Late-Game Heroics Help Lift Cocalico Past Manheim Central As Eagles Pick Up ‘Enormous’ Section Three Rivalry Victory
Written by: Andy Herr on Saturday, January 18th, 2020
No matter how you try and slice it, there is simply nothing that can match, nor surpass the intensity of an excitement of a rivalry game. Okay, sure. But once you add in a healthy dose of high stakes and great significance into an already explosive concoction, you’re left with a highly combustible compound that is just waiting to bubble up and erupt at the seams. Well, on a bitterly frigid and blustery mid-January Friday night in Denver, that was indeed the case.
In terms of Lancaster-Lebanon League rivalries, especially over the course of the last decade or so, there only a select few that can stand toe-to-toe with Manheim Central and Cocalico. And while the Barons and Eagles routinely grab the county’s collective attention when they go at it on the gridiron — quite often with championship ramifications hanging in the balance in some way form or fashion — the Manheim Central and Cocalico feud has seen its fair share of hotly-contested matchups over the last handful of years on the hardwood as well. Granted, while Friday night’s matchup wouldn’t necessarily feature such transcendent head-to-head matchups that have helped define this series of late, perhaps most famously when the Matt Walsh and Taylor Funk-led Barons teamed up to take on the likes of Tucker Lescoe and Aidan Trynosky for the Cocalico side, the situation was still just as palpable when these old “friends” renewed acquaintances with one another for the first time this season on Friday night.
Yet even in an alternate universe where Cocalico and Central wouldn’t have had such a storied history between one another, Friday’s night affair was still nonetheless of great importance to both the Eagles’ and Barons’ seasons respectively. You see, just a game separated the two within the L-L Section Three standings coming into night as both were on the search for a massive leg-up in terms of eventually capturing that elusive second bid out of the division come early February and league tournament time considering that Lampeter-Strasburg was already well out in front of the pack while residing in the pole position with an undefeated league record.
So, suffice to say, a battle between two formidable rivals with playoff implications left lingering in the shadows between the current #2 & #3 teams within the section was sure to turn Cocalico’s aptly named gym, “The Nest,” into an absolute beehive.
Yet in the end, it would be the visiting Barons who would be the ones getting stung.
In the early going on Friday night, Cocalico would be the team that got out an early start. So much so in fact that after a pair of buckets inside by the Eagles’ duo of Treys, Trey Rios and Trey Griffin respectively, Manheim Central head coach Charlie Fisher had clearly seen more than enough as he was quick to call a timeout after seeing his team spot Cocalico the ultra-quick 4-0 lead just two minutes and change into the contest.
From there though, the Barons — namely behind the efforts of 5’11 junior guard, Cam Eberly — proceeded to finally right the Manheim Central ship.
Over the course of the next few minutes following the early Manheim Central timeout, Eberly had clearly gotten himself into a groove in scoring the Barons’ first five points of the evening, eventually clipping the Cocalico lead down to the slimmest of margins at 6-5 over the next few minutes of game action. Yet while Manheim Central found themselves fighting an uphill climb throughout the entirety of the opening stanza up until that point, the Barons finally got themselves on level ground at the 2:30 mark of the first quarter when guess who, Cam Eberly, sunk a key triple for the Barons which made things all square at 8-8.
But just when the Barons got themselves back even with their hosts, the shoe was just as quickly placed on the other foot when Cocalico 6’2 junior guard, Carter Nuneville, nailed a triple of his own, helping send Cocalico into the second quarter with ownership of the 11-8 lead. More to follow later from Nuneville. Much, much more in fact.
At the start of the second frame, it was rather obvious that Cocalico was the team that had stolen the game’s momentum. In fact, after back-to-back buckets tallied inside by Trey Griffin and 6’5 sophomore forward, Augie Gerhart, the Eagles’ lead had then ballooned up to a touchdown at 15-8. Then, in an ironic twist of fate no less, Griffin proceeded to step outside and calmly knock down a dead-on triple which gave the Eagles a double-digit lead at 18-8, forcing Manheim Central to take yet another impromptu timeout with 6:18 left to go before the half.
