Octorara ‘Finally’ Cures Late-Game Hex As Braves Hold Off Kennett In Old Ches-Mont League Affair
Written by: Andy Herr on Saturday, January 15th, 2022
While the high school basketball season can undoubtedly be a grueling two-month long marathon that comes complete with plenty of ups and downs along the way, almost every week during such a stretch can take on its own unique characteristic. This week, just imagine putting yourself in the shoes of the Octorara Braves.
First and foremost, unless you happen to be Lancaster Country Day, the Lancaster-Lebanon League is the only home you or your players have probably ever known. So, aside from a handful of nonconference games that you need to grab in order to fill out your schedule on a perennial basis, there really is no great rekindling of old memories and relationships if you will that you yourself have had to go through in terms of lining up against. Of course, that’s not exactly the case for Octorara. And this week alone was both equal parts old and new you consider who the Braves took to the floor against.
To start things off, Octorara paid a Monday visit to an old nemesis from their days playing in the Ches-Mont League, Coatesville, before a pair of games from within their newer confines of the L-L League with games against Manheim Central and Garden Spot respectively, all while bookending the week with another former Ches-Mont rival, Kennett on Saturday afternoon.
But if that wasn’t already enough for an intrigue-drenched storyline heading into Monday, all of the Braves’ games this week, no matter which conference the opponent happens to call home, took on the same familiar narrative by the time the final buzzer blared out.
Against Coatesville, Octorara surrendered a 17-point final quarter to the Red Raiders, a costly final stretch that saw the Braves return home to Atglen with a 62-53 defeat. Then, on the very next night, Octorara would yield a 10-point halftime lead to Manheim Central which eventually helped send the game into overtime, an extra session where the Braves would then proceed to be outscored by a 14-4 count which resulted in a 68-58 defeat at the hands of the Barons in crossover action. However, as if that wasn’t already enough at that point, the same theme happened to rear its ugly head in the Braves’ collective direction once again on Friday night as Octorara would drop another L-L crossover tilt, this time at the hands of Garden Spot, as the Spartans put together a 20-point final stanza that culminated in a game-winning basket inside the final five seconds of the contestto make Garden Spot a 51-50 victor.
So, suffice to say, Octorara likely couldn’t have cared any less at who or where they next opponent resides, they just wanted to finally slam the door on someone if given the opportunity. Well, wouldn’t you know it, as fate would have it, the Braves wouldindeed find themselves in that very same territory once again come Saturday afternoon when they traveled down to Kennett Square to take on the Blue Demons.
Almost right from the opening jump, it was clear that Octorara was keenly aware of how they could best butter their breadagainst Kennett. With that mind, the Braves began pounding the ball inside, usually being rewarded for their efforts in doing so. Case in point, a pair of deuces put home by way of Elijah Hamilton and Joe Sims respectively in the early going which helped allow the Braves to enjoy the 8-4 advantage near the 4:45 mark of the opening period.
But as was to be the situation on this day as well, Octorara would find that putting this particular opponent away too would prove to be a chore far easier said than done.
Despite finding themselves in an early hole on their home floor to begin the day, a smooth pullup jumper sunk by Blue Demons’5’9 senior guard, Luke Augustine, got the hosts back within a pair before a bucket tallied inside courtesy of 6’6 senior forward, Mason Langley, knotted things up at 8-apiece on a pair of consecutive Demons’ trips down the floor to draw back even. From there, Kennett would proceed to take their first lead of the day on a Luke Good free throw before a steal and finish by 5’11 senior guard, Kalen Frazier, gave the Blue Demons their largest lead at 13-10 with the first quarter clock now inside of two minutes left to play.
To their credit though, rather than allowing an emotional letdown take hold of them following the sudden Kennett charge, the Braves rose to the challenge as the opening stanza continued to wind its way along. For that, look no further than a Darryl Jones’ trifecta, a 3-ball splashed home by the Braves’ senior guard which handed the lead right back to Octorara at 15-13, a two-point lead which they would continue to maintain once the final 1:15 evaporated off the first quarter clock as Octorara found themselves out in front, 17-15.
