Nearly 365 days ago, the McCaskey Red Tornado made the short trek up the road to take on the Conestoga Valley Buckskins for what appeared on the surface to be your average ho-hum L-L Section 1 contest without much in the way of flair. However, at that conclusion of the night almost one year ago, the Red Tornado dropped what, to put it mildly, had to be considered a head-scratching loss right before the Christmas holiday. Since that point on, as in the case with most anything in life, this past year has ushered in a dramatic turn of events. Little did anyone at the time know it, but the McCaskey boys’ basketball program would be no exception.
At the conclusion of the 2017-18 McCaskey basketball season, the end of the year brought with it the finality to one of the most decorated coaching careers in Lancaster-Lebanon League history when legendary head coach Steve Powell decided to step aside and retire in late April this year. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, Powell would eventually pass away after a remarkably long and courageously-fought bout with oral cancer.
So, as a result of this past summer’s unfortunate events, those in the assembled power chairs at McCaskey were tasked with the assignment of finding a new head boys’ basketball coach for the first time in nearly three decades.
Enter Freddy Ramos.
While it may be cliché to say that someone was “born” to do a job, it may well in fact be correct when talking about Ramos who took over the reins of one of central Pennsylvania’s most highly-regarded basketball franchises. A Lancaster native, Ramos has a clear passion for the sport and the city, as evidenced by his coaching prowess that spans nearly every single age demographic imaginable inside the Red Rose City throughout his life. Most recently, he served as one of head coach Joe Klazas’ top aces on the bench, leading the Lancaster Catholic JV team, his alma mater, for the last few seasons prior to getting the call to head just a few blocks down the street and run the show at McCaskey.
Yet even while the Tornado brought with them a 2-1 record heading into this week after Ramos’ first week at the helm, it was clear that the players are receiving the message and tutelage as instructed by their new leader.
And wouldn’t you know it, everything seemed to come full circle with McCaskey set to revisit CV on Monday night with the Tornado hopeful to provide true evidence as to just how far they themselves, and the program as a whole, has come within the last year.
For Conestoga Valley, the Buckskins too would witness a fairly significant amount of overhaul when talking about the changes made from last year over to this season.
Most notably, the Bucks were one of the three teams that would be hitching their wagons and moving to a new section this year, Section 2, with CV receiving word to head down from the Section 1 ranks along with Lebanon and Warwick. And as if that change wasn’t big enough in its own regard, the Buckskins would have to navigate their brave new world while doing so without the two-headed monster sibling duo of Austin and Logan Monroe, a tandem that had wreaked havoc across the L-L for years, with each having the ability to go off for 20+ points on nearly any given night.
But it hasn’t exactly all been doom and gloom thus far for CV. In fact, the Bucks were able to make it to the championship of game of their season-opening tip-off tourney before eventually falling to Cocalico in the title fight. Not only that, but CV was also able to register perhaps the biggest win of the non-league schedule so far this season when the Buckskins topped neighboring Lancaster Mennonite, a squad coming off a state semifinal run, getting the Buckskins off to a 2-2 start to begin the campaign.
And with McCaskey coming to town, the Bucks were eager to turn some more heads on Monday night when they welcomed the vaunted Red Tornado into Rill Gymnasium for an early week crossover battle featuring what were now Section 1 and Section 2 combatants.
One thing became perfectly clear right from the get-go on Monday night: Although this may be a new chapter in McCaskey basketball history, the actions on the floor still mimic the same successful tried and true way of the Tornado of old.
Using a punishing style of up-and-down basketball that has become a trademark style all their own, McCaskey stuck the same familiar script on Monday night in Witmer and quickly reaped the benefits in doing so. In fact, the Red Tornado opened the game up on 6-0 run, four of which came by way of smooth 6’1 senior forward Mohammed Nimmons, with Nimmons helping get McCaskey off to a much-needed early burst. And yet even though CV would come right down the floor and immediately cut the Red Tornado lead in half after an old fashioned three-point play by way of 6’0 senior forward Parker Graff, Simmons had an answer of his own to the Buckskins’ impromptu charge, bombing a 3-ball on McCaskey’s ensuing offensive possession to push the Red Tornado lead back up to six at 9-3 in the early going.
From there, McCaskey was able to witness their advantage swell up even more so on the scoreboard following a theft and lay-in by crafty 5’10 Red Tornado senior guard Ajani Simmons, pushing the McCaskey lead to 14-6 as the guests had clearly taken the fight to their hosts early on.
However, even despite what felt like an enormous Red Tornado lead at the time, the Buckskins kept chipping away at the McCaskey lead, eventually cutting the deficit back down to a half dozen following a sweet dish inside featuring the Buckskins’ senior duo of J’Hvante Perkins to Jordan Ransing, making it an 18-12 in favor of the visitors from Lancaster with 3:20 left in the game’s opening period.
As fate would have it, that would turn out to be the closest the Buckskins would get for quite some time.
Ignited by a personal 5-0 run courtesy of Ajani Simmons, the Red Tornado quickly reestablished control with their lead back now over the ten point bulge, forcing CV to call timeout with 1:29 left in the first as the Red Tornado found themselves back in front at 25-12. And in a way that seemed most fitting given the way in which events had played themselves out over the previous few minutes, Simmons was able to splash home a corner triple off a magnificent dish from Makai Ortiz-Gray right before the first quarter horn, as the Red Tornado sailed into the second quarter with ownership of the 28-15 advantage.
