McCaskey Staves Off Hard-Charging Conestoga Valley As Red Tornado Continue Upward Ascension In Crossover Win
Written by: Andy Herr on Friday, January 14th, 2022
There’s an old adage in sports that says you want to be peaking at your absolute best at precisely the right time. Typically, the “right time” is reserved for the last week or so of the regular season, just a handful of days before postseason play ultimately gets underway. That said, don’t find fault with the McCaskey Red Tornado if they happen to be rather pleased with the most recent stretch of games that they’ve played here of late. After all, they’ll be happy to take it given how the year started off for them.
Without fail, almost as sure as you can set your watch to it, McCaskey will consistently challenge themselves against a who’s who of local high school basketball. Sure enough, the old rivalries with Chester and Reading were restored once again at the very beginning of this season as well. However, it would prove to be a pair of games in which the Tornado were beaten by the two powerhouse programs by a combined 41 points by the Clippers and the Red Knights, the latter of which happens to be last year’s defending 6A state champion, respectively. That said, right about from Christmas on, it seemed to be as if a totally different Tornado squad has shown up compared to those who were dressed in their uniforms at the outset of the season.
Granted, while McCaskey would go on to drop another game to yet another blueblood, this time the Harrisburg Cougars in the Red Tornado’s holiday tournament, the group from Lancaster city came away with arguably the biggest win of any league team this season yet to date this past Saturday afternoon when they took down Hempfield, a team that it appeared would run roughshod over their fellow Section One competition up until that point, on the Black Knights’ home floor to author a seismic-sized stunner that certainly put the rest of the Lancaster-Lebanon League on notice. And yes, while McCaskey would stub their toe their very next time out in a Tuesday defeat, it shouldn’t be lost that the setback came against the defending league champions, the Lebanon Cedars, inside the Cedars’ almost impenetrable house of horrors. That said, with the Red Tornado effectively being the ones to throw the door wide open for the rest of the Section One race with their win over Hempfield, time was of the upmost essence for McCaskey when they returned home for a Thursday night battle with their next-door neighbors from Conestoga Valley.
For CV, well, quite frankly the Buckskins would be happy for any sort of momentum at this stage of the game no matter how it presents itself to them. Even still, not all the Bucks’ issues have been self-induced however. To be sure, injuries and other ailments that significantly hinder your rotation are unwelcomed elements that would set most any team back at least a smidgen. Needless to say, it’s been a particularly tough pill to swallow thus far given that the Bucks figured to be a key cog in the Section Two race this season given their sheer abundance of talent that the program hasn’t seen collectively in quite some time. Unfortunately though, as far they were most concerned, CV found themselves entering their late-week crossover grudge match against McCaskey with a 1-6 mark in their last seven ballgames, a stretch of contest that eventually left the Bucks sitting with a 4-5 mark overall.
So, with two old foes settle to do battle, momentum coming out of Thursday night’s affair would figure to do wonders for either side coming out of the evening for the final stretch run of their respective regular season campaigns. On this night though, it would prove to be McCaskey’s heart, hustle, enthusiasm, and just general overall unflappability which the Red Tornado came possessed with that would end up putting them over the top once the dust had finally settled.
For anyone that has seen L-L Section One basketball for any numbers of years, it’s almost a given that their ownership of the paint figures to be one of the division’s defining characteristics that most everyone else outside of the division struggles to fight against. Perhaps then it was apropos to see the Tornado get off to such a fast start by way of their work inside in the early going on Thursday as a bucket from junior forward, Elias Garcia, helped McCaskey get out in front with the 6-2 advantage.
Yet for just as much as the Section One team may like to bang inside amongst the tall trees, the team hailing from Section Two proceeded to take their talents outside the arc in the early going. Case in point, a 3-ball sunk by way of CV senior guard, Cameron Swinton, as the Bucks’ backcourt ace made it a 6-5 affair in favor of McCaskey at the 4:20 mark of the opening frame with Swinton scoring all five of the CV points.
