Octorara Completes Opening Weekend Sweep With Defensive Decimation Of Avon Grove
Written by: Andy Herr on Sunday, December 8th, 2019
When talking about last season as it pertains to Octorara athletics, it’d be apropos to suggest that it was a year unlike any other that the Braves had experienced in quite some time. Why? Well, maybe the fact that Octorara was entering a whole new world considering the Braves were now a full-charter member of the Lancaster-Lebanon League to go along with a spot at the District 3 table as Octorara had made the massive jump from the Chest-Mont League and District 1 respectively would be a good place to start.
In terms of the hardwood, it’d be equally fair to say that Octorara’s first impression to the Lancaster-Lebanon League audience was filled with plenty of highs and lows best evidenced by the Braves’ 14-11 overall mark through nothing but unchartered waters last season. And while last season would appear to be more of an exception rather than the norm considering the deep postseason runs that Octorara has been able to piece together within the last decade, including some long jaunts through the PIAA state tournament, all signs certainly appeared to hint towards yet another memorable winter set to develop within the quaint, yet rabidly enthusiastic community of Atglen considering the returning talent the Braves were set to return while still operating under the watchful eye of the one of the area’s best coaches, Gene Lambert.
And yes, while the season is still well in its infancy, it certainly appears that this group of Braves possess all the essential intangibles like that of their former esteemed brethren. Case in point, their absolute destruction of Avon Grove on the Braves’ home floor in primetime on Saturday night.
If you want to scout or really prepare for Octorara and their ridiculously fast tempo that the Braves roll out, you’d probably be best served using your entire roster — and perhaps even your junior high teams as well — simply as a means to simulate the frantic pace that you are sure to receive when playing these defensive-minded pitbulls. Yet even through simulation, it is something that simply cannot be replicated. Needless to say, it was a lesson that Avon Grove received early and often. In fact, it was a schooling that really started right from the jump.
Before anyone really had a chance to get settled into their seats on Saturday evening, the Braves had already jumped out to a quick 6-0 advantage following back-to-back steals, the last of which was capped off with a layup in transition courtesy of 6’0 senior forward, Jason Brown, forcing Avon Grove to quickly burn a timeout just 1:41 into the contest.
From there on however, it only continued to be more of the same.
To say that turnovers were Avon Grove’s ‘bugaboo’ on Saturday night would a drastic understatement. All game long, including right after the early timeout, the Braves routinely got their hands in passing lanes, getting deflections, before ultimately securing the loose pill and heading off to the races with it. With that mind, it should have come as no surprise that a Brian James theft immediately translated to a Phillip Brandon bucket down on other end, yet again in transition, helping Octorara roar out to an 11-0 cushion before a Aiden Violette runner in the lane the next time down the floor stopped the bleeding for the Red Devils.
Even still, the hits likely felt like they were coming in steady, methodical waves for Avon Grove all game long.
While the premise of Octorara’s defensive tenacity is predicated from chaos generated by way of their guards, the Braves then also just so happen to offer arguably the most talented big man in the entire L-L League, Naji Hamilton. In an age of ‘positionless’ basketball, the Braves’ 6’7 junior forward more than fits the mold. And never more was that on display for all to see than when Hamilton collected a defensive steal of his own before promptly taking off and elevating above the rush hour traffic found residing below him the lane, finishing with a thunderous one-handed stuff that brought the already raucous crowd to their feet with the Braves now leading by a baker’s dozen at 15-2 with three minutes left to go in the opening period.
Ironically, for as much damage as the Braves were able to inflict from point-blank range early on, Octorara continued to keep the pedal to the floor in the waning stages of the opening stanza as a pair of back-to-back triples, dialed up by Jason Brown and James Taylor respectively, upped the Braves’ lead to 23-6, before the Red Devils were able to collect four more in points in the final 45 seconds as Octorara was able to race out to a 23-10 lead once the curtain had finally closed on the opening quarter.
