McCaskey Remains Firm, Holds Off Persistent Chambersburg Counterpunches As Red Tornado Advance Into Quarterfinal Round Of District 3-6A Playoffs To Meet Top-Seeded Wilson
Written by: Andy Herr on Wednesday, February 19th, 2020
Candidly, one of the most fun and interesting aspects that develops and takes shape following the release of the initial District 3 playoff brackets is most definitely the nonconference matchups and high stakes that only the postseason can offer. And if you’re a true high school hoops junkie in every sense of the word, there really is nothing much better than that. Yet with anything else, once you raise the competition level, the games inevitably only intensify given the sheer wealth of talent found everywhere on the court. Just take this year’s 6A bracket for example.
In the opening round of district play this season, there were plenty of matchups that appeared to attractive to the naked eye at first blush. But perhaps chief among them that stood out above all others was eighth-seeded McCaskey tasked with trying to protect their home floor against ninth-seeded Chambersburg on Tuesday night.
Yes, while McCaskey certainly has a deep track record in squaring off against Mid-Penn competition, perhaps most famously against Harrisburg, their opening round draw in districts this season was one that perhaps best defines the Mid-Penn as a whole.
When most think of the Mid-Penn Conference, chances are that they envision high levels of competition and skill that are the cornerstones of teams that never really seem to care one iota about who they have to match up against in a head-to-head scenario. In that regard, the Chambersburg Trojans can most assuredly fit the role of being a perfect poster boy for the entire conference.
If you’re looking for just a small morsel as to how fearless the Trojans are on a consistent year-in and year-out basis, consider this: In their last seven games against the Harrisburg Cougars, Chambersburg has been perfect. That’s right, an incredible 7-0 over the last handful of seasons against one of the state’s most powerful hoops franchises, including their most-recent victory over the mighty Cougars that came by way of an Ethan Shreffler buzzer-beating 3-ball at the end of the game, giving Chambersburg the dramatic 46-44 win in the Trojans’ last time out.
So, with all that being said, one would have thought that seeing Chambersburg load up the bus and fearlessly venture into “Tornado Alley”–arguably the most haunted of houses contained within the Lancaster-Lebanon League for any and all comers to try and achieve victory– would have been a regular, mundane business trip for the Trojans when they faced off with McCaskey and a Tornado squad that was sure to come out breathing fire following their L-L quarterfinal loss at crosstown rival, Lancaster Catholic, their last time out just eight days ago.
If nothing else though, McCaskey was hoping that a return to their home floor in front of their always-present fanbase would be enough to help conjure up some of that same magic that the Tornado had been able to use their last time playing within the friendly confines of Shultz Transportation Gymnasium considering McCaskey had been able to prevail in an epic 100-99 triumph over another Mid-Penn squad, CD East, their last time while playing in their dazzling home white uniforms.
And while this one would not be nearly as dramatic as their win over CD East, it would ultimately end in much the same fashion: A McCaskey homecourt triumph over a more than worthy Mid-Penn opponent.
As mentioned, “fearless” is a term that probably doesn’t come close to doing it enough justice when trying to describe the Chambersburg Trojans. Yet even if you didn’t happen to have a thesaurus nearby to find an adjective more befitting, the Trojans’ early output against McCaskey on Tuesday night would’ve sufficed just fine considering Chambersburg came out of the gate firing –both literally and figuratively— as a pair of triples sunk by 6’1 senior guard, Braden Byers, propelled the blue-clad Trojans out to the early 6-0 lead just 2:15 into the contest. However, the Trojans’ lead would prove to be short-lived considering a Makai Ortiz-Gray triple for McCaskey allowed the Red Tornado to draw back even at 6-6 nearly one minute later. Much, much more to come from Ortiz-Gray as the night wore on.
If nothing else, the back-and-forth volleys between the two sides in the initial first few minutes could have served as a precursor for how the remainder of the night would eventually unfold. In short, whenever one team would find their footing and saunter off on some sort of run, the opposition would proceed to reel them right back in over the next few minutes of game action.
Case in point, a sweet Euro-step to the cup by way of Chambersburg 6’0 junior forward, Carter Sollenberger, effectively capping off the impromptu 4-0 Trojan run, making it a 10-6 lead in favor of the visitors.
Yet while McCaskey never truly let Chambersburg get too far out in front throughout the opening eight minutes, the fact of the matter was that they had only been able to draw back even with the Trojans, but never quite getting over that metaphorical hump.