However, throughout much of the remainder of the opening stanza, McCaskey was successfully able to keep their guests at arm’s length as the first quarter continued to wind down. Sure enough, just as the Bucks would close the gap back down to two following a fearless take to the rack from DeMajh Salisbery, a Jonathan Byrd answer down on the other end would push the Tornado lead back up to four at 11-7 with 1:30 left to play in the opening frame at that point in time. Speaking of four, that is precisely where the gap remained throughout the final minute and change as McCaskey went off into the second quarter while taking the 12-8 lead with them.
Inside the second quarter though is when the Red Tornado were able to successfully land their first punch.
Despite seeing their lead sliced all the way down to the slimmest of margins at 12-11 following CV’s initial offensive series of the period that ended with an Isaac Fadlelmoula triple, the Red Tornado cushion would suddenly climb back up to half a dozen following a trifecta knocked down from senior guard, Hasan Williams, making it a 17-11 McCaskey lead with two minutes having gone by in the quarter. From there though, McCaskey kept coming with the body blows as yet another Byrd bucket at the cup later on pushed the Tornado lead out to double figures at 21-11, a late momentum shift that largely came by way of the defensive end of the floor considering Elias Garcia fearlessly gave himself up for a charge shortly before then, evidence that nearly all of facets of the Tornado’s arsenal were firing at that point in time.
All told, it would prove to be a second quarter bathed in McCaskey’s colors that fittingly was capped off right before the intermission with a magnificent late-game offensive set that couldn’t have ended any better seeing as how it resulted in a Jared Kumah bunny from point-blank range, a deuce that allowed McCaskey to run into the dressing room with their largest lead of the evening up until that point at 25-13.
But while one Conestoga Valley team would enter the halftime break, quite another group would happen to emerge once the third quarter got underway.
Methodically. That was the name of the game for how the Buckskins figured to get right back into the thick of things while looking up and seeing a 12-point deficit to start the third quarter. Sure enough, one layer at a time, CV persistently made their move. As far as the flurry itself, it would commence with a tough Griffin Rishell drive to the hoop which kept the hole steady at a dozen, 27-15, with just two minutes having gone by in the third quarter.
Yet if anyone figured to be the most appropriate catalyst who would engineer a CV charge on this night and on this stage in particular, why not be the next of kin of a former McCaskey legend? Then,right on cue, CV junior point guard DeMajhSalisbery took matters into his own hands -something his dad used to do about 20 years ago while operating on the very same floor- with a tough-nosed layup at the hole amongst traffic which effectively cut the Tornado lead back down to eight at 29-21 with the quarter now past its halfway point. From there, another Rishell bucket helped the Bucks claw back even further no more than a minute later, making it a 31-24 contest right then and there. But as far as the punctuation was concerned, that would come via Salisbery yet again, this time with a miraculous split through a would-be double team that ended with the undersized Buckskin table-setter coming up with a key three-point play to end the third quarter proceedings, a timely rally which got CV back within shouting distance at 33-29 with what felt like all the momentum sitting on their bench.
However, if anyone would label the fourth quarter with one phrase in particular, it would most surely be something along the lines of a McCaskey TKO.
All game long, Jared Kumah proved himself to a young star in the making. Aside from his physical tools that make the Red Tornado 6’5 big man a sophomore nightmare that coaches will have sleepless nights about for quite some time with his proficiency to score from around the rim, it was his work in cleaning both the offensive and defensive glass on Thursday night which helped McCaskey out when they needed it most. With that mind, Kumah came up right on cue with a punctual snatch of an offensive rebound before cashing in on the easy stick-back, a key bucket which allowed the Red Tornado to flirt with a double digit lead yet again at 37-29 with 5:30 still left to tick off the fourth quarter clock.
The thing was though, it wasn’t just Kumah who would inflict a great amount of pain upon the Bucks’ hope for a comeback win.
This time, almost instantaneously, a timely Elias Garcia rebound and put-back did in fact put McCaskey over the top in terms of going up by more than ten, as the Garcia hoop made it a 41-29 affair shortly thereafter.
Then, with Conestoga Valley going cold at the worst possible time, McCaskey only continued to pounce.
