Manheim Township Completes Late-Season Stretch Run As Impressive Second Half Performance Helps Push Blue Streaks Past Cedar Crest In Regular Season Finale
Written by: Andy Herr on Wednesday, February 5th, 2020
When you think of the final night of the regular season, chances are that you might envision a team in the situation that Manheim Township found themselves in on Tuesday night. Backs against the wall, desperately trying to protect the very-last District 3 playoff spot, all while having everything come to a head on Senior Night against an already-established playoff-bound foe. Yet precarious position or not, the Blue Streaks arrived at their home gym knowing full-well that they little to no margin for error when they welcomed the Cedar Crest Falcons into town.
Technically, the District 3 playoffs truthfully get underway on President’s Day, February 17th. But don’t bother telling that to the Streaks however. No, they’ve already been playing within their own personal playoff confines for quite some time now. And to their credit, Township had responded marvelously to their situation by tallying four consecutive wins, including a thrilling overtime victory at home against McCaskey, all while helping vault the Streaks into the final night with everything to play for.
On the other side, Cedar Crest was not nearly sweating as many bullets. Especially when considering that the Falcons had entered the night fresh off their de-facto L-L Section One Championship Game against McCaskey on Friday night, as the Falcons ended up prevailing in a wildly entertaining 53-52 final decision at home over the Red Tornado. So, as far the group from south Lebanon was most concerned, Tuesday night in Neffsville was a night for their own seeding purposes while piecing together a product that they hope to lead them right back down to Manheim Township next Friday night for the Lancaster-Lebanon League title fight.
Speaking of fight, that was sure to be what the Falcons had prepared to encounter once they got off the bus and got set to tangle with the desperate Blue Streaks.
And if this truly were to be scored in terms of a fight, the Blue Streaks would have prevailed by way of TKO.
In fact, keeping with the metaphors regarding a boxing match, the early going on Tuesday night was truly a slugfest in every sense of the word. With Township trying to pack the paint and limit Cedar Crest’s touches from within the lane when coupled with the Falcons ability to play defense in their own right, the points between the two sides had proven to be extremely hard to come by. Truthfully, had it not been for a Seth Miller runner in the lane for the Blue Streaks, Township would have gone scoreless throughout the first half of the opening quarter. Yet fortunately for them, the sophomore guard’s bucket in the lane had clipped the Falcons’ lead down to just a pair at 4-2 with 4:10 left in the opening frame.
However, that would be all the closer that Manheim Township would be able to get throughout the remainder of the first quarter as a timely triple knocked down by Cedar Crest 6’7 senior forward, Ileri Ayo-Faleye, upped the Falcons’ lead to 7-2, before the remaining 2:40 of the game’s first quarter ultimately ticked off the clock with Cedar Crest up by a half dozen at 9-3 after one.
From there, with the game now into its second stanza, the Falcons were seen doubling-up their guests as a yet another Ayo-Faleye triple, his second of the early going, gave the Falcons the 14-7 cushion after the first two minutes of the second quarter.
Yet from that point on over the course of the next minute and change, Manheim Township would proceed to rally the troops and end up mounting a key 5-0 run just when they needed it most as a tough bucket inside by way of 6’5 senior forward, Ben Mann, effectively cut the Cedar Crest lead down to a deuce at 14-12 just 1:45 later. In fact, the Streaks kept their deficit at two in the waning stages of the second quarter as a three-point play courtesy of the handiwork put forth by 5’9 junior guard, Zach Hartz, made it a 17-15 affair in favor of the Falcons with now just 1:40 left standing between the two teams and the halftime break.
But speaking of runs, the visiting Falcons put one together in the final stages of the second quarter thanks to a pair of back-breaking triples sunk by Chris Danz and Grant Allwein respectively, as the Falcons then ran into the locker room with possession of the 23-15 lead.
So, with their season still largely left hanging in the balance all while being down at the intermission, one Manheim Township team would have to enter the locker room before having an altogether different one reappear for the final 16 minutes if the Blue Streaks wished to play any additional games this season following Tuesday night. Well, the good news there was that Manheim Township just so happened to go on and play arguably their best half of basketball all season-long in the second half against Cedar Crest.
In fact, the Blue Streaks’ charge started relatively early in the third frame considering a 5-0 run contributed by Township’s Seth Miller had closed the gap on the scoreboard back down to two at 25-23 with 5:20 still left to play in the quarter. Following the Miller-generated salvo, the Streaks would then go on to take their first lead of the evening thanks to two of their football-playing post men down inside as a Mickey Stokes take to the rack and a Ben Mann put-back from point-blank range shortly thereafter gave Township their first lead of the night at 28-27. And with their inside play already clicking at a fairly proficient level, the Blue Streaks, namely Zach Hartz for the Blue Streaks, proceeded to step out from beyond the arc and bury one of his four triples on the evening –en route to capturing game-high scoring honors with a 19-point performance– pushing the Township lead out to four at 31-27 with Cedar Crest being forced to a call an impromptu timeout to regroup with 2:26 left now left in the third.
And while a critical follow-up bucket tallied inside by Cedar Crest’s Max Scipioni would stem the tide at least for the moment for the Falcons, Manheim Township clearly had no desires whatsoever of slowing down following the Scipioni bunny at the cup, as a pair of Zach Hartz triples sandwiched around a 2-2 trip to the foul line courtesy of Mickey Stokes sent Township into the final frame with what at the time felt like the commanding 41-29 advantage.