Well, that was until Makai Ortiz-Gray had something to say about it.
With his team battling tooth and nail against the Trojans, the 6’1 McCaskey senior wing later took matters into his own hands and gave the Red Tornado their first lead of the evening with a clean pick-pocket of a Chambersburg ball-handler before finishing things off with the hoop plus the harm and a free throw added on top just for good measure, making it a 13-10 McCaskey lead with 1:25 left to play in the opening stanza before the final minute and change eventually ticked away with the hosts holding serve at 13-12.
In the second quarter, the lobs tossed back and forth between the two sides only seemed to intensify.
Again, just when Chambersburg likely felt as if they had ownership of the game’s momentum –much of that due to the timely 3-ball pumped in by 6’5 freshman forward, Brant Byers, which gave the Trojans the 17-15 advantage just two minutes into the period—McCaskey would counter right back as a Red Tornado trey, this one fired in by way of 5’10 senior marksman, Carter Gingerich, promptly gave the lead right back to McCaskey on the Tornado’s next trip down the floor offensively.
But if it wasn’t Gingerich and a host of other members of the Red Tornado collectively chipping in to aid the cause, it was most certainly Makai Ortiz-Gray who was spearheading the McCaskey effort.
All game long –especially in the first half on Tuesday evening— McCaskey’s long and lanky forward proved to be an absolute matchup nightmare for Chambersburg to try and contend with. To be sure, it was rather apropos to see Ortiz-Gray donning a pair of sneakers that seemed to replicate that of military or work boots. Needless to say, Ortiz-Gray certainly fit the bill as the McCaskey senior clocked in and wasted little to no time at all in going to work by putting forth a blue-collar effort against Chambersburg.
In fact, after magnificently knifing through the Chambersburg defense with what felt like relative ease to give the Red Tornado the 22-19 lead while giving Ortiz-Gray his 13th and 14th points respectively on the evening up to that point, an Elijah Terry dish to Ortiz-Gray shortly thereafter proved to be more than enough for the Trojans to try and handle as the dynamic McCaskey senior duo put the Red Tornado up 27-22, prompting Chambersburg to call a timeout and regroup with 3:10 left before the halftime recess.
Unfortunately, as far as the Trojans’ contingent was concerned, the hits only kept coming throughout the remainder of the first half.
Yes, while Chambersburg would be able to trim the McCaskey down to size in the immediate aftermath following the most recent Terry to Ortiz-Gray hookup, an Elijah Terry theft and subsequent dunk down on the offensive end pushed the Tornado lead back up to five at 29-24 with two minutes in the opening half, sending the already raucous and understandably heavily-partisan McCaskey crowd into a state of frenzy. From there though, McCaskey would proceed to step out from behind the arc in the waning stages of the second quarter seeing as how a pair of 3-balls nailed by Carter Gingerich and Isaiah Thomas respectively from the exact same spot on the floor in front of the Chambersburg bench –the last of which from Thomas came just moments before the first half horn— sent McCaskey into the break with the 37-26 lead over their guests.
Yet as McCaskey likely had to have known from the onset of the night, Chambersburg certainly hadn’t traveled all this way to just fold up the tents right then and there and call it a season. And as if to be right on cue, here came the Trojans.
While it may not have exactly happened “overnight,” Chambersburg had slowly but surely started to claw back into the thick of things seeing how a key triple knocked in by 6’0 senior guard, Ethan Shreffler, trimmed the McCaskey back down to seven at 43-36 with just two minutes having gone by in the third stanza up until that point.
That said, there was one weapon still residing in McCaskey’s arsenal that had essentially been kept under wraps until that point in the contest: 6’2 junior forward, Samir Gordon.
Seeing as how Chambersburg had largely dominated the points-in-the-paint discussion up until that point –save for the slicing and dicing Makai Ortiz-Gray buckets at the tin of course— the Red Tornado began pounding the ball inside in their own right with the game starting tilt ever so slightly in Chambersburg’s favor.
It seemed to be a good choice too considering a pair of back-to-back buckets tallied by Ortiz-Gray pushed the McCaskey lead back up to nine at 47-36 just two minutes following Shreffler’s aforementioned trifecta, effectively putting momentum back on the Red Tornado bench. On the evening, Makai Ortiz-Gray proved himself to be a star amongst stars in coming away with a magnificent 27-point game-high scoring outburst to ignite the McCaskey cause.