Much like in the quarter that had just expired, the second frame too would mimic the same the same familiar theme of Octorara racing out to a big lead only to then see Kennett come roaring right back into the thick of it.
In fact, even despite allowing the Blue Demons to establish themselves back on level-ground following a triple cashed in courtesy of 5’11 senior guard, Zach Lower, which made it an 18-18 ballgame, Octorara was able to put some distance between themselves and their hosts. For that, look to the efforts put together from Jackson Roberts as the junior marksman proceeded to bury a pair of consecutive 3-balls which allowed the Braves to then enjoy their largest lead of the day at that point in time at 28-21 before Roberts would continue to add to the Octorara lead all by himself with a take to the cup shortlythereafter to make it a 31-23 Octorara lead with just 2:30 left to go before the halftime recess.
As mentioned though, Kennett wasn’t about to let Octorara simply roll into town and let them mow them over. Not on this day.
Instead, a timely 8-0 run, all of which came via the efforts of Augustine, effectively allowed the Blue Demons to race back to within three once halftime finally rolled around as the Braves’ advantage had been sliced all the way down to a far slimmer margin at the break, 36-33. Speaking of the Blue Demons’ guard who happens to wear jersey #1, he would indeed reflect that numeral throughout the entire Saturday afternoon matinee as Augustine would go on to pace all scorers with an impressive 26-point outing once the day was finally through.
Here again though, Octorara would prove to be the ones who would get things started emphatically by the time the third quarter started to begin.
And much in the same way they had built their lead up from the outset of the contest, the Braves went back to work by going inside once the second half commenced as well. There,following a pair of bunnies contributed from Elijah Hamilton and Jason Johnson from point-blank range respectively, the Braves’ lead had swelled all the way back up to nine at 44-35 with just three minutes having elapsed off the clock by that point.
Sensing a theme here? If you’re suspecting that Kennett would find themselves right back in the fold almost within the blink of an eye, well, here the Blue Demons came yet again sure enough.
To be more precise, the ensuing Kennett onslaught would be of the 7-0 variety as a pair of buckets put home in the paint from Mason Langley in consecutive fashion later sliced the Octorara lead all the way back down to a two-point bulge at 44-42 near the three-minute mark of the third frame. And while Octorara would be able to create a bit of separation by way of a Zach Kirk floater in the lane which would make it a 46-42 Braves’ lead with 2:20 left, a late third quarter bucket from the handiwork of Zach Lower in the waning stages, an 18-point scorer on the afternoon, sent this nip-and-tuck affair into the final stanza with things left at a 48-48 stalemate.
Yes, the final stanza would indeed teeter back-and-forth as welltoo just like the previous periods had done.
In fact, while Elijah Hamilton would proceed to hit a triple just seconds into the final quarter, Lower would retaliate right back with a timely answer down on the other end on the Blue Demons’ next trip down the floor as the score then stood at 51-51. Then, Kennett would go on to take the lead following a nice spinning move inside by way of Luke Good, a bucket which put the Demons back in front at 53-52 with six minutes left to go.
So, with the game clearly hanging in the balance, it seemed logical to suspect that some of the Braves’ leading scorers would figure to be perhaps be Octorara’s heaviest hitters down the final stretch. And yes, while Elijah Hamilton, Zach Kirk, Joe Sims and others certainly more than did their fair share throughout the entirety of the afternoon, Lucas Thaler would top them all as far as his flair for the dramatics was concerned as the junior’s first points of the day couldn’t have made a bigger impact considering his timely take to the cup put Octorara up 60-56 with now three minutes still to play.
But speaking of Hamilton, the Braves’ big man was the straw who had stirred the Braves’ drink all game long. Sure enough, while his 20-point outing was key in its own way, his final bucket of the day was just as critical as any other of his previous 18 points gathered throughout the game as the junior’s bucket inside made it a 63-60 Octorara lead with just one minute now left to go.
However, Octorara wasn’t about to stop sweating considering a Bo Freebery take to the tin capped off an impromptu Kennett rally, a late exchange which allowed the Blue Demons to cut the Braves’ lead down to the slimmest of margins, 65-64, with just 34.8 seconds still to play.