For much of the second stanza, McCaskey was able to keep Conestoga Valley at arm’s length using their fullcourt style of play as evidenced by much of the quarter being played within a 13 to 15 point window.
But with the first half starting to wind down, CV began to mount a charge.
Sparked by a sensational steal and finish by way of 5’6 junior guard Zeke Santiago, the Buckskins had steadily chiseled the McCaskey lead down piece by piece, but more importantly, had gotten the crowd back into it, with the score standing at 38-23 with 2:30 left in the first half. From that point on however, CV would slowly but surely crawl back into the thick of things with the Bucks eventually going into half only down by 10, thanks in large part to a late half trifecta dialed up by Buckskins’ 5’11 senior guard Nathan Scheid which made it a 39-29 contest as both team jogged off into the dressing rooms.
In terms of a fast start, things could not have gone much better as far as McCaskey was concerned when Mohammed Nimmons promptly stole the CV inbounds pass and finished with an easy lay-in to start the third quarter as the Red Tornado drew first blood within the first five seconds of the second half.
Yet for as bad as things had started for CV, the Buckskins continued to put their nose to the grindstone and inch away at the McCaskey lead as the third quarter moved along, eventually getting it down to seven at 43-36 following a pair of Bradley Stoltzfus free throws with three minutes of game action having elapsed off the third quarter clock.
However with CV slowly but surely getting back into the thick of things, Ajani Simmons would provide the answer for McCaskey with a pretty floater in the lane to retaliate in the face of the Buckskins’ rally. And as fate would have it, Simmons would be called upon once again as the McCaskey lead grew slightly more precarious thanks to a three-point play by way of Jordan Ransing, trimming the Red Tornado lead down to a half dozen at 45-39. Sure enough, McCaskey’s star senior guard would have an answer to that too as Simmons fired in a triple immediately following the Ransing momentum swing, pushing the McCaskey lead back up to nine at 48-39 before the quarter would eventually expire with the Tornado in front by eleven at 55-44. On the evening, Ransing would prove to be a key cog to Conestoga Valley effort by pumping in a team-high 14 points against the Red Tornado.
Once the fourth quarter got underway, it only proved to be more of the same from McCaskey.
In the opening stages of the final period, McCaskey was able to show off some of the other weapons in their explosive arsenal as evidenced by a 3-ball pumped by Bryam Menendez, as the 5’8 senior guard pushed the McCaskey advantage back up to a dozen at 58-46 to get things rolling in the game’s final eight minutes.
And although CV would eventually get back within eleven following a nice take to the rack by J’Hvante Perkins which made it a 61-50 ballgame with five minutes left, that would prove to be all the closer Conestoga Valley would get on this night.
With the game starting to wind down, Ajani Simmons was able to put the icing on his cake by finishing with a layup in transition, making it a 67-52 Red Tornado lead with the outcome all but a certain. And when all was said and done, Simmons would go on to have a masterful night for McCaskey, spearheading the Red Tornado charge on Monday night with a game-high 21 point outburst.
Yet even while Simmons and crew had already done most of the work in terms of scoring up until that point in the evening, there was still plenty of time left for other members of the Red Tornado to get their name into the scorer’s book.
And never more was that apparent than with Alfred Gonzalez-Santana scoring a deuce late in the contest, effectively putting this one on ice, as McCaskey would return home to Lancaster with the 73-55 victory for their efforts.
For portions of Monday night’s game, you could’ve sworn that those donning the red McCaskey jerseys were some of the Red Tornado legends of old based upon the way they were attacking fearlessly and playing with a general overall sense of relentlessness. As far as Coach Ramos is concerned, that is a scene he hopes to see play itself out time and time again as the year continues on.
“Absolutely,” Ramos said without hesitation in regards to the full-throttle style of ball employed by his squad at times during Monday’s contest. “That’s something we won’t shy away from. Watching us once, you’ll know what we want to do. We want to use our athleticism and we want to get up and down the floor,” said Ramos.
“What we’re doing right now and practicing heavily are our ball reversals and slowing the game down… We still continue to work on things, but that speed? That’s something that’s always been a part of our program and we’re trying to space that speed out a little more to see what we can get out of it.”
What they’ve gotten out of it so far is a 2-0 league record and a team that appears to be rapidly improving in front of everyone’s eyes. So yes, while this may indeed be a new chapter in the illustrious history of Lancaster’s city school, there are just some things that should never change. Not the least of which includes McCaskey battling it out amongst the best in the L-L for league supremacy. And while it still remains early, there does not appear to be any shred of evidence whatsoever to suggest that the Ramos era will be any different in that regard.
NEXT UP: From here, Wednesday night in Lancaster city will feature arguably the game of the night when McCaskey welcomes Warwick to their home floor for a highly-anticipated crossover contest that is sure to deliver between two unbeaten teams left standing in league play.
For Conestoga Valley, the Buckskins will look to get back to their winning ways on Wednesday night when CV travels to Manheim Township in a game between two squads that surprisingly will point to this midweek game as a chance to pick up their first L-L victory of the season. From there however, there is absolutely no rest for the weary as CV will then load up the wagons and travel to Hempfield on Friday night.