Yet when speaking of points down low, it would simply be impossible to overlook Elijah Terry’s herculean-like effort inside in the latter moments of the third quarter as the wiry 6’1 senior forward collected four consecutive offense rebounds within succession of one another before ultimately making good on the loose change by finishing with a hoop plus harm, pushing McCaskey’s lead back over the ten-point threshold at 49-38 at the 2:53 mark of the third quarter, complete with a well-earned flex for the assembled media members and their cameras who were on hand to document the story.
However, here came those pesky Trojans once again.
Over the span of the next 1:02, Chambersburg had cut the Red Tornado lead back down to far more manageable five-point deficit at 49-44 following two consecutive Eli Shearer buckets from point-blank range when combined with a Terell Williams bucket in transition, forcing McCaskey’s hand into burning a timeout with 1:51 left to go in the third. That said, Shearer would continue to have the hot hand for the Trojans as yet another deuce by 6’2 sophomore guard following the McCaskey timeout got Chambersburg to within three at 49-46 before a timely bucket inside by the aforementioned Samir Gordon helped send McCaskey into the final quarter with the 52-48 lead.
Suffice to say, if Chambersburg had any hope of ultimately reclaiming their first lead since the early moments of the second quarter, the Trojans simply could not afford any lapses or empty trips down the stretch. Well, fortunately for them, that certainly didn’t appear to be a problem early on in the final stanza considering Ethan Shreffler proceeded to bury a sweet triple off a nice inbounds set underneath, getting the Trojans back within a whisker at 54-51 in the initial first few stages of play in the final frame. On the evening, Shreffler proved himself to be more than worthy of commandeering the Trojans’ ship through the turbulent waters in Lancaster city seeing as how the 6’0 senior guard went on to pace the Chambersburg effort by bucketing a team-high 15-point night of work.
However, the Trojans were then hit with an untimely dry spell over the course of the next few minutes, never quite getting over the hill while being beset with cold-shooting while also managing a brief bout with the fatal turnover bug.
And as all good teams have the propensity to do —especially those who have earned homecourt advantage come playoff time—McCaskey proceeded to make Chambersburg pay dearly for coming up empty-handed offensively. In fact, while it had seemed as if the Trojans were well on their way towards regaining the lead once and for all with all of the momentum now on their side, a pair of back-to-back Elijah Terry to Makai Ortiz-Gray connections helped squash anything of the sort while also pushing the Red Tornado lead back up to nine at 62-53, seemingly coming within the blink of an eye.
But make no mistake about it. Chambersburg certainly wasn’t done fighting.
Ironically, seeing as how large the McCaskey lead suddenly had suddenly grown given the current time and score situation, a pair of Chambersburg trifectas stroked home by Terell Williams and Ethan Shreffler seemed to appear rather innocent on the surface seeing as how the Red Tornado still owned the 66-59 lead with just 35.6 seconds left to be played.
However, with McCaskey only proceeding to go 50% from the charity stripe over the span of their next two trips to the foul line when sandwiched around a perfect 2-2 trip by way of Chambersburg’s Ethan Shreffler, a Gus Mace triple fired in by the Trojans’ 5’10 junior had suddenly cut the Chambersburg deficit down to just four at 68-64 with now 19.2 seconds remaining.
The good news there –at least as far as the McCaskey crowd was concerned— that would prove to be all the closer that Chambersburg would get for the remainder of the evening as a tough-as-nails 2-2 trip to the foul line by Ortiz-Gray with 18.5 seconds left to go would end up being the difference as McCaskey was able to stave off a valiant and gutsy Chambersburg charge, 70-64, vaulting the Red Tornado into the quarterfinal round of the District 3-6A playoffs against top-seeded Wilson in West Lawn on Friday night.
When studying the McCaskey season as whole from afar, particularly within the last few weeks, it’s certainly fair to say that the Red Tornado had been riding something like that of a roller coaster given the epic highs and crushing lows of late, perhaps most striking in their last two ballgames alone in CD East and Lancaster Catholic respectively. Yet even through it all, McCaskey second-year head coach, Freddy Ramos, had to have felt good given the mindset of his team heading into their opening round district playoff game on Tuesday night, just eight days after falling to nearby Lancaster Catholic in the quarterfinals of the league playoffs last Monday night.
