Raiders Show Their Mettle As ELCO Scores Key Crossover Road Win At Cocalico
Written by: Andy Herr on Saturday, December 15th, 2018
The old saying goes that all roads lead to home. Well, as far as it related to both ELCO and Cocalico on Friday night, all roads would lead to Denver for the Raiders and Eagles, with both squads looking to make resounding opening statements on this the first night of league play around the L-L League. The thing was, the roads traveled by either team leading in to Friday night had looked slightly different.
When the Lancaster-Lebanon League adopted its current 5 section format, it was only natural to scour the standings and formulate preseason predictions and title favorites. As it related to Section 4 most specifically, there was perhaps one club above the all rest that truly stuck out as the most intriguing: The ELCO Raiders.
Behind a 94ft perimeter-oriented style of ball, the Raiders have long-since been a pesky team for the rest of the L-L to try and handle. And this year appeared to be no different with several young sharpshooters coming back into the fray, along with some special pieces dotting the frontline that have the ability to stretch the floor, giving this year’s Raider bunch the potential to be an absolute nightmare to prepare for. Yet even with all those pieces stirred into the pot, the season understandably got off to a painful start last Friday as ELCO dropped a 67-36 decision to fellow Lebanon County mate, Cedar Crest, in the opening round of the Lebanon Tip-Off Tournament.
But even with that, it was a game that ELCO head coach Brad Conners felt like his team could find beneficial in moving forward.
“The first quarter starts and we got off to a really good start,” Conners said going back to last Friday night. “Then we started missing some shots and it started affecting our defense. You could see Crest smell blood in the water. They just started attacking the basket. So we definitely talked about that,” said Conners. “We talked about ‘Hey, you’re going to have those nights. You’re going to have to get stops, you’re gonna have to play D.’ Our focus really all preseason has been on defense,” Conners went on to add. “We’ve done very little offensively. We play what, 14 road games this year? So yeah, defense travels.”
Since then however, the Raiders have looked like a whole different team, or perhaps rather the team everyone thought they could be all along, dismantling Red Land and Annville-Cleona by a combined total of 43 points to rip off two in a row heading into Friday night’s affair.
On the other side of the coin, a fast start was precisely the correct terminology to use when talking this year’s Cocalico Eagle bunch. After just the first weekend of the season alone, it was clear that the Eagles have already acquitted themselves quite nicely in the revamped Section 3 discussion by authoring a 2-0 performance at the Conestoga Valley Tip-Off tourney, setting them up with a pivotal early season contest against a formidable Section 1 opponent, Penn Manor, earlier in this week.
Plagued by a 11-0 start by the host Comets out of the gates and a remarkable 31 point performance by Penn Manor senior guard Kevin Roldan once all was said and done, the Eagles had unfortunately tasted defeat for the first time all season on Tuesday night in Millersville, 63-60, making Friday’s battle with ELCO all the more important if the Eagles wanted to keep a strangle-hold on some of that precious early mojo.
Once tip had finally arrived and the game got underway, it was obvious that the Raiders had arrived in a foul mood. It wouldn’t those in attendance very long to grasp ELCO’s bad intentions on Friday night as evidenced by the Raiders’ 5-0 run to start the contest, capped off by a straight-on triple dialed up by ELCO’s smooth 6’5 junior center Asher Kemble. From there, the visitors from Myerstown continued to build upon their lead as a nifty turnaround jumper put home by another junior, guard Bryce Coletti, made it a 9-1 affair in favor of ELCO after the first 3:30 of play.
But much in the same manner in which they were able to do against Penn Manor, Cocalico proceeded to dig themselves out of an early hole.
The home-standing Eagles would eventually cut the deficit down to four following a turnaround floater kissed off the glass by senior guard Connor Mack, making it a 9-5 contest with ELCO still in front. And after checking in from off the bench, Cocalico immediately received solid, physical minutes by way of 6’4 junior forward Trey Griffin, as Griffin collected what seemed to be every rebound in sight. While clearly invigorated by his yeoman’s work on the glass, Griffin himself would eventually cut the Raiders’ lead down to just one at 9-8 following a strong bucket inside with just one minute left to go in the opening period.
Yet even though there was just one minute to play, it became apparent that there was still plenty of action left to take place.
Right after the Griffin bucket down on the previous end, the Raiders were finally able to stop the bleeding after a timely Coletti 3-ball, ending the Cocalico run, allowing ELCO to regain some traction, now leading, 12-8.
But that traction would be short-lived.
On the Eagles’ ensuing offensive trip, Cocalico sophomore guard Carter Nuneville promptly responded with a trifecta of his own, effectively concluding the opening quarter of play that featured plenty of ebbs and flows, with ELCO clinging to a 12-11 lead after one.
Speaking of ebbs and flows, the early portion of the second quarter on Friday night featured yet another one.
Down the entire night up until that point in the contest, Cocalico roared out of the gates to start the second stanza with a 3-0 run which was capped off by a drive to the tin by Nuneville, forcing ELCO to call timeout who now found themselves down for the first time all night, 14-12, with 7:14 left in the opening half.
From there, ELCO found their man with the plan in Asher Kemble.
Behind four straight tallied by Kemble, ELCO was able to regain the lead at 16-12, eventually building their advantage back up to five at 21-16 following a floater in the lane by Bryce Coletti with now 2:20 left in the opening half.
