The old adage in the state playoffs is that the further along you advance, the more and more that the ensuing competition only continues to grow stronger and stronger with each passing round. Well, in the case of the Lampeter-Strasburg Pioneers, never was that more true than on Tuesday night at Governor Mifflin when the L-L League champs, enjoying perhaps their best season in school history, had the task of going up chin to chin with a behemoth hailing from the prestigious Philadelphia Catholic League in Archbishop Carroll.
All things considered, it’s a Patriots program that routinely makes a habit of advancing far in March. Just consider their trip to the Final Eight last season and then magnify that tenfold given Carroll’s trips to the state finals in 2015, 2013 and 2009. And in that 2009 state final, the Pats were able to bring home the coveted gold trophy back to the diocese school located in Radnor.
So needless to say, the Patriots from Archbishop Carroll take a back seat to no one when it comes to what is without question the toughest basketball conference in the entire state of Pennsylvania, and quite honestly, maybe the whole Eastern seaboard.
Yet even still, this historic group of L-S Pioneers were not about to get caught up in all of the extra frivolous fanfare that had nothing to do with the actual game that would take place in between the white lines to determine who would move on the PIAA-5A Elite Eight round for the right to play another 32 minutes on Friday night.
And so, with a trip to the final eight on the line, Lampeter-Strasburg conducted all the necessary pregame measures to help ensure that not only would they be able to compete with one of the best outfits in the state, but perhaps come out on the winning end as they trekked up to Shillington to match up with a Catholic League heavyweight.
However once the game began, one thing became quickly apparent from the get-go. And that was that the Pioneers had come ready to ball.
Truth be told, it was hard to envision a much better start than the one that Pios put forth on Tuesday evening. To put it mildly, L-S started off white-hot with Ryan Smith’s early trifecta helping set the tone for the next few ensuing minutes of game action.
And shortly before they knew what they had gotten into, Archbishop Carroll suddenly found themselves down 7-0 and having to call a timeout to right the ship after a Ryan Smith bucket inside at the 4:31 mark of the opening quarter.
But the Pioneers weren’t done there.
In fact, L-S would remain razor-sharp coming out of the early Carroll timeout as 6’ junior forward Patrikc Holmes proceeded to splash in a trifecta which upped the L-S lead to a staggering 10-0 margin before Carroll’s Devon Ferrero was able to put a band-aid over the Patriots’ cut as the 6’5 senior forward was able to get Carroll on the board with the floater in the lane which made it a 10-2 affair at the 3:30 mark of the first.
However the Pioneer snowball would only continue rolling downhill as a Ryan Smith old-school three point play allowed the Pios to double-up their opposition with L-S now holding a commanding 13-2 advantage with the Blue-clad fans from Lampeter overjoyed with excitement.
Yet just as all good teams do, which all teams are at this stage of the game, Archbishop Carroll would start to mount a rally back.
In fact, the Pats would go on to score the next six points of the contest as an AJ Hoggard steal and finish at the cup put Carroll within five at 13-8 with 1:20 left to go in the opening quarter.
But just when Carroll may have thought that they had made L-S flinch, Ryan Smith responded with a monstrous 3 ball which extended the Pioneer lead to 16-8 with roughly one minute left to play before the first eight minutes would eventually expire with L-S in possession of the lead at 16-12.
If anything, the first few minutes of the second period proved that the first quarter was anything but a fluke as far as L-S was concerned.
With L-S playing a pesky mix of defenses which made life miserable for Carroll in terms of finding the cure to solve what ailed them, the Pioneers only continued to play on with great abandon as yet another Ryan Smith bucket inside, an all too familiar theme as witnessed by Carroll in the first half, saw the Pioneer lead grow to a dozen at 24-12 with Carroll being forced to call yet another timeout around the five minute mark of the second stanza.
In the opening half, Ryan Smith played like a man possessed as the L-S senior big man could simply not be hemmed in by the Patriots’ defenses as Smith exploded for a 21 point effort through the first sixteen minutes.
Yet even after yet another Carroll timeout, the Pioneers continued to play their game and were rewarded for doing so as a pair of buckets from the brothers Beers, Isaac and Seth respectively, kept L-S firmly in control at 28-16 with three minutes left to go in the opening half.