Yet even though the Barons would then be able to get their deficit back within single digits following a key 3-ball sunk by 5’9 junior guard, Matt Siegrist, which made it an 18-11 contest, the Cocalico cushion eventually climbed back up to a dozen following a pullup jumper nailed by 6’3 junior forward, Carson Nash, making it a 25-13 Eagle lead with 2:10 left to play in the opening half. And once the dust had finally settled following the final two minutes and change of the second quarter, the Cocalico lead remained firm with the Eagles carrying the 27-17 lead with them into the second half on Friday night.
For a first half of play that by and large felt like it had been dominated by the Cocalico contingent, the Eagles were by no means out of the woods, especially against a feisty group of Barons that have quietly put together one of the more attractive resumes within the entire L-L League yet to date this season. Sure enough, here came the Barons roaring right out of their dressing room once the third quarter commenced.
Over the course of the opening two minutes of the third quarter, the rather comfortable lead that Cocalico had built for themselves was just as quickly wiped away as a 3-ball by Cam Eberly and a strong take to the rack by 5’9 sophomore guard, Judd Novak, sliced the Eagles’ sizeable lead down to three at 27-24, prompting Cocalico to call a timeout and regroup this time around.
But the Manheim Central troops weren’t satisfied there with simply getting back within shouting distance.
Shortly following the Eagles’ timeout, the Barons got themselves back within a point at 29-28 following a floater in the lane by Matt Siegrist, before another bucket in the paint, this one tallied by 6’6 junior forward, Griffin DiFrancesco, gave Manheim Central their first lead of the night at 30-29 with 2:43 left to play in the third as Cocalico called another timeout in face of the Barons’ blitz.
And while a nifty turnaround jumper knocked down by Carter Nuneville immediately following the Eagles’ timeout gave the lead right back to Cocalico at 31-30, a tough-as-nails 3-ball knocked down by Judd Novak at the third quarter buzzer allowed the Barons to saunter into the final quarter with the 33-31 lead to their name.
In many ways, Novak’s back-breaking triple seemed to propel Manheim Central into a whole different gear altogether once the fourth quarter proceedings got underway. For proof of that, simply look to the fact that the Barons’ lead later swelled to four at 37-33 following a 4-0 run, all of which was courtesy of Cam Eberly, with 5:20 left to play in regulation.
Yet to their credit, Cocalico was able to withstand the Manheim Central haymaker, eventually racing back into a tie at 37-37 following a successful 2-2 trip to the charity stripe by way of Augie Gerhart that came coupled with a critically-important Ronald Zahm charge taken on the defensive end of the floor, as four minutes were still left to be played.
But as was to be expected, the barbs only continued to be traded back and forth between the two rival schools as the intensity continued to be ratcheted up.
Just when Manheim Central may have felt as if they had finally solved the Cocalico riddle following a bucket inside by 6’3 junior forward, Wyatt Becker, his first points of the evening which gave the Barons the 39-37 lead, Cocalico’s Augie Gerhart came right down the floor and proceeded to author the critical answer which knotted things back up at 39-39 with just under a minute left.
And while it had appeared as if the Barons were going to salt the game away and play for the final shot in regulation, the visitors from Manheim would never get the opportunity as a loose ball scrum was ultimately scooped up by Cocalico’s Ronald Zahm, good for his second crucial defensive play down the final stretch, giving the ball back to the Eagles with just under 30 seconds left.
Fittingly, in only a manner the rivalry likes of Manheim Central and Cocalico can offer, the last team with the ball in their hands figured to be the one with to cap off the latest chapter of this fantastic series off with a final exclamation mark.
For that, the Cocalico braintrust put the ball in the hands of their unquestioned floor general, Carter Nuneville. And while playing with a certain poise and calmness well beyond his years, Nuneville strolled with the ball up the floor in hopes of somehow having a say in the game’s final basket. Then, after receiving the pass back from Trey Rios near the timeline, Nuneville went to work while playing with the heart of a cold-blooded assassin.