Yet just when it had seemed like perhaps Avon Grove had finally been able to find their footing, thanks in large part to a trifecta cashed in by Red Devil sophomore guard, Reese Ziegler, making it a 24-14 affair, the Braves only continued to say an emphatic ‘no sir’ to the group from West Grove with yet another highlight-reel dunk by way of Naji Hamilton serving as the exclamation mark, as the Octorara lead had suddenly swelled back up to 14 at 28-14 with 4:51 left before intermission as Avon Grove was forced to burn another timeout to try and calm the waters.
Unfortunately for the Devils, Octorara was able to only exacerbate the Avon Grove open wound following the timeout as the Braves were able to author a 7-0 flurry following the break in the action, as a 3-ball sprayed in by 5’10 senior guard, Keith Lambert, put the hometown Braves comfortably in the catbird seat while leading 35-14 before the teams then trotted off to their respective dressing rooms at halftime with Octorara well out in front, 40-16.
Once again however, the underlying theme of Octorara’s ongoing defensive clinic continued to be on display for all to witness coming out of the break. For evidence, one need only look to Naji Hamilton’s theft and coast-to-coast rim-running for the subsequent finish at the cup, a bucket which put Octorara up 49-23 with 2:45 left to play in the third before the Braves were seen carrying a 54-30 lead with them into the final period.
Suffice to say, the early hole which Octorara had gladly and willingly helped Avon Grove dig early on was more than enough to help the Braves essentially breeze home to the finish line with for the remainder of the night. Ironically enough however, the second half intensity employed by the Braves actually allowed Octorara to capture their largest lead of the entire evening, 64-34, with a sweet spot-up jumper sunk by 6’2 sophomore guard, James Taylor, with 4:15 left to play in the contest.
But even with time starting to rapidly melt off the fourth quarter clock, that was more than enough time for additional Braves to get in on the action, a feat which brought much delight to all members donning Octorara colors who were residing on the Braves’ bench. And never more was that on display than with a baseline jumper dialed up by way of 6’3 junior forward, Xavier Shelton, creating what was arguably the most-deafening noise that had been heard yet up until to that point in the cozy confines of Octorara’s home gym.
And once the dust had finally settled, it was a sheer display of Octorara’s wildly-gifted athleticism which had ruled the night from start to finish, as the Braves were able to improve to 2-0 after an impressive wire-to-wire 68-41 takedown of Avon Grove.
To some, seeing Octorara play at the manner in which they did on Saturday evening might come as a surprise. But not to Coach Lambert. If anyone knows of the horsepower contained under the Braves’ hood this season, it’s him.
“We know our athleticism,” Lambert said following his team’s win against the Red Devils late Saturday night. “We know that if guys are in the right spots, that things will be taken care of. It makes it look like there’s nine guys out on the floor. That’s what we want because we’re fast.”
“They’ve been playing this way for a long time, so it’s nothing new to them,” Lambert added of the Braves’ up-tempo style of havoc. “I’m just happy for (his players) because they get to see what it looks like.”
Sure, while it’s only a two-game sample size thus far, starting off 2-0 certainly helps sets a positive tone the rest of the way. Again, something not lost on the Braves’ longtime head man.
“I just wanted to see how we would play together,” said Lambert of what he was looking to garner out of the opening weekend of the season. “When the lights come on, sometimes kids tend to stay to themselves and not really share the ball because they feel as though they can win the game on their own. I saw, and the guys saw, what they’re capable of. Everyone is capable of doing a little bit. Of course Naji (Hamilton) is our big piece, but I have other guys on this team that can really play too.”
And perhaps the scariest part of it all? The fact that this group only seems to be scratching the surface of truly recognizing their own capabilities.
“I don’t think they know how good they can be,” Lambert added. “I just think that right now, we’re trying to build a style that we can trust and hold onto. Every game, you’ve got to go out and play the same way with the same amount of effort. That’s all I ask.”
NEXT UP: After taking care of Avon Grove on Saturday night, the Braves now set their sights on a two-game week this week with things getting underway with a Tuesday night trip to Unionville, followed up with a home date in a Section 3/Section 4 crossover contest against Manheim Central at home on Friday night as the Braves look to keep their perfect record intact. And in what promises a frantic mad-dash to the finish line in L-L Section 4 this season, Octorara should likely feel right at home. After all, frantic might just be their middle name.
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