But putting Archbishop Carroll would prove to be another task altogether different.
After the Beers’ buckets, Carroll proceeded to outscore L-S 8-2 from then on as a bucket inside by the Patriots’ Tairi Ketner cut the Pioneer lead down to a half dozen at 30-24 before both teams went into the dressing rooms with L-S still on top by six at 32-26.
Coming out to start the second half, there was one prevailing theme that quickly became evident. And that was that Archbishop Carroll intended to use all 94 feet of the floor, forcing L-S to play at a pace that would make them uncomfortable to say the least.
In fact, Ryan Smith picked up right where he had left off in the opening half as the L-S big man continued his reign of terror in the paint with another bucket from point blank range, this one coming on the Pioneers’ opening trip of the third period to help send the message that L-S was here to stay.
However Carroll knew that if they stuck to what they wanted to do, chances were that they would eventually be rewarded for doing so which is precisely what happened over the next few offensive trips for the Patriots as back to back triples cashed in by Luke House and Devon Ferrero sliced the L-S lead down to just two at 34-32 with 5:35 still showing on the third quarter clock.
And even though Ryan Smith would go on to show off his entire offensive repertoire by stepping out and nailing a 3 ball which kept the L-S lead at five for the moment by virtue of the 37-32 count, Archbishop Carroll would go on to outscore the Pios 7-0 over the next few minutes thanks in large part to a tenacious defense scheme that was implemented at the half as a Justin Anderson layup in transition following a turnover, gave the Pats their first lead of the contest at 39-37 around the three minute mark of the third.
Even despite their boat taking on water during this time, L-S and Isaac Beers were able to help plug some of the holes as the 6’ senior guard’s scoop shot in the lane made things all square once again at 43-43 with the 1:30 left to play in the third.
But from there, Carroll would go on to post a 5-0 run which was capped off by a Justin Anderson trifecta in the corner as the 6’2 senior guard was able to put the Patriots in front 48-43, just beating the third quarter buzzer.
But the Patriots weren’t done swinging their sword at the conclusion of the third.
In fact, things appeared to get very delicate for L-S once AJ Hoggard was able to drain a 3 ball to start the fourth quarter which subsequently put L-S’ hopes and dreams of advancing further skating into the tournament on very thin ice.
The one thing that is said about big time players is that they step up in big time games. Enter L-S’ Jordan Sweger at that very moment.
With his team trailing and his Pioneer career possibly ending in just a matter of minutes there in Shillington, the 6’ senior guard absolutely took the game over with a pair of back to back old-school three point plays which immediately shrunk the Archbishop Carroll lead down to just a deuce at 53-51 with roughly six minutes left to go.
However the Pioneers would do better than simply getting close to their opponents who hail from just outside of Philadelphia.
Yes, L-S continued to play inspired ball as a Ryan Smith bucket inside made things all square at 53-53 before an Isaac Beers triple gave the lead back to L-S at 56-53 as the Patriots were forced to call timeout and regroup with 4:48 to play.
And although Archbishop Carroll would eventually regain their footing and claw back to within a whisker of L-S, the Pioneers appeared to be on the verge of claiming the upset victory as a loose ball scrum eventually saw the leather roll into the hands of L-S’ Zach Kingsley with the 6’ junior guard promptly taking off and racing down to the other end with it as Kingsley was able to tally the transition bucket which made it a four point Pioneer lead at 65-61 with time quickly running out on Carroll.
What was that saying about big time players stepping up in big time games? Oh yea, better find Archbishop Carroll’s Keyon Butler to help fit that description as well.
With his team now staring at the harsh reality of possible elimination, the 6’4” senior forward authored a Titanic-sized three point play through contact which helped the Pats get back within one at 65-64 with just 45.5 left to go with their season on the brink.
Yet things only got better from there as far as the Archbishop Carroll patrons were concerned as a strong, man-sized take to the rack by 6’2” sophomore dynamo AJ Hoggard put the Patriots in front 66-65 with the game now inside 30 seconds left in regulation.
