Lower Dauphin Hustles Into District 3 5A Quarterfinals As Falcons Power Past Ephrata
Written by: Andy Herr on Monday, February 19th, 2018
The arrival of postseason basketball no matter what the level–high school, college or professional can mean only one thing. Brackets. And when District 3 released their brackets last week, there were plenty of intriguing matchups to go around. But perhaps no contest was as tasty as the opening round 5A matchup between #9 seed Ephrata traveling to #8 seed Lower Dauphin.
But don’t let Lower Dauphin’s 17-5 record and misleading #8 distinction fool you. This group of Falcons entered the postseason with the ability to inflict a ton of damage on the 5A field. In fact, one opposing coach went so far as to say without trepidation that Lower Dauphin was “arguably the best team in our division this year.” Certainly high praise when speaking about a team hailing from the Keystone Division of the “big bad” Mid-Penn Conference. A prestigious conference that historically tends to reign supreme over all the rest in District 3 tournament action.
However if anyone would be up for the challenge of going chin-to-chin against one of the Mid-Penn’s best, it was likely to be this year’s Ephrata Mounts. After all, Ephrata had to be itching to get back on the floor given the way things ended their last time out.
Hit the rewind the button to last Wednesday night in the waning moments of the first L-L semifinal game between Ephrata and Lancaster Catholic and you would have found the Mounts and Crusaders locked in a dead-heat at 42-42 with Lancaster Catholic coming out of a timeout with possession on their end of the floor with just a couple of seconds left to go in regulation.
As it would turn out, seconds would not be the issue. No, the real issue would be a tenth of a second. Literally.
After Lancaster Catholic got the ball down low to sophomore big man David Kamwanga following the late-game timeout, Kamwanga went to work in the post before hoisting up a shot from point blank range amongst the tall trees of Ephrata. The shot proceeded to bounce off the glass thanks to the stifling Ephrata defense, but just then a shrill rang out that pierced through the deafening roar that was reverberating off Penn Manor’s gymnasium walls as the Mounts were whistled for having just a little “too much” defense, sending Kamwanga to the stripe with 00.1 left on the clock.
From there, the young Crusader proceeded to sink the ensuing freebies with the game on the line to send Catholic into the title match where they would eventually fall to Lampeter-Strasburg, the team that would likely await either Falcons or Mounts at the end of Monday night as the top-seeded Pioneers had a home date with Northern York in the game opposite of Ephrata/Lower Dauphin.
So with the Mounts eager to get their shot at redemption, Ephrata headed west with their sights set on Hummelstown to flip the script on Wednesday night’s heartbreak while starting the journey of capturing an even bigger prize than last week’s league title.
However if ever a game could be defined by it’s opening possession, it was Monday night’s LD and Ephrata affair.
On Lower Dauphin’s opening trip, the Falcons were able to attack the glass with ferociousness, coming down with a handful of offensive rebounds, which subsequently forced the high-flying Mounts to dig in and grind out a defensive possession for over a minute.
And although they would not score on their opening trip, LD’s Luke Hedrick was able to tickle the twine from behind the arc to give the Falcons the early 3-0 advantage just 1:40 into the contest.
With LD continuing to stay patient on the offensive end along with employing a zone defensively which stymied the Mounts’ attack all game long, the Falcons were able to extend their lead over the visitors from Ephrata as Hedrick stopped and popped for a jumper which made it a 7-2 ballgame in favor of LD.
However once Ephrata did figure out how to shake loose from LD’s defensive gameplan, the Mounts were able to find their old, reliable formula of knocking down shots from behind the arc as a Sam Cable trifecta cut Lower Dauphin’s lead down to 8-5 just past the midway point of the opening quarter.
But even though the Mounts had closed to within three, Lower Dauphin would be able to keep Ephrata at bay the rest of the way for the remainder of the opening quarter as the Falcons proceeded to go on a 4-0 run from there as a steal and layup in transition by Luke Hedrick made it a 12-5 Falcon lead to answer Ephrata’s early momentum swing.
From that point on, Lower Dauphin proceeded to double up their guests as a hoop plus the harm negotiated by Casey Caruso made it a 14-7 Falcon advantage now at the two minute mark of the opening quarter.
But the hole only continued to grow bigger for Ephrata as a litany of turnovers besmirched the Mounts in the first half, translating to yet another 4-0 Falcon run as a pair of free throws cashed in by junior guard Ryan Becher made it an 18-7 LD lead before the Mounts would make it a ten point ballgame at the conclusion of the opening period with Lower Dauphin holding serve by virtue of the 18-8 count.
However the little stoppage in between quarters did nothing to deter the hot-starting Falcons. Instead, LD proceeded to rattle off the first four points of the second stanza to go ahead 22-8 before a Dilyn Becker whirling-dervish at the cup got the Mounts within a dozen at 22-10 shortly thereafter.
If there was one thing that became noticeable about LD’s defensive strategy in relation to how Ephrata was forced to go about their business, it was the fact that the Falcons’ D made it extremely hard for Ephrata to find good looks in their normal offensive flow. However when they did, they were able to find junior sharp-shooter Zach McGillan knocking down a triple from behind the arc to get Ephrata within single digits at 24-15 at the 4:35 mark of the opening half.
But Lower Dauphin’s size and length continued to be a problem for Ephrata all night long as evidenced by Brian Swist’s baby hook just two minutes later as the 6’5” junior gave the Falcons the 28-17 advantage. And from there, Lower Dauphin continued to keep Ephrata at arm’s length for the remainder of the quarter as a Luke Hedrick Euro-step finish in transition made it a 32-19 Lower Dauphin lead as the 6’4” junior guard finished his stellar opening half of action by chipping in 10 points to contribute to the 32-21 Falcon advantage.