By this point, Saturday afternoon most assuredly felt like a bad case of déjà vu for Octorara considering how their previous three games during the week eventually turned out with the Braves being unable to finally hold off a valiant late charge by the opposition. Of course that queasy, uneasy feeling probably bubbled back up on the Braves’ ensuing possession following the Freebery bucket just moments’ prior considering an ill-timed palming call was whistled against the Braves at the worst possible time. And if that wasn’t already enough, while the Braves would play good enough defense to hold Kennett to a long-range bomb on the Demons’ next trip following the turnover, a long rebound back across the timeline found its way back into Kennett’s mitts as the Blue Demons found themselves with one final opportunity to steal a walk-off win.
Finally, as far as Octorara was concerned, lady luck decided to shine her favor in their direction this time around as the last-gasp Blue Demons’ shot went begging at the final gun, effectively allowing the Braves’ contingent to exhale somewhat given their roller coaster-like ride of emotions at the end of a long and arduous week which finally culminated in a 65-64 triumph on the road at Kennett, a moment in time marked by a simple celebratory gesture seeing as how Octorara head coach Gene Lambert marked the occasion by proudly raising both arms up in the air as if to say, “At last.”
And speaking of these last five days which had just ended in a victory for his troops against an old divisional foe on Saturday, Lambert too was well aware of the uniqueness that this most recent week to had offer for a variety of different reasons.
“This week, yeah, we start off with Coatesville who is a big rival, then we play Manheim Central and Garden Spot, and then today we come back here to Kennett. Shoot, I played in this gym and we won a Southern Chester County Championship in this gym. It’s crazy,” Lambert said in assessment after addressing his team in the locker room before they boarded the bus to head back home.
“The different styles of basketball, the different styles of officiating, honestly, it’s just a good experience for my kids,” Lambert went on to add. “At the end of the day, it’s a good experience for our kids and we finally got a close one,” he said with a smile.
Speaking of those late-game scenarios, it’s not as if Octorara isn’t aware that those specific situations can and will eventually come up during live competition. However, learning how to actually win is something that only the bright lights and big stage of actual bullets flying around for real can truly provide.
“We do 75-71 with two minutes left, run the clock out. We do down by four with three minutes left. We do all that stuff in practice, but it’s not the same. In practice, you’re playing against your buddies. In the game, this game here was a physical game. (Kennett) would win some games in our league. They’re tough…But we’ll turn the corner,” said Lambert. “We’ll get better. We’ll win some of these games and feel better about ourselves. I hope it’s a spark that maybe helps us turn this around. More than anything though, I just hope this helps us mature. That’s it. At the end of the day, mature teams win games.”
And while it may just be one snapshot in time, it’s a lesson that may be all the more sweeter to savor this weekend in particular given the bumps in the road in which the Braves had to navigate past prior to heading into Saturday afternoon.
NEXT UP: As Lambert eluded to in the postgame discussion, he himself labeled Octorara’s next opponent a “monster.” Hard to argue though when you consider it’s a game against arguably the best team currently going in the entire L-L League, Lampeter-Strasburg, as the Pioneers will put their undefeated 11-0 record to the test when they travel down to Octorara’s always lively and jubilant confines. From there, the Braves will round out crossover play with a road test at a suddenly improving Cocalicosquad on Thursday before rounding out the week with a home date against Kennard-Dale next Saturday night. And if Saturday’s triumph over Kennett can indeed be the catalyst that leads to improved play for the Braves, it may perhaps translateinto a league tournament appearance this season, something that the Braves have yet to achieve in their first few years competing inside the L-L gauntlet.
“That’s the goal,” Lambert said without hesitation when asked about his program perhaps making its maiden voyage into the Lancaster-Lebanon League bracket. “Us, Catholic, Donegal, Northern Lebanon, we all lost to ELCO the first time. I’m selfishly hoping of course they can have a couple more slipups besides us so that we can get in there,” he quipped. “I know they take the first two, but you want to be the first. You want to be the first.”
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