Lancaster Mennonite Rebounds, Topples Lancaster Country Day In Impromptu Section Five Tussle As Blazers Claim Third-Place In Wyomissing Holiday Tournament
Written by: Andy Herr on Saturday, December 28th, 2019
As the crow flies, the campuses of Lancaster Mennonite and Lancaster Country Day are separated by roughly 10 miles. So, naturally, it would be expected that any and every time that the Blazers and Cougars happen to square off against one another that the setting would be situated somewhere on the outskirts of the Red Rose city considering where two of the county’s preeminent private schools happen to lie on the map right? Right?
Well, not exactly.
You see, both Mennonite and Country Day just so happened to enter their names into the exact same holiday tournament this year up in Berks County, Wyomissing to be exact, even though both were responsibly placed on opposite sides of the bracket coming into the tournament. That said, with just one minor outcome separating the two from having a makeshift L-L Section Five battle, it was certainly not out of the realm of possibility to see both pitted against one another come Saturday. Sure enough, that’s exactly what took place.
To say that both the Blazers and Cougars greeted one another on Saturday afternoon prior to their consolation contest in a cordial, yet nonetheless sour mood might be a bit of an understatement. After all, Mennonite just had their scintillating five-game winning streak land with the loudest possible thud just one night prior in a 71-46 defeat at the hands of Exeter in an opening round setback. Meanwhile, Country Day on the other hand was just looking to steal any possible ray of light given the Cougars’ exact opposite five-game losing streak coming into the day. In fact, it had been a frustrating stretch of games that included an agonizingly heart-breaking comeback bid that fell just short in a game in which Country Day once trailed 14-1 against Kutztown seven days ago, 50-47 in overtime, courtesy of a walk-off Marlon Creech NBA 3-ball dialed up at the final horn.
So, with these two teams already having played once this season — a 75-57 victory in favor of Lancaster Mennonite back on December 13th at Mennonite — the improvised stage was set for a feisty, unofficial intersectional battle contested nearly 30 miles from home, as Lancaster Mennonite and Lancaster Country Day were set to duke it out once more, this time to see would go on to claim third-place honors in this year’s Wyomissing Holiday Tournament.
And while the final outcome on Saturday may not have appeared to be nearly as impressive as the first matchup between the two squads earlier this month, the end result was nonetheless the same in that it would culminate in a Lancaster Mennonite victory.
In the early going of Saturday’s third place game, it was rather apparent that both the Blazers and Cougars were quite familiar with one another and had scouted the other side to a T. For proof, look no further than the largest lead of the early afternoon coming by way of a Chris Hedbavny triple for Country Day, a bucket which put the Cougars up 7-2 with 3:30 left in the opening frame. Yet while Lancaster Mennonite 5’10 sophomore guard, Hector Maldonado, would have the immediate rebuttal to bring the Blazers back within three, countless bunnies that came up begging for Mennonite throughout a majority of the first quarter proved to be the key catalyst as to how Country Day would end up taking an 11-8 lead with them into the second quarter.
Yet even with Mennonite scratching and clawing their way back to within shouting distance each and every time that Country Day had appeared to be mounting a charge which would fuel some separation from their Section Five brethren, the Cougars would immediately turn the Blazers’ advances away countless times throughout the first half. Case in point, an old-school, traditional three-point play authored by Lancaster Country Day 6’0 freshman forward, Christian Hoin, which allowed the Cougars to enjoy a lead of half a dozen at 14-8 just one minute into the second stanza.
Shortly thereafter, the Country Day lead would then swell to the largest it had been up until that point in time, 17-8, following a smooth trey stroked in by way 6’3 junior forward, Lance Lennon, with 4:20 left to play before the break.
Again though, here came the Blazers living up to their nickname, literally blazing a path right back towards the Country Day cushion as the second quarter trudged along.
Ironically, while Lance Lennon happens to wear jersey #4 for Country Day, it would be Mennonite’s #4, 6’2 junior guard Cole Fisher, who would then start to bring Mennonite back into the fray.
Following the aforementioned 3-point bomb sunk by Lennon, Fisher promptly responded with a fantastic left-handed finish at the cup before popping a trey in his own right on the Blazers’ next trip down the floor, brining Mennonite back within four at 17-13 with 2:45 left before recess.
The only thing was, that wouldn’t be the last time that Country Day would have to deal with Mr. Fisher.
No, certainly not by any stretch of the imagination considering Fisher would go on to capture game-high scoring honors — chipping in a relatively quiet 20-point day of work all things considered once the day was over with — including two of which came with just one minute left before the half as yet another Fisher take to the rack ushered the Blazers back within a deuce which is where the margin remained once the teams retired to their respective dressing rooms with Country Day holding the slim 21-19 advantage.
In the third quarter, Lancaster Mennonite finally began to find that much-needed momentum surge that they had sorely been lacking throughout the entirety of the first half.
Looking up at County Day for literally the entire day up until that point, the black-clad Blazers were finally able to stare eye-to-eye with their Cougar counterparts following a hard-charging Camden Hurst take to the cup, making things all square at 21-21 with just 1:40 having gone by in the third.