After seeing the screen being set for him up high courtesy of Trey Griffin, Nuneville darted his way off of Griffin’s left shoulder and blazed his way down the lane while largely being unabated in terms of oncoming Manheim Central traffic before tossing the ball up on the rim with a feather-like touch as the ball gently bounced around on the iron before finally falling fall through the net, giving Cocalico the 41-39 lead with just 1.2 seconds remaining.
Yet while Manheim Central would still have time for one last heave, the Barons’ baseball pass from 94 feet away was ultimately deflected away, handing Cocalico the ultra-important win within the L-L Section Three standings, 41-39.
“No,” Cocalico head coach Seth Sigman said quickly with a laugh when asked if his team’s final play was exactly how they had drawn it up in the final huddle that ended with Nuneville’s game-winning take to the tin. “We wanted to try and clear out the weakside for Carter (Nuneville) after going into our stall there to make sure we took the last shot, but then we ended up with it on the wrong side of the floor. We messed around it with a little bit there and (Nuneville) eventually got it into his right hand anyway, he turned the corner and then made a really big play,” said Sigman. “It was really good improv on his part, but you’re kind of freed up in that situation because you know you have to shoot it and you know it’s a tie game. Especially him. He hit a floater against Lancaster Catholic last year and two free throws to beat them,” Sigman added of his junior point guard. “That’s just kind of in his DNA. The big moments don’t bother him. He just kind of goes about his business. If you watch him out there, he’s never too high, never too low. He’s just kind of a mellow kid and I think that helps in games like that definitely.”
And because of Nuneville’s late-game heroics on Friday night, he and his Cocalico teammates found themselves on the right side of an ultra-important victory. The fact that it came in the most dramatic of fashion against their chief rival? Well, that’s likely just an added layer of icing upon the Cocalico cake.
“It’s enormous,” said Sigman of his team’s triumph over the Barons. “If we drop tonight, we pretty much guarantee ourselves that we have to win at Central in the final league game of the season. And we may still have to, we don’t know. There’s a lot of games left and a lot that can happen still, but it was big.”
“First of all, they scout everything,” Sigman said while lauding the preparation that comes when playing against the Manheim Central Barons. “A lot of times, it just comes down to who executes better. It’s just kind of a war of attrition, especially in a low-scoring game, so you just feel like every possession you have to get something good. When you don’t, it feels like a minute is going to go off the clock until the next chance comes.”
“When it’s Cocalico and Manheim, nothing else really matters,” added Sigman regarding having such a season-defining game come against your school’s most-heated rival. “The L-S game was done. I told them in the locker room on Tuesday after L-S, ‘You can’t let L-S beat us twice. We have to prepare the next two days because Manheim Central deserves all our attention. They are going to throw everything at us and we have to do the same,’” Cocalico’s head coach said of the message delivered to his troops following a tough defeat earlier in the week against the Pioneers.
“Anytime you can beat Central, it’s fun,” he added in closing. “Knowing what we’re playing for, a league playoff berth being up in the air, that win there helps us throw our hat in the ring a little bit. There’s a lot of work left to do, and a lot of league games left too, but that was the one in front of us, that was the one we needed, and that’s what we got.”
NEXT UP: Following their incredibly memorable victory over Manheim Central late Friday night, Cocalico will now quickly shift their focus over to the Conestoga Valley Buckskins come Tuesday night in a rare “nonleague” game despite both teams obviously being fellow L-L members. In terms of chasing down that elusive league playoff bid, the Eagles’ next chance at helping fulfill that prophecy will come on Friday night when Cocalico travels to New Holland for another crucial Friday night tilt, this time against a Garden Spot squad that fell to the aforementioned L-S Pioneers on a last-second buzzer beater on Friday.
For the Barons, there is certainly no rest on the upcoming horizon considering Manheim Central will welcome Lampeter-Strasburg into their cozy confines on Tuesday night before the Barons’ final crossover game of the season comes in a dangerous trip to a feisty Northern Lebanon squad inside one of the most venomous snakepits in the entire league, especially making the challenge appear all that more daunting when considering that the Vikings find themselves entering the upcoming new week as winners of three in a row.
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