For most every team, the beginning of a season serves as a time to work through the inevitable growing pains and construction of team chemistry that almost always comes along with the onset of a brand new year. Well, when speaking in regards to the Columbia Crimson Tide and Pequea Valley Braves most specifically, the first two weeks of the 2018-19 high school basketball season are arguably more important to them than most other teams that reside in the Lancaster-Lebanon League.
In terms of historic programs, there are only a select few around the mid-state that can rival that prowess that the Crimson Tide have demonstrated on the hardwood over the last half century. But even for a franchise with so much success historically, even they themselves are not immune to a tough time every now and then, as was the case last year.
Coming into last season, the mighty Crimson Tide appeared primed and ready to hit the for the cycle once again— A feat which would put Columbia back in the league, district, and state tournaments—A tremendous accomplishment in which they were able to lay claim to in 2016-17. Unfortunately though, last season was one filled with its fair share of frustrations that ultimately led to Columbia missing all forms of postseason action.
This year however marks the dawn of a day high atop “The Hill.”
Behind an incredibly young roster, one which unbelievably does not include one senior, this Columbia crew is learning to grow through the fire. But even for being so young, the Crimson Tide have not been totally devoid of success up until this point in their indoctrination into L-L League basketball as evidenced by their 2-1 league record entering Friday night’s road trip to Kinzers, including a 45 point demolition of an improved Lebanon Catholic squad last time out on Wednesday night.
However, if you were to ask Columbia head coach Kerry Glover, learning on the fly is just simply the way it has to be.
“Just starting to understand what it means to be varsity basketball players,” Glover said in regards to what he has seen from his troops thus far in the young season. “We have a lot of freshmen, a lot of sophomores, only three juniors, and really only one kid who had varsity experience returning in Matt McCleary. That was it.”
“These guys are understanding that it takes a little more. You have to give a little more fight at that varsity level where other guys are older, stronger, more experienced, and see you see different things. Now, we’re finally starting to catch on.”
In terms of their opposition on this night, the Braves from Pequea Valley were a squad learning on the job as well. And while the road thus far has certainly had its fair share of twists and turns that was perhaps best exemplified by way of the Braves’ 0-7 overall record coming into the evening, the journey forward always gets remarkably easier when you have a calming presence at the wheel. Well, fortunately for Pequea Valley, the Braves have precisely that in sophomore point guard Devon Colyer, arguably the most underrated player in the entire L-L League, who came into Friday night’s tussle with Columbia averaging a sultry 23 points per game.
So with momentum right before the Christmas break clearly at hand for either ballclub, Columbia and Pequea Valley were set to duke it out.
But this night without question would belong to the Crimson Tide.
Although Pequea Valley got things underway on a high note with a nice spot up jumper put home by senior forward Andrew Sudbrack on the Braves’ first possession, Columbia’s Matt McCleary would have the answer on Columbia’s possesion. Spoiler alert: He would continue to have the answer all night long.
In the face of PV’s early lead, the Crimson Tide’s 6’2 junior forward helped immediately swing momentum over in Columbia’s direction with McCleary scoring Columbia’s first nine points, giving the visitors from Columbia the 9-4 advantage at the 5:10 mark of the opening quarter following a McCleary trifecta. And yet even though a Devon Colyer 3-ball would eventually put an end to the early Columbia onslaught, a steal and finish shortly thereafter by heady freshman Kerry “Hov” Glover would put the Crimson Tide up by double digits at 17-7 with 3:45 left to go in the opening period. From there, McCleary continued to steal the show, tallying another deuce inside, increasing the Columbia lead to 23-12 before the game’s opening eight minutes would eventually expire with Columbia firmly in front by the 23-14 count.
Yet even though Columbia had by and large dominated the first quarter of play, Pequea Valley continued to hang around once the second quarter got underway, refusing to let their guests get too far out in front. In fact, the Braves were able to trim the once-large deficit down to a half dozen following a 3-ball bombed in by PV’s Tony Lazar, making it a 23-17 affair after the first possession of the second stanza.
