Preseason expectations. While most will say that they would love to have lofty goals and expectations placed upon them before the season begins in full, often serving as an indication that big things are expected for the season ahead, it’s not exactly a characteristic that is designed the faint of heart either. After all, sometimes the mere thought of shouldering such a burden can make even the toughest of teams crumble to their collective knees as the season trudges along. But as is the case in most corners of the commonwealth, the Lancaster-Lebanon League was no different in the sense that it housed a team that was far and away the odds-on favorite to inflict an inordinate amount of damage upon the L-L, District 3, and PIAA fields come playoff time: The Manheim Township Blue Streaks.
Coming into the season, it was downright impossible to overlook just the sheer amount of talent that the Streaks had returning in their arsenal. Starting off with the dynamic playmaking one of Central Pennsylvania’s best all-around players, Manheim Township senior guard Tyler Crespo, the Blue Streaks figured to pick up right where they left off at the tail-end of last season which saw them battle perennial bluebloods Reading and Lower Merion down to the wire in the District 3 semifinals and PIAA playoffs respectively.
And while the start to the season hasn’t been without its fair share of hiccups along the way as evidenced by the Streaks’ 6-4 record coming into this weekend, it certainly appeared that Township was well on their way to getting things back in tip-top shape following a perfect 2-0 showing at the State College Holiday Tournament last week.
And then Friday night happened.
Despite owning a late-game lead with time running out against McCaskey, a furious Red Tornado charge down the stretch proved to be the difference. And in the cruelest of ways as far as Manheim Township was concerned, a last-second 3-ball dialed up from McCaskey’s Isiah Thomas led to a happy bus ride home for the Red Tornado by virtue of their thrilling 60-57 road win over the Blue Streaks.
As a result, Manheim Township suddenly found itself at a crossroads on Saturday afternoon against a dangerous Central York squad. To be sure, it something not lost on Manheim Township head coach Matt Johns and his band of Blue Streaks.
“We made it clear that it was,” Johns said regarding the situation at hand in Saturday morning’s walkthrough in preparation for the Panthers. “Whether or not any team is going to respond to that, you never know until the ball goes up.”
“We were talking about how we have to bring our energy,” Johns added in regard to the pregame assignment he offered to his troops. “We’re fighting for our team and we’re fighting for our season right now.”
So, with their season somewhat hanging in the balance, the Blue Streaks drew Central York in the opening game of the “War of the Roses.” And yes, that name is indeed apropos considering it is the annual grudge match that pits teams from the Lancaster-Lebanon League up against fellow squads from the York-Adams League in an all-day battle for conference supremacy, with the winner earning those precious bragging rights once the dust finally settles at day’s end.
With the magnitude of the situation being what it was, it was ideal that Township get off to a fast start in order to generate some tangible confidence to use for the rest of the afternoon. In that regard, a large portion of the credit is deserving of Manheim Township’s 6’3 junior forward Zach Oldac who got off to a torrid start, scoring the Blue Streaks’ first seven points en route to an early 7-2 cushion in favor of the Blue Streaks through the first 1:40 of the contest.
From there, Township remained laser-focused as a 3-ball bombed in star senior guard Tyler Crespo put the Streaks up by eight at 12-4 just two minutes later. And through it all, Oldac continued to remain white-hot as Township’s multifaceted big man continued to show off the many skills in his offensive repertoire by stepping out to drain yet another triple, this time putting the Streaks up by double digits at 16-6 with 2:10 left in the opening period.
And while Central York would eventually claw back to within seven at 16-9 following a 3-ball of their own courtesy of junior forward Trey Sweigart, the Streaks would go on to close the opening session with a 4-0 run of their own, concluding the first quarter of play with Township out in front, 20-9. Rest assured, it was a fast start that was of the upmost importance to Coach Johns.
“The first quarter was huge,” said the Township head man. “We have struggled to start games. We’ve said that it feels like in every game we play, the other team hits a 3 on us to start the game.”
Well, for a large portion of the first quarter on Saturday, the story was largely centered around the Blue Streaks’ ability to flip that narrative and instead demonstrate their own hot shooting ability from behind the arc. But when talking about a team that is as talented as this Manheim Township club is, the Blue Streaks are the furthest thing from a one-trick pony.
