Solanco ‘Punches Back,’ Holds Off Ephrata For First Win Of David Long Era
Written by: Andy Herr on Thursday, December 12th, 2019
When Solanco and Ephrata got together to play a basketball game and found themselves looking across the sideline and staring back at one another on Thursday night, there was an undeniable case of good news/bad news left wafting in the air.
The bad news? The fact that neither the Golden Mules nor the Mounts had been able to crack into the winning column yet this year, as both squads carried 0-3 records with them heading into the night. The good news you ask? Most certainly the fact one of these two proud programs — under the direction of talented, young leadership from the head coaching positions — would be able to snatch up their first victory of the year, with nearly the entirety of the season still left out in front of them, leaving for plenty of time to still tinker and tweak with the weapons that either side found at the ready within their respective arsenals. In essence, simply if nothing else, Thursday night provided either the Mounts or the Mules with the equal and rightful opportunity to ignite some ever-precious energy into their respective camps with the opening night of mandated L-L League crossover play rapidly approaching on the horizon line a mere 24 hours later.
Yet not only would the Golden Mules end up being the ones victorious on Thursday night, but they would do so in the most historic of fashion.
In the terms of the opening few minutes, things couldn’t have started off much better for Solanco. While the black-clad Mules were air-tight defensively, their offensive attack in the opening minutes wasn’t too shabby either considering the visitors from the southern end of Lancaster County were able to jump out to a quick 4-0 lead following a Jalen Henry take to the rack just 2:30 into the contest. From there, the Mules continued to remain rather potent on the offensive side of things as a triple knocked down by way of 6’1 senior guard, Austin Woods, propelled the Mules out to the 7-2 cushion, promptly forcing Ephrata’s hand as the Mounts were forced to burn a timeout with 4:54 left in to go in the opening quarter. Yet even after Ephrata’s early timeout taken in order to stem the tide, Solanco was ultimately able to build upon their existing advantage even further, eventually seeing their lead rise to as many as seven at 11-4 just over a minute later following yet another Jalen Henry bucket at the cup as the Mules’ 6’0 senior guard was quickly working his way into a rhythm early on.
However, just when it may seemed like Solanco would be able to run away and hide, Ephrata rose up to mount a charge in the waning moments of the quarter, eventually trimming the Golden Mules’ lead down to three at 11-8 following a pair of free throws cashed in from senior forward, Lyle Kopp, before the opening eight minutes came to a conclusion with the Golden Mules owning the five-point lead at 13-8.
While the first quarter certainly had its fair share of highs from which the Golden Mules could sit back and enjoy, the initial stages of the second quarter were somehow even better for Solanco.
That’s right. After a pair of buckets on the Mules’ first two offensive possessions, both of which came courtesy of Austin Woods, the Mules were able to flirt with a double-digit lead at 17-8 before eventually climbing over the hill thanks to a put back from 6’1 junior forward, Ryan Smith, making it a 19-8 Mules’ lead with 5:49 left before the first half horn.
Ironically enough though, the second quarter ultimately had to feel like a bad case of déjà vu for the Mules.
After getting out to such a strong start — much in the same vein in which they did in the first quarter — Solanco began to fall victim to another Ephrata charge at their early lead as the second quarter rolled along. In fact, the Mounts were able to climb back to within shouting distance once the first half ultimately came to an end as a pretty finger-roll from the handiwork of Ephrata’s starting senior point guard, Allen Nelson, sliced the Solanco lead down to size at 20-15 with both teams retiring to their respective dressing rooms for the halftime recess.
In short, if Thursday night’s third quarter could be summed up in just one simple word, it be would be defense. Well, Solanco’s defense to be exact.
That said, the Golden Mules were certainly much more enthused to get down into a stance and play on the defensive end considering their hot early start. How hot you ask? How about a pairing of 3-balls to start the third quarter proceedings, splashed in by Golden Mule juniors Ryan Smith and Colesen Shaeffer respectively, upping the Solanco advantage back to nine at 26-15 following the visitors’ first two trips down the floor to get the second half underway with the upmost of authority.
Yet even after a smooth pullup jumper knocked in from Ephrata senior guard Jaron Heckstall — a bucket desperately needed in order to stop the Mounts’ current bleeding — the Golden Mules would simply have none of it for the remainder of the third frame. For proof, one only need to look to a dramatic Zed Baker block, negating the would-be Ephrata shot at its absolute apex along the baseline, before a Jalen Henry charge effectively drew the third quarter curtains to a close with Solanco on the precipice of their first win of the season, leading 29-18.
That’s the thing about a precipice though. Sometimes you can fall off.
It certainly didn’t appear that way mind you. At least certainly not in the manner in which the Golden Mules opened up the final period given a pair of buckets chipped in from Zed Baker and 5’7 junior guard Ethan Clary respectively inside the paint, upping the Solanco lead to 33-18 to begin the final furlong.
From there, things began to tilt just a little bit sideways for the Mules’ contingent in favor of the homestanding Mounts.