That said, “commanding” may not have been a strong enough adjective to describe the Manheim Township advantage as the game continued to play itself out.
Truth be told, the Blue Streaks’ lead would later become gargantuan as the fourth quarter got underway as yet another pair of Manheim Township 3-balls, these nailed by Mickey Stokes and Seth Miller respectively, put the Streaks up by a sweet 16 at 47-31, ultimately culminating in Cedar Crest’s frustration boiling over given the fact that the Falcons were then hit with a technical foul while the Falcons found themselves in the midst of the current Township blitzkrieg.
Yet even with everything seemingly working against them, Cedar Crest was able to string together one final threat at their hosts thanks a key 5-0 rally produced by 6’1 senior guard, Grant Allwein, getting the Falcons back within a baker’s dozen at 49-36 with 4:30 left to play.
But that would be the last real threat from Cedar Crest for the remainder of the night.
With the Falcons now within a dozen, Township’s Ben Mann proceeded to author his own personal 4-0 run, all of which were found right around the cup, giving the Streaks some much-needed breathing room at 53-37 with three minutes left to go.
So, with the outcome looking like nothing more than an official formality at this point, Cedar Crest proceeded to pull their starters which ultimately gave way to both teams opening up their bench in the final few minutes and change. Yet that prove to be more than enough time for Jon Seyfert to get into the act as Township’s 6’3 junior forward went on to score a tough finish at the tin in the game’s waning moments, effectively putting the bow on Township’s 61-42 final decision over Cedar Crest in a game that the Blue Streaks could ill-afford to drop given their perilous District 3-6A standing coming into the evening.
Yet even with the magnitude of tonight’s triumph put to the side for just a moment, Tuesday night’s victory over the Section One champs had capped off an impressive five-game winning streak by Township to close the regular season while also very likely locking up a District 3 tournament berth in the process.
“This is kinda the team that I thought we had at the beginning of the season,” an understandably excited Manheim Township head coach Matt Johns said just moments after addressing his troops following their victory on Tuesday night. “Everybody has guys that they lose from graduation, but we had several guys leave that played three years in the same positions. I don’t think you can underestimate that it takes people awhile to grow into those positions and be comfortable with different situations, whether you’re up or whether you’re down,” Johns said.
“For better or for worse, we just seem to muddle around in the beginning of seasons,” said Johns assessing the totality of his team’s critically-important, prolific dash towards the regular season finish line. “We muddled around a little bit longer this year than we did last year, but the last several years I think we’ve been much better the second half of the season than we were in the first,” he added. “For whatever it is, it just takes us awhile to get going.”
Even still, as hard as it may be to do given the circumstances surrounding the situation that Manheim Township found themselves coming into the night, Tuesday night’s regular season finale may have truly been one of the Streaks’ better performances from top-to-bottom.
“We played a really complete game against Northeastern and we played a really good second half on Saturday (against Governor Mifflin), but this one was even better,” the fifth-year Township coach illuminated. “I liked our mental toughness in the first half when the ball wasn’t going in and we had (the score) right there. We didn’t make a ton of adjustments. We just said, ‘We’re going to keep shooting,’ because I just felt like we got a lot of good shots in the first half. Defensively, we said, ‘We want to stick a little tighter to the corners and we’re going to trust Ben (Mann) to defend penetration.’ He was so good,” Johns added of his bruising big man who patrols the paint on a nightly basis for the Township troops. “That was the best game of basketball that I’ve seen Ben Mann play.”
And in all reality, is there really anything more fitting than that? A senior stepping up to play arguably his best game in an Manheim Township uniform to hopefully extend his team’s season for yet another night. Well, if you were to a member of the Blue Streaks’ contingent, no. No there is not.
NEXT UP: For Township, it certainly appears –at least on the surface mind you– that the Blue Streaks’ triumph over the #3-seeded Falcons could/should be the final stamp of approval on Township’s resume and thus having the Blue Streaks sneak back into the District 3 playoffs which get underway the week of February 17th. And while some of those on the bubble—including Manheim Township—will now have to sit idly by for the remainder of the week while those around them complete the final parts of their regular season, the Blue Streaks’ head man will gladly accept any bid thrown in his team’s direction, regardless of the opponent or the date on the calendar.
“I don’t get to choose, so I’m not going to worry about it. But yeah, it would be nice to get (a game to play) sooner rather than later. On the other hand, when we played McCaskey, we went from McCaskey to Hempfield with a full week off. I don’t really think that impacted us that much,” said Johns of a similar situation regarding a sit-and-wait situation that his team found themselves in earlier on in the year. “We’ve had at least a week off every year for the past maybe three years whether that came in the middle or towards the end, so I think we do a pretty good job of managing it.”
For Cedar Crest, the Falcons on the other hand know their fate. Granted, maybe not their ultimate District 3-6A seed perhaps, but the group from Cornwall can now rest up for the remainder of this week all while building up a distaste for the way in which their regular season finale ended in Neffsville on Tuesday night for a few days’ time before a getting a solid scouting report on either Cocalico or Lancaster Mennonite in Friday night’s L-L League tournament play-in game at Warwick with the Falcons then slated to await the winner of that matchup on the Falcons’ home floor this upcoming Monday night.
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