Despite the distance that ELCO was able to generate late in the second frame, Cocalico would cut the lead down to three shortly thereafter following a strong drive to the rack by way of junior guard Ronald Zahm. However, it became clear that the Raiders had intentions of letting their lead slip further away as evidenced by the 3-ball buried right before the first half horn by sophomore guard Braden Bohannon, sending ELCO into the intermission with the 24-18 advantage.
Yet as ELCO would soon discover once the third quarter got underway, the prospect of putting Cocalico away would prove to be anything but easy.
In fact, after a trifecta splashed in courtesy of Cocalico senior guard Peyton Stetter, the Raiders’ lead had suddenly been shrunk down to the slimmest of margins at 26-25 with three minutes having expired off the third quarter clock.
No matter, just cue up another trademark ELCO 3-ball.
To be sure, that is the exact route that ELCO decided to take the next trip down the floor as a trey popped in junior guard Evan Huey off a set play allowed the Raiders to gain some much-needed breathing room at 29-25 amidst the current Cocalico onslaught. As for the remainder of the third frame, ELCO was able to keep Cocalico at arm’s length for the rest of period after another round of straight Raider buckets thanks to that man again, Asher Kemble. On the night, Kemble would go on to finish with a share of game-high scoring honors, splitting the effort with Bryce Coletti, as both would wrap things up with 13 apiece. However, once the third quarter ultimately wound down, the Raiders’ four point bulge would be sliced in half down to just two, assuring the game of having a spectacular finish.
Never more did the outlook of said finish seem more apropos than with Ronald Zahm darting his way to cup and finishing through contact, making it a 33-33 ballgame with 6:56 still left to go. But yet, even with the “Eagles Nest” coming unglued at the seams with unbridled emotion, ELCO would have the answer in the form of a fearless drive to the rack by Evan Huey, putting the Raiders back in front at 35-33, while also tempering some of the noise inside the raucous gymnasium.
And when speaking of answers and swinging the pendulum of momentum from one direction to the other, perhaps there was no bigger moment in Friday night’s league opener than the one Bryce Coletti was about to put forward.
With his team currently clinging to a nervous two point lead with time quickly melting off the game clock, an ELCO bucket would prove to be monstrous should they get one with just over two minutes left to be played. Well, sure enough, the Raiders would be able to get that much-needed bucket on that same offensive trip as a kickout triple was dialed up and connected by Coletti, giving ELCO the lead at 40-35.
From that point on, Cocalico was hindered with a good news/bad news scenario. The good news was that had played a clean game defensively in the second half as evidenced by just one team foul registered against the Eagles to that point. The bad news was, the Eagles found themselves down and needing to foul in order to send ELCO to the line. And after successfully completing the foul game masterfully as evidenced by the front-end miss of a one-and-one at the hands of the Raiders, Cocalico proceeded to come right down the floor with Ben Karbe leading the charge as the 6’6 junior guard’s kiss off the glass trimmed the ELCO down to just one at 40-39 with just roughly one minute remaining.
On the defensive end, Cocalico elected to have around 20 seconds worth of game clock expire before going deciding to foul, sending Coletti to the line once they had chosen to do so. And just as he had been able to all night long up until that point, Coletti was able to play with a moxie well beyond his years by calming knocking both attempts, pushing the ELCO lead back up to three at 42-39 with 25.6 left to go.
And wouldn’t know it, those free throws would prove to be the difference in the end as Cocalico’s last offensive possession would result in a loose ball scrum with time helplessly running off the clock much to the Eagles’ chagrin, giving ELCO the dramatic 42-39 road triumph, while also scoring a win for Section 4 in this round of L-L crossover action.
After the game, it was clear that everyone in the Raiders traveling party was understandably jubilant about their tough-as-nails road conquest just completed in Denver on Friday. Included in that mix, the head coach himself.
“Coming down here to Cocalico, that’s always a game you look at and say, ‘I don’t know if we can get that. It’s in their gym and they have all that height,’ ELCO head man Brad Conners said wondering aloud. “They only out-rebounded us by one tonight. I’ll take that. That’s a huge win for us going forward,” said the Raiders’ head man. “It’s like I said last weekend with the Cedar Crest game, everybody asks ‘Do you like that game?’ I just think it gets us ready. It did last year,” Conners went on to point out. “We went into Manheim Central last year right after that Lebanon tournament and got a game. I just feel that gets us ready, but this is a huge win for us and our kids.”
NEXT UP: From here, ELCO will look to keep their foot on the accelerator and continue making waves across the league as the Raiders prepare for a trifecta of games next week against Manheim Central, Solanco, and L-S before heading off to Christmas break and the Eastern York Holiday Tournament.
For Cocalico, the Eagles must now regroup in order to snap this pesky two-game losing skid with a pivotal week ahead upcoming. It will be a week that features the Eagles squaring off with Northern Lebanon and Lancaster Catholic before traveling to Chester County to take on L-L newbie Octorara. Speaking of holiday tourneys, the Eagles too will find themselves in on by heading off to the West Shore in Cumberland County where Cocalico will compete in Mechanicsburg’s holiday tourney.
Follow LLhoops on Twitter @LLhoops