Three Point Barrage Helps ELCO Surge Past Solanco In Saturday Afternoon Thriller

Written by: on Sunday, January 14th, 2018


Sometimes all you really need is a spark. In the case of the ELCO Raiders Boys’ Basketball team, any sort of momentum that could be generated following a 2017 calendar year which saw the Raiders post a sub 500 record both overall and in the section would likely do wonders for this young crop of hoopsters from Myerstown as they look to find their footing the always-challenging world of L-L Section 3 basketball as they go up against the likes of perennial powerhouse programs like Lancaster Catholic and Lancaster Mennonite an arduous four times during the regular season. And even though ELCO may not have necessarily gotten off to the quickest of starts, the Raiders have become arguably the hottest team in the entire Lancaster Lebanon League since the calendar has flipped to 2018 as ELCO opened the New Year on a three game winning streak. And just like that, the spark has suddenly turned into a full-out raging inferno.

Ask ELCO head Brad Connors what the difference has been and you’ll get a simple and straightforward answer. “Defense,” the eighth year head man said when going over ELCO’s remarkable start to 2018. “Our defense has gotten better every game. That’s been our focus since the start of the season. I’d say over our last five games, we’re starting to see the little things like ‘helping the help’ and team defense. It’s not always the guy on the ball. Everybody has to do their part and help.”

Oh by the way, ELCO’s offense hasn’t exactly been pedestrian either. During ELCO’s aforementioned three game winning streak that included triumphs over Annville Cleona, Pequea Valley, and Columbia, the Raiders scored no fewer than a mind-boggling 75 points in those three contests, while winning by an average margin of 30 points per game. That all led into Friday night’s game against this year’s early season darling in Northern Lebanon for a whopper of a matchup inside the borders of Lebanon County. But unfortunately for ELCO, their recent success would not translate into a victory over the rival Vikings on Friday night as Northern Lebanon was able to return home to Fredericksburg with the clutch 45-44 victory. It was a painful loss that ELCO felt like they had in their grasp. “Last night was really tough,” Coach Connors remarked when rehashing the game against Northern Lebanon. “We had a lot of confidence going into that game.” And who wouldn’t when you’re playing like that?

Even still, ELCO’s mettle would be put to the test on Saturday afternoon as they welcomed the Solanco Golden Mules up from Quarryville for a Saturday afternoon matinee. A cast of Golden Mules equally as determined to right the ship considering Solanco would be searching for a remedy to wash away the bitter taste of a 71-45 setback to Garden Spot the night before.

In a matchup between two up and coming programs looking to help lay their foundation for years to come, it would be ELCO who would throw the first punch on Saturday afternoon. After a back and forth trading of buckets between the two teams got things underway, ELCO was able to rush out to an early 7-4 lead following a steal and fast break layup by Raider freshman Braden Bohannon which caused Solanco to call an early timeout with 5:26 left in the first.

Although Solanco would come right back following the timeout with a 4-0 run of their own which was capped off by senior guard Jon Rush going 2-2 from the stripe to put the Mules back in front 8-7, ELCO’s answer would come from long range as senior forward Blake Weary had the rebuttal for ELCO with a triple to put the Raiders on top 10-8 at the 2:45 mark of the opening quarter. Hot ELCO shooting from behind the arc would continue to be a theme in the opening stanza as a triple splashed home by sophomore guard Bryce Coletti just before the buzzer would later give ELCO the lead 13-10 at the conclusion of the opening eight minutes.

Although the flu is famous for being contagious this time of year, the only thing spreading between the Golden Mules and Raiders on Saturday afternoon was a shared prolific shooting touch from behind the 3 point line. Case in point, Solanco was able to go back into the lead just 1:10 into the second stanza following a triple cashed in by Jon Rush which put the Golden Mules on top 15-13, but not before ELCO’s sophomore center Asher Kemble went on his own personal 4-0 run to put the Raiders back in command 17-15 over the course of the next 1:30.