Although Ephrata would start the second half off well in terms of getting back within ten of the home-standing Falcons, a pretty spot up jumper which was splashed in by 6’6” junior forward Will Bowen got the Falcons back over the ten point bulge at 34-23 at the 6:30 mark of the third period.
But from there, the Mounts would mount a charge.
Ignited by a 3 ball that was stuck by 6’3” senior Brad DaBella which made it a 34-26 Lower Dauphin advantage, Ephrata continued to press on as a beautiful find from Dilyn Becker to Xavian Rodriguez underneath cut it to 34-28 at the 5:30 mark of the third quarter.
And although Ephrata would cut it down to as few as five, Lower Dauphin’s Josh Saufley was there for the answer as the 5’11” senior guard knifed his way through the Ephrata defense en route to a critical bucket at the tin which put LD up 37-30 with now 2:50 left to play in the third.
However to their credit, Ephrata continued to keep on keepin’ on for the remainder of the third quarter as a corner 3 ball knocked in by Zach McGillan got Ephrata back within a half dozen at 39-33 which was the score as the game headed into the final eight minutes.
If there were two tangible factors that proved to be the difference between the Mounts and Falcons on Monday night it was Lower Dauphin’s relentlessness to attack the offensive glass along with their ability to create havoc defensively. Well, that and trying contain Will Bowen underneath. And as the final quarter got underway, Bowen continued to be a 6’6” thorn that would stick in Ephrata’s side.
On the Falcons’ first offensive possession of the final period, Bowen was again seen yet again gobbling up the offensive boards, earning himself a stick-back finish to push the Lower Dauphin lead to 41-33 to get the action underway. But Bowen wasn’t done there.
On the very next offensive trip, Bowen lurked behind the defense before suddenly rising up along the baseline and finishing with a nifty reverse at the tin, effectively knocking Ephrata back on their heels in the process. On the night, Bowen would go on to finish with game-high scoring honors by posting a dominating 23 point performance in the opening round of districts.
However once again, Ephrata was up to the fight as a gorgeous spot up jumper cashed in by Xavian Rodriguez closed the gap to 43-37 with the game now inside the five minute mark with Ephrata needing to make one last rally.
It was not to be.
From there, Lower Dauphin would let Ephrata get no closer as the Falcons proceeded to rattle off a 5-2 rebuttal which made it feel like a gargantuan advantage now sitting at a 48-39 Falcon lead with just 2:42 left to go. Shortly after that, Will Bowen continued his stellar night by going on his own personal 4-0 run as the Falcon advantage suddenly increased to 52-39 with the Mounts now searching for answers with their district title dreams now hanging in the balance.
And although Ephrata would close to gap to eleven at 52-41 following a Xavian Rodriguez jumper, the Falcons were able to navigate past the ensuing Ephrata press as Brian Swist was able to finish with an easy bucket at the tin with the game now inside of one minute remaining before Casey Caruso would finish out the scoring with a pair of free throws to send Lower Dauphin onto the next round by virtue of their 58-41 decision over Ephrata.
Although it was not the result that Ephrata was hoping for on Monday night, it is evident that the Mounts intend to bottle this up and make the most of this affair as they move onward and upward. Much in the same vein that they were able to do coming out of the game against Lancaster Catholic last week as well.
“We had a very emotional week last week,” Ephrata head coach Jon Treese admitted following his team’s setback to Lower Dauphin on Monday night. “You take this long bus trip and at times I would just say that I don’t know if it was as much physical mistakes as it was more mental mistakes of being a little bit tired and putting a little pressure on ourselves because we gave up a lead early,” he went on to say regarding his team’s play. “We’ve dug back from leads, but we have not had to dig back on a night like this, in a game of this magnitude in districts. We’re going to look back on it as a learning experience and move on to play 32 minutes to earn another 32 minutes.”
NEXT UP: With their defeat on Monday night, Ephrata now enters into the 9th Place bracket in District 3 5A where the Mounts will have a home game on Thursday night as they entertain the Polar Bears of Northern York who succumbed to L-S in their opening round game 55-35. But even though Ephrata’s bid for a district title fell by the wayside of the opening night of play, it certainly does not diminish the fact that Ephrata emptied the tank against Lower Dauphin. Signs that any first year coach would be excited to see as he witnesses the foundation of his program begin to take shape. Most specifically in the postseason.
“The opportunities were there when we got it down to six to maybe hit a big shot but you’ve got to give credit to Lower Dauphin,” the first year Ephrata coach went to add praising the opposition. “We punched at them and got it down to six and they got a timely offensive rebound or one their big kids made a nice move inside. They did something that teams do to win games in this type of tournament…I’m proud of the way my guys punched back but I have to give credit to Lower Dauphin too. They stopped our runs when they needed to.”
For Lower Dauphin, the Falcons will look to make it two consecutive wins over L-L Section 2 competition as LD heads east to tangle with the L-L champs in Lampeter-Strasburg. And although the Pioneers have seemingly been in a different stratosphere this season given the manner in which they have taken care of their competition, Thursday night appears to be one of the Pioneers’ stiffest challenges yet to date as these Falcons upon further examination are anything but a #8 seed. Not only will they keep attacking the offensive glass like unchained Dobermans, but they are also not afraid to get on the floor and risk some “floor burn” diving after loose balls. All in all, Thursday night in Lampeter appears to be one for books with someone becoming the rightful owner of a ticket to the Giant Center in District 5A semifinals next Monday night.
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