But as mentioned, McCleary and his mates would continue to solve the Pequea Valley riddle all night long.
Over the course of the next few minutes following the Lazar trifecta, the Crimson Tide went on to outscore their hosts 11-3, creating some much-needed separation. And in a way that seemed most fitting, a McCleary triple would end up capping the rally off as the Crimson Tide advantage had suddenly ballooned out to two touchdowns at 34-20.
While no one may have known it at the time, the aforementioned run helped authored by Columbia helped write the narrative for the rest of the night.
With the half quickly coming a close, the Crimson Tide advantage had then swelled out to a 20 point cushion following a Ryan Redding 3-ball as the 6’1 junior put Columbia up, 46-26. And once the half finally did come to an end, the scoreboard showed Columbia in firm command as evidenced by their 47-26 cushion at the intermission.
The funny thing was, the brief respite in action did nothing to slow down Matt McCleary, nor the rest of the Crimson Tide.
In terms of starting off hot, Columbia’s star junior couldn’t have done much better coming out of the break. To be more precise, McCleary was able to add to his already stellar night by starting the second half off on his own personal 10-0 run, putting the visitors from Columbia over the 30 point threshold, now out in front, 57-26. Throughout the entirety of the night, McCleary would continue to remain a nightmare before Christmas for Pequea Valley, finishing his superb evening by bucketing a game-high 32 points to the Crimson Tide effort.
Yet even when McCleary wasn’t scoring, the other members of the Crimson Tide would continue to remain white-hot as well, a fact that was best evidenced by a smooth turnaround J stuck by Hov Glover, allowing the Crimson Tide to continue their onslaught, 62-26.
And once everything was eventually said and done, Columbia would start the second half on a 26-0 run. It was only then that the Crimson Tide fireball was finally extinguished by a fearless take to the rack by Pequea Valley freshman Jalen Reeves, a bucket which made it a 73-28 contest at the time.
So, with the final quarter set to get underway, there was still plenty of time remaining for everyone in a uniform to get in and contribute their fair share to the action at hand. Sure enough, that is precisely what would take place over the game’s final eight minutes.
For a game that certainly had its fair share of highlights, many largely in favor of Columbia, perhaps no scene all night long was portrayed any better than a steal and finish at the cup by Columbia junior Matt Gambler, a hoop which drew a rousing roar of applause from his teammates, demonstrating to everyone just how close-knit these members of the Crimson Tide truly are.
But Gambler wouldn’t be the only one chipping in down the stretch.
By and large, the final quarter on Friday night helped served as a coming out party of sorts for Columbia’s Ryan Hinkle, as the Crimson Tide sophomore continued to impress and get buckets, eventually finishing the game by chipping in 10 to the winning cause.
And at the conclusion of it all, the Crimson Tide would earn a happy bus ride home, returning to the eastern banks of the Susquehanna with a resounding 89-49 victory for their troubles.
NEXT UP: After Friday night’s victory, Columbia will look to keep their hard-charging momentum rolling right along when the Crimson Tide pay a visit to Hanover to compete in the Nighthawks’ Christmas tournament next week.
And as Coach Glover reiterated in the postgame on Friday night, this past week could help serve as a turning point for the program moving forward, especially when you consider that this youthful Columbia squad has now turned in back-to-back winning performances which saw the Crimson Tide prevail by a combined total of 85 points.
“We have some good pieces, they’re just young,” the Columbia head man added in the aftermath on Friday night. “Our start to the season, seeing times like Northeastern and Lancaster Catholic, two teams that are yearly juggernauts, I wanted to switch that up and play teams like that just so our guys could see what it takes to compete at the highest level in the L-L League and central PA period.”
“I like the momentum that we have now,” said Glover. “I think this is the first game I’ve coached in where a kid had 30 plus points, and another kid had five or six steals with 12 assists…To see the guys celebrate each other off of things like that, that’s huge.”
For Pequea Valley, the Braves will now look forward to the holiday break and their appearance in the Fleetwood Holiday Tournament in hopes of picking up their first win of the season when they get things started against Upper Perkiomen.