And if Hurst wasn’t the one doing the scoring to assist in the Mennonite charge, he certainly appeared to have no issues whatsoever with being the one to facilitate for others, a feat perhaps best personified as when the Blazers’ 6’0 freshman forward dished off a sweet dime in transition to a streaking Graham Brubaker running free on the break before finishing with ease, allowing the Blazers to enjoy their first lead of the afternoon at 23-21 with 5:35 left in the third.
That said, for a team that was clearly hungry and well within reach to finally taste their first victory since the night of December 12th, putting Lancaster Country Day away once and for all would surely be a heavy lift for Mennonite. Sure enough, Country Day would then counter right back with a cold-blooded trey in the face of the brief Mennonite-led momentum surge, this one thanks to the efforts of Christian Hoin, making things all even once again at 28-28 with 3:47 left to tick off the third quarter clock.
However, with the shoe now clearly being on the other foot, it would prove to be Country Day that would have to deal with expounding buckets of energy only to witness Mennonite then retaliate right back and push them away.
As if to be right on cue, Mennonite’s Cole Fisher promptly answered the dinner bell when the situation called for it, nailing two back-breaking treys inside the third quarter — the last of which immediately followed the Hoin triple — giving the lead back to Mennonite at 31-28. And while the Blazers’ cushion would eventually increase to half a dozen at 34-28 late in the third and the game starting to possibly get away from them, Country Day, most specifically 5’10 sophomore guard John Stewart, also heeded the challenge being asked of him by then tallying two buckets in back-to-back fashion to bring the Cougars back within a bucket at 34-32 with the fourth quarter set to commence.
So, with the game ripe for the taking as far as either squad was concerned, the opportunity was there for someone to step up and become the hero. On that note, let us welcome Lancaster Mennonite 6’4 senior forward, Justin Horst, to the fold.
In fact, let’s start on the Blazers’ initial offensive trip of the final period. On said possession, Horst clearly relished in his opportunity to be the Blazers’ savior of sorts on Saturday by immediately rifling in a cold-blooded trey to reup the Mennonite lead to two possessions, effectively knocking Country Day back on their heels right out of the chute.
And while the scoring the rock with the game on the line will undoubtedly get you plenty of press and notoriety, so too will game-changing plays that are not nearly as flashy, yet arguably far more substantial.
For that, look no further than Mennonite 5’9 junior guard, Robsan Dinka, courageously giving up his body for the betterment of his Blazer teammates, standing firm and successful taking a charge with Mennonite then nursing a 37-35 with 5:22 left to play.
Speaking of heady plays, Cole Fisher would later follow suit by calming toeing the charity stripe and sinking a pair of free throws just over a minute later to give Mennonite the 43-37 cushion with 4:18 left to play. That said, Mennonite would then see their lead shrink back to three following a successful 2-2 trip to the line courtesy of Country Day’s John Stewart, bringing the Cougars right back at 44-41 just 58 seconds later.
Remember the name Justin Horst? Well, rest assured that anyone residing in Country Day’s camp most certainly does.
With the Blazers narrowly protecting a 44-41 buffer between themselves and Country Day with the game starting to reach it’s bewitching hour, Horst proceeded to get the rock at the top of the key and run to daylight through an unimpeded avenue left open down the heart of the lane for a crucial late-game Mennonite bucket, propelling the Blazers back out to a two-possession lead at 46-41.
But Horst wasn’t done there.
Shortly following his heroics from point-blank range, Horst proceeded to take his talents out from behind the arc as well, sinking a dead-eye trey which simultaneously broke the Cougars’ collective hearts, making it a 49-42 Mennonite lead with 1:45 left to go.
Yet while Country Day would proceed to trim the Mennonite lead back to six at 50-44 following a pair of John Stewart freebies at the line with 58.5 seconds left, Mennonite would eventually go on to score the final four points of the afternoon en route to a hard-fought, 54-44 triumph over their Section Five counterparts to capture third place in the Wyomissing Holiday Tournament.
NEXT UP: While the Blazers would have undoubtedly loved to have made a statement this week and claim the Wyo tourney title, the fact of the matter is that their trip to Wyomissing can still be greatly beneficial to the Blazers once the calendar turns over to 2020 in just a few days. Needless to say, winning a game over a divisional foe — even one that won’t directly affect the Section Five race — could be worth its weight in gold come next Friday when Lancaster Mennonite welcomes the Columbia Crimson Tide down Route 30 for a Titanic-sized matchup between the two teams from within Section Five that have seemed to distance themselves from the rest of the pack throughout the first quarter of the season.
How’s this for irony? Due to the somewhat wacky imbalance that the Section Five schedule presents in lieu of no crossover games for that division that would normally occur on nights where Section One/Section Two and Section Three/Section Four teams go at it respectively, Lancaster Country Day will now remain sidelined until the night of January 7th when the Cougars will take on, you guessed it, Lancaster Mennonite, for the third and final game in their season series. Yet for a team that will have gone nearly an entire calendar month without picking up a win given when the Cougars face off with Mennonite yet again, their fight and determination on Saturday afternoon was nonetheless impressive, clearly visible to the naked eye. But then again, would you really expect anything less from a program that has made the District 3-1A championship game the last two consecutive years?
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