And with L-S now looking at the possibility of a walk-off winner, the Pioneers were patient in their offensive set before firing a shot up from the field. Unfortunately, the shot would be no good. Fortunately on the other hand for L-S, the carom would come out to Isaac Beers who was fouled later in the possession, sending him to the line with the chance to make things all square once more.
And right on cue, the Pioneers’ steady senior guard was able to do exactly that, going 1-2 from the stripe with the game on the line to make it a 66-66 contest with Carroll having one final chance of their own.
And yet even though the Patriots would get off a really good look from the right around the tin, it was not to be as the Pioneers and Patriots headed back to their respective benches with four more minutes of playoff basketball afoot.
To start the extra session, it was certainly fair to say that L-S’ Seth Beers was a key contributing factor.
Yet to be more precise, the 5’9” sophomore guard was lights out to start the extra frame by rattling off five gigantic points. In fact, after each exchange, Beers was able to help put L-S back in the lead each time as his triple first made it a 69-68 affair with 2:30 left to play before his pair of freebies from the line made it a 71-70 Pioneer lead with 1:47 remaining.
Death, taxes, and free throws deciding playoff games.
As is so often the case, a team’s ability to cash in from the charity stripe almost always proves to be a key factor in determining who emerges victorious. And yes, Tuesday night’s Archbishop Carroll and L-S game really was no exception to that rule.
Shortly after the Beers knockdowns at the line, Carroll proceeded to go a perfect 4-4 from the stripe as a pair of 2-2 exchanges by Keyon Butler and AJ Hoggard respectively gave the lead back to the Patriots at 74-71 with just 1:10 being the difference in who would advance on the round of eight.
Down on the other end, opportunity did not shine as brightly for the Pioneers as an 0-2 trip to the foul line helped pave the wave for Justin Anderson to add on to the Patriots’ lead after a 1-2 trip of his own which made it a 75-71 Carroll advantage with 30 ticks left on the clock.
As expected however, L-S continued to fight with everything they possibly had as a Ryan Smith bucket inside, good for 2 of his game-high, now seemingly business-like 34 point outburst, cut the Archbishop Carroll lead down to two at 75-73 with just 8 seconds left to play.
From there, AC’s AJ Hoggard was promptly fouled on the ensuing inbounds with just 6.7 left. However nerves clearly were not a factor for the 6’2” sophomore guard as Hoggard would walk to the other end and go to cash in both of his attempts en route to a 19 point effort, falling just shy of fellow teammate Keyon Butler for Patriots’ high-scoring honors as Butler pumped in a 21 point team-high effort on Tuesday evening.
And so, with the lead now standing at what appeared to be an insurmountable four with the scoreboard reading 77-73, L-S would have one last offensive possession of the season. Fittingly, it too would end points as Isaac Beers was able to sink a trifecta before beating the horn, but it would simply be a matter of too little too late as Archbishop Carroll was able to escape after a fantastic effort put forth by a very game Lampeter-Strasburg squad, 77-76.
Without question, losses hurt. Losses that end your season are just one that simply sting a little different. Especially when a defeat marks the ceremonial dropping of the curtain on a historical season just as it did figuratively for L-S on Tuesday at Governor Mifflin.
But even through the obvious pain that was apparent in the immediate aftermath, it was plain as day to see that L-S second year head coach Ed Berryman was undeniably proud to have had the opportunity to coach and mentor such a fine and upstanding group of Pioneers.
“They played their butts off,” Berryman said after his team’s hard-fought defeat. “That just spoke volumes by what they did on the floor,” the L-S head man said referring back to the game that had just finished up no more than five minutes prior.
“They’re leaders and they play hard,” Berryman went on to add regarding his 2018 six man senior class.
And the high praise certainly did not end there. Nor was it in short order.
“He’s a damn tough kid and he’s a great leader for our team,” Coach Berryman said when describing Jordan Sweger and his contributions to the Pioneers’ program. “Peyton Denlinger hustles his butt off all the time,” the L-S boss continued on. “Obviously Ryan (Smith) did a great job and Isaac (Beers) did a great job. And also Mark (Wilson) and Cam (Neimeyer) are leaders as well….They’re great basketball players and they’re better people,” Berryman said summing up his departing seniors that have given so much to the program one final time. “That’s who they are.”