With that in mind, the Streaks immediately began pounding the ball inside, eventually seeing their lead swell back up to a dozen after buckets inside from Oldac and 6’6 senior forward Tyler Vicidomini, putting the Streaks in front 25-13 through the first three minutes of the second stanza.
Yet just when it had seemed that Township was going to be able to run away with this one, the Panthers came roaring right back.
Ignited by a 4-0 flurry from sophomore Taylor Wright-Rawls and another bucket following suit from senior forward Braden Richard, the Panthers had suddenly trimmed the Township lead back down to size at 31-23, prompting a Blue Streaks’ timeout with 27.3 left to go in the opening half. And with a score right before the intermission being of the upmost importance, the Streaks came out with a beautifully designed play which saw Vicidomini receive the ball on the low-block and then finish with ease from point-blank range, as the Township senior big man helped send the Streaks into the break with ownership of the 33-23 lead.
Ironically, much in the same way that they were able to start the contest, the Blue Streaks were able to fill it up from the bonus distance in the early stages of the third quarter. Doing the bulk of the damage in this exchange? None other than Manheim Township 5’11 junior guard Will Greiner who proceeded to fire in back-to-back triples, upping the Township cushion to 41-26 with 5:30 left to go in the third. In short, Greiner’s shooting touch must have been contagious as evidenced by Zach Oldac following suit with another one of his own, pushing the Panthers up against the ropes while also increasing the Township advantage to 44-28. But once again, Central York continued to fight right back, eventually closing the deficit back down to ten at the end of the third, 44-34.
Starting the fourth quarter, it quickly became apparent that the Blue Streaks were determined to play downhill and score from close range as a means to distance themselves from their York County counterparts up on the scoreboard. Well, mission accomplished in that regard as a bucket inside from 6’1 senior guard Brendan Mellott clearly helped light the fuse, as Mellott’s take was followed by two consecutive drives to the tin by way of Tyler Crespo, putting the Blue Streaks back up by a dozen at 50-36. And while Crespo’s most recent bucket had increased the Township lead to twelve, the Streaks were able to go in front by as many as 19 in the waning stages, effectively putting to bed any outside chatter about a possible hangover from the events of Friday night against McCaskey, as Township went on to finish things off with a 61-43 victory over Central York on Saturday afternoon.
“We’re really happy to get back on the right side of things, get some good momentum, and some good feelings on the back-end of the weekend,” Coach Johns said in the postgame following his team’s triumph over Central York. “We just executed so well today. We were really locked-in.”
“The other good thing for us is that our next three or four games are also on the road, so maybe that’s a positive for us,” Township’s head man went on to add while looking ahead. “I’m glad that we’re on the road and that we’re not taking the energy from everybody else. We have to bring it ourselves.”
“Maybe we should play all our games at Noon, even on a school day,” Johns quipped. “The kids were really locked in from the start. I wasn’t sure if they were going to be, but they were. I’m really proud of them.”
NEXT UP: As Coach Johns eluded to, Manheim Township will continue to take their show on the road for the next three ballgames, two of which are in Section 1 play when the Streaks travel to arch-rival Hempfield and Penn Manor respectively. And while some may be quick to write off Township in the chase for the section title, doing so now will likely prove to be a grave mistake.
“We have four losses by a combined eight points,” Johns explained summing up the season thus far. “I think the thing that a lot of people didn’t realize coming into this season was that we lost three seniors that played very, very important minutes for us. We then had another player who didn’t come out, so all of a sudden, we had the starting group that we thought we were going to have, but we’ve had to really develop the bench.”
“You compound that with Mickey Stokes who scored 13 in the opening game against Lincoln. He only came back yesterday,” Johns said of his 6’4 junior sparkplug’s injury which sidelined him for the first month of the season. “We’ve missed him for six or seven games and he’s important off the bench for us.”
“We only yesterday are getting back to the team we thought we had in the opening game.”
And in the opening game, Township played the defending 6A state runner ups to nail-biting finish, once again showing the rest of the state that the Blue Streaks are for real. Sure, the road has had it’s bumps and bruises along the way thus far. But even through it all, if Manheim Township is able to replicate what they put together on Saturday against Central York for the remainder of the season, it’s a scary thought for not only the Lancaster-Lebanon League and District 3 to try and contend with, but the state’s 6A field as well.