Manheim Township Overcomes Sluggish Start As Blue Streaks Rally Past Exeter In Overtime Triumph

Written by: on Sunday, January 17th, 2021

 

Alright, alright. Clichés aside, we all know this year was inherently going to be different than any year of high school basketball that we’ve ever seen before and hopefully will only ever see for the rest of time. Among the ways in which it is expected to be different? The fact that no team will likely be immune from various starts and stops, not only in terms of the schedule itself, but also when referencing the idea of momentum as well. Just take Manheim Township for example.

On opening night, no one produced a more jaw-dropping score across the Lancaster-Lebanon League than the Blue Streaks who authored an absolute destruction of one of the league’s best programs, Cedar Crest, in a 61-21 stomping of the Falcons. From there however, the Blue Streaks followed that up with a puzzling overtime loss at home to a McCaskey team that while undoubtedly talented, got off behind the proverbial 8-ball in more ways than one this season, effectively stopping the Township train directly in its tracks without a moment’s notice. Then, having to stew and simmer in their 69-66 overtime loss at the hands of the Red Tornado for nearly a week, the Streaks returned to their home floor for the third time this season when played host the Exeter Eagles on Saturday night. To be sure, the jury was out in terms of which Blue Streaks’ squad would hit the floor. Well, while it may not have been the flawless version, it was certainly the one with the most internal fortitude.

Early on, it almost seemed as Township was still in a malaise from the McCaskey game played earlier in the week. After getting out of the gates slow, spotting Exeter a 4-0 lead over the first 2:20 on Saturday night to be exact, the Blue Streaks’ deficit only continued to grow in stature as an old-school three-point play courtesy of Exeter sophomore forward, Joey Schlaffer, later gave the Eagles the 11-2 lead with 3:15 left in the first. Finally, and not a moment too soon, Manheim Township’s Shymir Threats was to finish off his nice move to the cup on the Streaks’ ensuing offensive trip, as the junior guard gave the hosts their first field goal of the evening at long last with 2:58 left to play in the opening stanza which is where things would remain for the duration of the quarter with Exeter holding serve, 11-4.

Ironically, for as bad as Township seemed to play throughout nearly the entirety of the opening period, they were still well within shouting distance. Never was that more evident than with an impromptu charge courtesy of Township’s JT Weaver as the 5’11 junior guard was able to register four consecutive points to aid in the Blue Streaks’ effort, getting the home troops within a deuce at 13-11 with three minutes left in the first half. From that point however, Exeter was able to keep Township at bay for the remainder of the quarter as a nice pass from Carson Schmidt to Adam Wanner put the Eagles back up by five with under a minute to go, only to then yield some desperately-needed momentum right back to Township at the very end of the half as Weaver continued his white-hot streak by pouring in an NBA-range trifecta to beat the second quarter horn, sending the Blue Streaks into the break while still staring up at Exeter, 17-15.

In the third quarter, Township finally made their move.

On the Streaks’ opening possession of the quarter, Township’s sharp-shooting senior guard, Zach Hartz, was able to connect from behind the arc, giving Manheim Township their first lead of the evening at 18-17. As the third quarter churned along, Township was able to keep their foot to floor. While Hartz’s trey was able to give the Streaks their first lead of the contest, a 4-0 personal rally thanks Jon Seyfert later in the quarter allowed Township to build upon their lead, making it 24-21 contest in favor of the Streaks with half of the third quarter still left to be played.

However, the Manheim Township surge appeared to be short-lived.

Following the Seyfert-led jaunt, Exeter stuck to the script by continually pounding the ball down inside, eventually being rewarded for their collective efforts as a hoop plus the harm courtesy of Adam Wanner, propelled the Eagles back in front at 28-26. And while a Matt O’Gorman bucket inside on the Streaks’ next offensive trip would knot things back up at 28-28, Exeter was able to close the third frame on a 5-1 clip, taking the 33-29 lead with them in the final stanza.

To say that the fourth quarter late on Saturday night featured a mini series of runs shared between the Blue Streaks and Eagles might be putting it mildly. Case in point, a 4-0 flurry thanks to the handiwork of Township’s Dan Engel, as the 6’2 senior forward allowed the Streaks to claw back even at 33-33 to get the fourth quarter underway. From there, an immediate 4-0 blitz courtesy of visitors from Berks County, the last bucket of which featured a bulldozing take to the tin by Adam Wanner, put the Eagles back on top at 37-33 with four minutes still left to go.

Yet just as they had done all game long, Township simply refused to buckle heading down the stretch.