“Today, I sent a text to my staff because we were supposed to meet up today at 5 o’clock,” said Ramos on what he planned on his calendar in hours leading up to McCaskey’s game against Chambersburg. “I had half a vacation day to get some last-minute work in on this and this afternoon I hear from Makai (Ortiz-Gray) around 1:30. He says, ‘Can you open the gym at 3:45?’ So, I get in here and honestly by 4 o’clock, the entire team was here,” Ramos added. “I’m like, ‘They get it.’ They understand that tonight could be their last night, or the start of something special.”
And while it’s unknown just how far McCaskey’s ride in the postseason will eventually last, Tuesday night’s triumph was certainly sweet considering that the members of this year’s senior class were in 8th grade the last time McCaskey had won a District 3 playoff game. Yes, while it is almost mind-blowing to comprehend such a statistic given the long and storied success of the Red Tornado program as a whole, there is one member of their team that already had his fair share of playoff success: Elijah Terry.
While the record will show that Terry ultimately scored his 1,000th career point while wearing a McCaskey uniform, the fact of the matter is that Terry was most recently a key cog on some of the more incredible Lancaster Mennonite teams over the last few years, including the 2018 squad that made it within one buzzer-beating shot –at Chambersburg no less—of playing for a state championship against Neumann-Goretti. And in the state quarterfinal game that year, an absolutely fearless sophomore point guard named Elijah Terry made more than a handful key plays during the final few minutes of overtime to eventually push the Blazers past Greenville and into the aforementioned state semifinal game against Richland two season ago. Last year, Terry and his Lancaster Mennonite teammates would indeed get their shot at squaring off against Neumann-Goretti, albeit in the opening round of the state tournament at Father Judge High School in Philadelphia. And while the Blazers would bow out to the Saints on that sun-splashed Saturday afternoon in the City of Brotherly Love, it was certainly not due to a lack of effort on Terry’s part seeing as how the junior guard ended up pacing the Blazers’ effort by pouring in a resounding 30-point performance against arguably the best team in the entire state.
Needless to say, with such a lengthy scholastic basketball resume already to his name and a relatively “green” cast surrounding him in terms of postseason experience and triumphs, it’s understandable to see Elijah Terry take the baton and lead his teammates through the uncharted waters. Sure enough, he did exactly that on Tuesday night as well.
“We hit a point there midway through the third quarter and we had three straight turnovers, each off of dribbling the ball, and the kids got a little frustrated. You could feel it,” McCaskey’s head man illuminating on a third quarter huddle. “I took a timeout to talk about it and say, ‘Let’s pass the ball around that (Chambersburg) zone rather than trying to dribble through it.’ But the big thing was, I didn’t need to talk about us being together. He (Elijah Terry) got it,” said Ramos. “What I really, really liked what I saw in Elijah (Terry) there late is he really became a passer. He was drawing double-teams and when he was a sophomore, he was probably able to get away with some of that, but at this point, people are really looking for him, obviously the people we’re playing against. So, there’s two ways to go around that. You can become a screener and get your teammates open, or the other thing is to draw. Draw the contact, draw the doubles, and move the ball and understand wherever that help (defense) came from, you probably have a teammate sitting there. I thought that was huge of a young 18-year old who wants to take over and has the skill, but also realizes, ‘I can be a team player here and be just as good for my group, if not better.’”
To be sure, if McCaskey can get past a stingy, Mid-Penn opponent without Elijah Terry having to do the lion’s share of the work as was the case on Tuesday night against Chambersburg, that is certainly a scary thought for the rest of the District 3-6A bracket and possibly beyond to try and deal with the only stakes only being raised exponentially from here on out. After all, he’s literally been there before.
NEXT UP: As mentioned, McCaskey will now venture northward to Berks County on Friday evening when they pay a visit to #1-ranked, Wilson, a Bulldogs team that rightfully boasts a 21-1 record to their name thus far with their only setback coming to #2-seeded Central York in Hempfield’s Christmas tournament. Rest assured, while McCaskey may not have gone head-to-head against the Bulldogs during the regular this year, it’s an outfit that Coach Ramos and his staff are certainly more than familiar with seeing as how McCaskey already squared off against the Bulldogs this year, albeit in a preseason scrimmage in West Lawn. Suffice to say, the stakes in their second, yet first official meeting of the year will be just slightly more sizable when they go at it on Friday night. After all, Friday night’s winner will find themselves just 32 minutes away from earning the right to play in Hershey’s palatial Giant Center, a goal that is likely on the forefront of everyone’s mind in District 3 before the season even starts.
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