From there on out, it largely became an impromptu 3 point shootout between the two squads throughout the remainder of the first half. After a nice bucket inside by Solanco junior center Joey Gote knotted things back up at 17 apiece, Golden Mule senior point guard Aaron Constein rose up and knocked in a trifecta to give the visitors from Quarryville the lead right back at 20-17 at the 4:30 mark of the second quarter.

Fortunately for ELCO, Jeff Lorah was not to be outdone as the 5’11” senior leader fired in a 3 ball of his own to tie things back up at 20-20 shortly thereafter. But Solanco’s Zed Baker was not to be outshined in his own right as the heady 5’10” freshman guard went on to pump in his own trifecta to give the lead back to Solanco at 23-20. And yet despite the fact that ELCO would go on to pour in two more triples to close the half from Blake Weary and Braden Bohannon respectively, the Raiders still saw themselves trailing 28-26 as the two teams sprinted off the floor for the halftime recess. A halftime that seemed apropos in the sense that it included a halftime shootout.

Once the second half got underway, ELCO was able cut their two point deficit at the intermission in half as Blake Weary, you guessed it, popped a 3 ball, which cut the Golden Mule down to the slimmest of margins at 32-31 at the 5:45 mark of the third quarter.

From there however, Solanco was able to find some traction and go on a 4-0 run that included buckets from Carson Kilgore courtesy of beautiful dish from teammate Aaron Constein, and a sweet Jon Rush floater to make it a 36-31 Mule leading prompting ELCO to burn a timeout with 4:40 still showing on the third quarter clock.

But yet again, the 3 ball came to the Raiders’ defense as a timely trifecta dialed up by Bryce Coletti ended the Mule run and simultaneously cut Solanco’s lead down to just a deuce at 36-34. From that point on however, Solanco proceeded to go on another 4-0 blitz which was capped off by an Aaron Constein lay in off of transition to put the Golden Mules back up by a half dozen at 40-34 before the third frame eventually expired with Solanco maintaining the 43-39 advantage.

For an ELCO team that had been used to lighting the scoreboard up with neon in their past few ballgames, time was of essence for the Raiders to rekindle some of that same offensive firepower now staring at a four point hole to open the final quarter against a veteran cast from Solanco. And right on cue, the young Raiders began to hit their stride.

After a 3 ball by Evan Huey got the party started, a transition layup put in by Asher Kemble courtesy of a nice pass from freshman teammate Braden Bohannon put ELCO back in front like a bolt of lightning with the scoreboard now showing 44-43 in ELCO’s favor, as Solanco was forced to call a timeout and regroup.

Undaunted, Solanco was able to come right back and counter with a bucket inside from junior guard Carson Kilgore with senior guard Aaron Constein being credited with the assist to put Solanco back in front 45-44 with 5:30 remaining.

But would ELCO would be able to respond in their own right as a 5-0 Raider flurry ensued over the next minute, punctuated with a triple splashed home by Evan Huey which put the Raiders back in command 49-45.

Yet Saturday’s game would prove to be an instant classic. And in a battle worthy of such an esteemed title, Solanco would not simply go quietly into the bitterly cold afternoon for the one hour bus ride home awaiting them at the conclusion of the contest. Instead, Solanco answered right back, going blow for blow with their hosts as the Golden Mules ripped off a 5-0 salvo of their own to retake the lead at 50-49 following an old-fashioned three point play authored by all-star guard Aaron Constein with 4:02 still showing on the game clock.

But ELCO would have an answer to that too. Following Constein’s momentum stealing play which could have meant a wilting under the bright lights of a pressure-packed situation, this year’s Raider young bunch stepped to the forefront and answered the bell with the game on the line. First to the stage, Braden Bohannon.

After the aforementioned Constein bucket that put Solanco back in front, it would be ELCO’s 5’11” freshman guard who showed the heart of a lion with a fearless baseline drive to put ELCO on top 51-50 with 2:30 remaining before Evan Huey took his turn playing the leading role as the sophomore guard drained a trifecta to put ELCO up by three at 54-51 with just 1:40 now left to play.