Yes, they had largely appeared to be stuck in neutral throughout much of the contest up until that point, the game itself was still ripe for the taking. In fact, the Blue Streaks were able to essentially erase the gap entirely over the course of the next minute of playing seeing as how a crucial Zach Hartz steal and finish got the Streaks back within a point at 40-39 within the blink of an eye. Then, with Exeter running their slow and methodical style of offense as if almost to perfection, the Eagles’ offense trip ended with a successful 2-2 trip to the charity stripe from Joey Schlaffer, making it a 42-39 Exeter lead with just 1:10 left in regulation.

Keyword there? Regulation.

If you’ve spent any time around the game of basketball, you know by now that one of the cardinal rules of the game is that you never, ever foul a jump shooter. Well, unfortunately for Exeter, they did not oblige with that instruction on the very next Manheim Township offensive possession as JT Weaver was fouled launching from deep, eventually going on to coolly connect on all his freebies, making things all square at 42-42 once more with 57.7 ticks left. And while 57 seconds is typically an entirety of time, it was not enough for Exeter within the final minute as the Blue Streaks’ stifling defense was able to rise the occasion one more time, not even letting the Eagles get a shot off on their final offensive possession, sending this nonleague tilt into extra time with the two sides deadlocked at 42-42.

In the overtime session, Township eventually put it all together.

With their defense continuing to put a lid on the Eagles’ offensive intentions, the Blue Streaks were able to take command down on the other end as a back-breaking triple dialed up by Hartz, good for three more en route to his team-high 14-point outing, gave Township the 46-42 advantage with just 2:45 left. Then, just when it had appeared that the Streaks were finally out of the woods once and for all, a possible game-saving three-point play from Exeter’s Landon Small drew the Eagles back within a pair at 47-45 with exactly one minute still left to tick off the fourth quarter clock. Ultimately, once push finally came to shove, the Blue Streaks were able claim victory on Saturday night thanks to their ability to win the impromptu free throw shooting contest within the final minute, thanks in large part to a 4-4 effort from 6’0 junior guard, Seth Miller. And while Exeter would be able to hit on a last-ditch trifecta with just 0.7 seconds left, it would prove to be for nothing more than for aesthetic purposes as Manheim Township had gone on to claim a hard-fought overtime win at the hands of Exeter, 54-50.

Suffice to say, although it was far from a masterpiece, it was a win nonetheless still enjoyed by Manheim Township head coach Matt Johns.

“We just had no flow,” Johns admitted afterwards. “I think we struggled defensively with all that screening. I think it took us awhile to adjust to that and honestly it was also (Exeter’s) size. They were so big. They had 6’4, 6’4, 6’5 on the court all at the same time,” he added of the Eagles’ imposing front line. “I don’t we go above maybe 6’3, so that was a challenge. But, I was proud of the way we gutted it out. It was a real grind. We also said that it’s good preparation for Hempfield on Wednesday because they are a big, physical, screening and cutting team, so I liked that fact too.”

And not only was Saturday night good prep for the Blue Streaks’ next challenge, but it was also an exercise in bouncing back given the way in which Township’s previous outing against McCaskey on Monday night eventually transpired. That, and the fact that the loss against Red Tornado came coupled with a five-day layoff.

“Usually I like getting two early games in and then being able to have a couple practices in a row. We probably had one more practice than I would have liked before we played again, but that’s just a product of this strange season right now because everyone’s schedules had to be moved around and you’re plugging holes where you can plug holes,” the Blue Streaks’ coach said of his team’s respite this week. “But you know, we shot poorly outside on Monday (against McCaskey) and we shot poorly outside in the first half again tonight. We got a little better in the second half, but we also started getting to the line finally.”

Speaking of various fits and starts, especially when just looking at Township’s first three games this season as a microcosm, Johns also understands the fact that roller coaster swings may very well just end up being just another byproduct of this already wonky season in more ways than one.

“I don’t think anyone had consistent enough preparation to where they’re going to be able to do what they want to do night in and night out,” he said. “Maybe that’s just my perspective on it, but almost all of us were having open gyms, had a nice flow going, and then you get interrupted for a week. Then, your season was supposed to start mid-November and that gets pushed out by 10 days. You get 10 days of practice in and then you’re off for another three and a half weeks.”

“By this point, most teams would have been 20 practices in, eight games in, you would know who are by this point,” Johns added before stating the sentiment likely shared by most coaches around the state by acknowledging simply, “I just don’t think that we do yet.”

 

NEXT UP: As Coach Johns mentioned in his postgame comments, the Blue Streaks will return to the floor next time out on Wednesday night for a heavyweight against bitter rival Hempfield. And if bragging rights weren’t nearly enough riding on the line come Wednesday night in Landisville, it’d be next to impossible to overlook the fact the season series between the Blue Streaks and Black Knights very likely will end up deciding on who ultimately prevails as this year’s L-L Section One champion. The other thing to note regarding the mid-week matchup? It will be Township’s first time playing in the navy blues. In other words, their first time playing on the road this season.

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