the ball worked its way back around the perimeter to Terry. And with the rock in his hands, the diminutive guard proceeded to rise, fire, and connect on a Titantic-sized triple which put the Blazers up 48-43 with 2:30 left to play.
Yet while it wasn’t quite clear if this Titantic would meet the same fate as its predecessor, Andrew Williams certainly threw some icebergs into the water on LCD’s next trip down the floor as the Cougars’ fearless senior guard rifled in another triple, shrinking the Mennonite lead back down to two at 48-46 with two minutes remaining.
And while Terry and Williams would successfully fill their teams’ leading roles on Thursday evening with both going on to finish as their team’s leading scoring with 21 and 24 respectively, neither one would score the biggest bucket of the ball game.
No, that honor would instead go to Seth Harmer, Lancaster Mennonite’s 6’3 senior forward, as Harmer received a pass from Elijah Bynum along the baseline, rose up, and ultimately connected for a much-needed hoop. A hoop which by the way just so happened to put the Blazers up with the commanding 51-45 advantage with only 1:10 left to play.
Unfortunately for Country Day, there would no more magic left in tank for next 70 seconds, as the Blazers went on to finish things by way of foul shooting down the stretch, giving the Blazers a hard-fought win, their first of the young season, 59-55.
And while a good portion of the evening was centered around Lancaster Country Day, and understandably so in this their maiden voyage into Lancaster-Lebanon League competition, the Cougars certainly did not disappoint. Just ask the opposition.
“They’re a great addition to the league,” Lancaster Mennonite head coach Seth Buckwalter said regarding Lancaster Country Day just minutes after earning his first varsity coaching victory. “That was a hard-fought game. That’s what you expect from an L-L section game,” said Buckwalter. “I’m glad they’re here and excited to play them again. I’m so glad we ended up on top, but that’s a really good team.”
As for his own squad?
“We talk a lot about the mental battle involved in the game and I feel like they’ve latched on to that idea of moving on to the next play no matter what just happened,” Buckwalter highlighted. “At all times, we’ve got three or four guys on the floor who don’t have a lot of varsity experience and sometimes it takes a handful of games until you catch up to the speed of the game and make decisions the right way.”
“It’s different being the support player on a state semifinal run versus being ‘the man’ and that’s part of the adjustment,” Buckwalter added. “They’re figuring it out and staying positive. We’re getting there. Tonight was a huge step for these guys and their confidence.”
NEXT UP: Lancaster Mennonite will now look to carry the momentum of Thursday night’s victory with them into next week as the Blazers make plans for a three-game slate of games against Lebanon Catholic, Pequea Valley, and Annville-Cleona in that order prior to the Christmas break. And now with a renewed and revived sense of enthusiasm and confidence following tonight’s win, those who may have been quick to write the Blazers off after an initial 0-3 start could soon pay dearly for doing so in their rush to judgment.
While Thursday night’s opener certainly did not end in the manner in which the Cougars had been hoping for, the message had been sent loud and clear across the Lancaster-Lebanon League basketball landscape on Thursday evening — The Cougars will be a team to be feared the rest of the way. Additionally, while no one is still truly sure on what exactly the impact of 5 L-L sections will ultimately look like, it certainly appears fair and logical to consider Lancaster Country Day into the playoff discussion as the season progresses. And if you aren’t already familiar with this band of Cougars, you had better get well-accustomed to seeing much more from them, sooner rather than later.
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