And although a pair of Bryce Coletti free throws would follow soon thereafter as the sophomore guard helped put ELCO up by five at 57-52, Solanco was not done fighting. Not by a long shot.

Although time was running out on what had once looked like a promising day for the Golden Mules to pick up their third win of the season, Aaron Constein did everything in his power to will Solanco across the finish line as his beautiful step back 3 cut ELCO’s once almost insurmountable lead down to size at 58-57 with just 12.4 remaining.

But just as they had proved all game long, the stage was not too big for ELCO’s youngsters. Case in point, Bryce Coletti was forced to walk to the other end of the court following the foul on the ensuing inbounds and the sophomore responded with a cold-blooded pair of freebies from the charity stripe to make it a three point Raider cushion at 60-57 with 9.4 left to go.

After a timeout, Solanco drew up their last gasp play while having to navigate 94 feet down the floor. The Golden Mules would get off two tries, the last of which came tantalizingly close before it rattled in and out, signifying ELCO’s gutty 60-57 triumph over a very game Solanco squad as the Raiders improved to a 4-1 mark to usher in 2018.

As mentioned, the emergence of ELCO’s young roster not only on Saturday afternoon but this entire season in general has got to have the Raider fanbase excited about the future that lies ahead. If nothing else, Coach Connors is certainly anxious about what both the short and long term future holds for ELCO basketball. “So excited about these guys,” Coach Connors echoed in the glow following Saturday’s victory. “You talk about ‘it’s hard to win with young guys,’ but we feel like if they’re good young guys you can still win.” And although this season on the whole may come as a surprise to some outside of these parts, it’s clear that Coach Connors had a feeling something like this may have been in the works. “We were optimistic heading into the season. Our summer was really good. So yeah, I feel really good about the future.” And after performances like the one put forth on Saturday, you’d be hard-pressed to find a sound, logical reason to disagree with that sentiment.

NEXT UP: With their win on Saturday, ELCO will begin prep for their second tour of duty through the rugged landscape of L-L Section 3 as the Raiders stare down matchups with two of the biggest headliners in the division this week in Lancaster Catholic and Lancaster Mennonite respectively. And although the possibility of the league playoffs will be an uphill battle this year given the separation that Catholic, Mennonite, and Northern Lebanon were able to establish throughout the first go-around of the section slate, the District 3 playoffs still remain a possibility for this year’s ELCO team with this past week being instrumental in helping to accomplish that task. “We talked about maybe winning two of the three this week,” Coach Connors said on Saturday afternoon regarding the forecast at the beginning of last week. “We got our two so we feel good about that.” It’s an accomplishment that would help lay the foundation for Raider basketball for years to come with the senior leadership of Ryan Woelfling, Jeff Lorah, Blake Weary, and Joe Ginder being the cornerstone pillars for an ELCO team that may long be remembered as the group that helped be the solid bridge between the high flying teams of just a few years ago to the promising future that appears to be brewing in Myerstown. “Just a really good group to be around,” Coach Connors went on to say when describing his 2017-18 Raiders. “They believe in themselves and they compete. That’s the fun part.”

For Solanco, the Golden Mules will look to hit the reset button in their second foray through Section 2 as Solanco came up empty in terms of snatching up any victories against their fellow section counterparts with the exception of Manheim Central as Solanco still has yet to face the Barons considering their early December matchup fell victim to a snow and iceout with the date for the makeup game being a late afternoon contest in Quarryville on January 27th. Yet despite the fact that this year has not gone the way anyone in program would have liked up until this point, there’s no denying that if Solanco continues to show the resolve and mental fortitude that they displayed on Saturday afternoon against ELCO by answering the dinner bell time and time again, the Golden Mules will always battle until the final second ticks off. And behind a core group of seniors that are hungry to end their senior year on a high note, Solanco cannot and simply will not be written off throughout the remainder of the season. Key features that any senior class can be proud of while passing the torch off to those that will follow in your footsteps.

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