In fact, the Tornado suddenly ballooned itself all the way up to a 46-31 count following a smooth pullup jumper knocked down by Hasan Williams as the McCaskey senior would finish the game with game-high scoring honors by netting a solid 19-point night of work to his credit. Later on, it was then time for another senior to get in on the fun as Lancaster Country Day transfer, John Stewart, cracked himself into the scoring column with a deuce of his own to make it a commanding 50-33 lead in favor of McCaskey with time winding down. And for a night that largely seemed centered around the Tornado’s work on the defensive end, it seemed fitting that CV’s 33 points would hold firm for the remainder of the night as McCaskey would eventually prevail in a 52-33 final decision once all was said and done, effectively handing the Tornado another feather to hang in their cap for a group now playing their best ball of the season yet to date.
Suffice to say, while McCaskey is by no means the finished product right now at this juncture, there’s no denying that the Red Tornado have appeared to flip some sort of switch here recently that has triggered this turnabout. Rest assured, it’s not something lost on their head coach either.
“Our pace,” McCaskey head coach Freddy Ramos said afterwards on Thursday night as to what he thinks may have sparked his team’s recent surge. “I trust our speed so much. We’re so aggressive. Knowing how and when to recover though, we can be a little careless with that at times,” he admitted. “The careless part was happening early in the early part of the season. A lot of that though is attributed to who we were playing with the size and speed of Chester and Reading where mistakes will equal points. That Reading game, those mistakes equaled a 20-point lead for them early. Then we were able to settle down for three quarters to where you can see the end-result. For us, it was how we do meet and match that level and intensity? It all started on the bench. Not the other way around. That’s what we’ve been trying to instill because we had it early.”
But like any good coach will instruct upon his troops, McCaskey isn’t about to get caught up in being satisfied where they’re at right now. No, it’s evident that they clearly want more.
“As far as our goals, we’ve put pressure on ourselves right now. That’s true,” Ramos said regarding the possibility of perhaps cashing this recent stretch into a league tournament appearancedown the line this season. “We have to win games. My job though? To make sure we’re not looking past CD East on Saturday. That’s how we left this locker room tonight and it’s how we left the locker room on Tuesday night at Lebanon. We’re a young team. I think some of our mistakes, pace issuesand things like that, that centers around knowing that you can’t just turn it on and off,” he continued.
As far as right now though, McCaskey certainly seems to be operating with the ‘on’ switch dialed all the way up.
NEXT UP: As Ramos eluded to after the CV game on Thursday, McCaskey is right back in action on Saturday night for yet another imposing nonconference test, against CD East out of the Mid-Penn, before jumping into L-L crossover play yet again with games against Warwick and Ephrata scheduled for Monday and Tuesday night respectively. And not to make this upcoming stretch of games any bigger than it really needs to be, but it’s a fairly significant slate for a program and community that is hungry to see their beloved Red Tornado ruling the roost of the L-L League yet again as they’ve so often done historically. That too is not something lost on the program’s overseer either.
“That’s our goal. We want to get back there,” Ramos said without hesitation. “We know who we are and we know what our history is. This is our fourth year here. The thing I’m most proud of though? Our culture is in place. You can see that. Everyone is so connected to where we’re touching each other coming off the floor, communicating, and things like that. It’s extended onto our fanbase,” he went to highlight. “You’re seeing a McCaskey student section now. Right now, it’s all really organic. It was great seeing our freshmen come in here tonight because they have a responsibility to ‘the family.’ That service part, that’s who we are. We’re ‘One Tornado, One Family.’ I’m not trying to be cheesy with it because it’s something that we truly value and live. That’s what sets our culture that then spills out onto the floor.”
For CV, there are definite signs that they too are perhaps on the verge of a like-minded turn here upcoming. Simply put, the Bucks didn’t shrivel up and hide once the McCaskey engine got rolling with the gym getting jam-packed with a ridiculous amount of noise, all of which were working against them. Instead, they fought valiantly which is something head coach Jim Shipper is certainly looking for in terms of building his program back up as well. As far as they are most specifically concerned though, the Bucks will also play on Saturday in a game with another next-door neighbor, Lancaster Mennonite, before also competing in more crossover play as well with games set against Manheim Township and Hempfield to then follow suit next week looming on the horizon. And just like their counterparts from Thursday evening, once this Conestoga Valley train does get back and moving, look out. The Buckskins might not be all that far away from getting back to where they too are accustomed to residing–up near the top of the L-L League pecking order.
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