It all seemed to start off rather innocently though. Certainly no one could have predicted such a wild and dramatic swing in momentum and emotion that was about to take place following a Jaron Heckstall take to the rack which got the Mounts within at ten at 32-22. At least certainly not with 6:30 left to play. Right?
Wrong. From there, Ephrata continued to lay the hammer down.
Following the Heckstall bucket, good for two of his six-point outing on the evening, the Mounts began to well, mount a charge. While seeing their deficit currently standing at the ten, Ephrata began to devise a master plan in order to start chipping away at the Solanco lead. And it all certainly seemed to work as a tough hoop plus the harm added on top from Lyle Kopp got things underway, before a steal and coast-to-coast dribbling exhibition put on by Kopp, who then capped the trip off with a dizzying pass behind his head into the waiting hands of sophomore forward Feyon Peterson who finished from point-blank range, made the noise inside the Ephrata Middle School gym rise up quite a few decibel levels with the hometown Mounts now within a touchdown at 33-26 with 4:35 left to play.
So, how would Solanco eventually weather the storm? Why leaning on their unquestioned grit no doubt.
Needless to say, the opportunities left to be scooped up by either side were certainly dwindling down at this point in the contest. And with that in mind, there was arguably not a much more clutch series of plays over the span of the few seconds than the effort put forth by way of Solanco’s Ryan Smith, as the junior fearlessly snared an offensive rebound to preserve a possession, before quickly following that up with a steal on the Mules’ next defensive possession, helping save the bacon — at least for the moment — for the Mules and their hopes of victory.
Yes, while hustle plays are always essential down the stretch of tight games, so too are free throws. Well, check and mate to Solanco in that regard as well.
With time starting to melt away on the clock, Solanco’s unquestioned veteran who has logged the lion’s share of the Golden Mules’ returning minutes, junior guard Zed Baker, calmly stepped to the charity stripe and proceeded to knock down the offering, allowing the Solanco bench to breathe a sigh of relief for the time being.
However, the Mounts had clearly refused to go away without a fight, something clearly evident following a gutsy take to the tin from Allen Nelson, good for two of his game-high 12-point outburst. But once again, Solanco would have to lean on their ability to knock down freebies at the line if it were to be a long, happy bus ride home.
And as if to be right on cue, Solanco’s Ryan Smith proceeded to go a perfect 4-4 at the line within the final 15.9 seconds, including capping things off with a ferocious block at the buzzer which sent the ball bounding into the boisterous Ephrata student section with such force that it likely could have been heard all the way back to Quarryville, effectively putting the exclamation mark on the Golden Mules’ first of what they hope will eventually be many more wins yet to come this season in a 40-32 road triumph over Ephrata.
Speaking of victory, this one was a bit more unique. Why? Well because it just so happened to first-year head coach David Long’s first win as Solanco head coach, a position in which he fittingly officially acquired from his brother at the end of last season.
And rest assured, it’s certainly a group that he enjoys working with considering the work they’ve put in when no one was watching.
“It’s been good,” Long said when asked about his early thoughts thus far in becoming the Mules’ CEO of the hardwood. “It’s been nice because two of my starters (Colesen Shaeffer and Ryan Smith) play football, so they had great summers and then rolling into the fall, they just had so many responsibilities,” Long said regarding two of his key cogs. “Our numbers were low in the fall which was frustrating, so having all our guys here has been really good. It’s (taken) some time to get everyone jelling and going in the same direction.”
That said, they say that the ultimate cure-all comes in winning. And when you prevail in the manner in which Solanco did on Thursday night, that likely greatly accelerates any possible learning curve that may still yet exist.
“I think our guys, at least early on, kind of got the idea going back to last year that a game kind of goes however it starts and then just kind of goes in one direction. We’ve been talking a lot about how when we get punched, we have to punch back. It was nice to be on the other end of that,” said Long.
“Our first three games, it was kind of the same type of situation where a team would jump out on us and instead of just letting it keep ballooning, we were able to punch back and battle back a little bit. It was nice to see someone do that to us and for us to weather the storm.”
“They’re so process-oriented. It’s really awesome,” Long went on to say while praising his new squad. “We played York Suburban to open and we lost by 17, but we ran our gameplan and got great shots, they just didn’t fall. Our guys were mad that they didn’t win, but were celebrating in the locker room like, ‘We’re going in the right direction.’’’
“I don’t think they necessarily needed a win,” Long said regarding his team’s belief in their overall, long-term mission before adding quickly with a smile, “But it certainly helps.”
NEXT UP: Following their opening win of the season against Ephrata, the Mules must now get mentally locked-in yet again in 24 hours’ time when they welcome the still-winless Donegal Indians down to Quarryville for Solanco’s home opener on Friday night as the Mules hope to charge into the weekend while riding a two-game winning streak.
For Ephrata, the Mounts must also regroup quickly as the Purple and Gold will not set their sights on Hempfield Friday night in hopes of snatching up their first victory of the season in the league-opener for both the Mounts and Black Knights in Landisville.
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