Replay: Warriors Refuse To Flinch As Warwick Turns Away Late Columbia Rally, Advances To League Semifinals Against Lancaster Catholic
Written by: Andy Herr on Sunday, March 29th, 2020
When teams get set to enter the postseason, toying with lineups and determining how game minutes should be distributed is likely a point of discussion that is found somewhere near the absolute back-corner of the stove. Well, for most every team that is.
On the night of the Warwick Warriors’ regular season home finale against Lebanon –a game in which the Warriors officially wrapped up their second consecutive Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Two title—a night that should have been reserved for nothing more than showering the 2019-20 Warriors with well-deserved sentiments of congratulations, the moment was clearly bittersweet considering that junior guard, Joey McCracken –arguably the best two-sport athlete in the entire L-L League and an essential “glue guy” in the Warriors’ starting five on the hardwood—cruelly suffered a season-ending injury that sent Warwick’s rotation into even more a flux considering the Warriors also lost fellow junior, Caleb Schmitz, to a season-ending injury earlier in the calendar year as well. That said, the Warriors responded admirably to their one and only challenge following the McCracken injury as Warwick went on the road and proceeded to lower the boom on Solanco, coming away with a 71-46 triumph in the Mules’ season finale.
Yet even with the good vibes and mojo that the Warriors likely left Quarryville with following their 25-point win last week, their second challenge would be far more difficult considering that not only would the stakes be ramped up exponentially, so too would the competition level.
Don’t let their Section Five residency fool you. The Columbia Crimson Tide can flat out ball. In fact, for all the teams that call the L-L League home, no one in the entirety of the conference could lay claim to the fact that they had swept their fellow divisional competition throughout the gauntlet of the regular season in coming away with a perfect 10-0 league record this year. But in a lot of ways though, this really shouldn’t serve as much of a surprise considering the core nucleus of the Crimson Tide’s bunch routinely plays together on timeline that seems most apropos to calling it 365 days a year, on top of testing themselves against any and all comers not just in the regular season mind you, but during the sometimes mundane and bland summer league slate as well. And while some on the outside may have openly questioned Columbia’s fortitude concerning the significant uptick in competition heading into the homecourt of the league’s hottest team, injuries and all, given the fact that Warwick entered Monday night’s quarterfinal round of the league playoffs while boasting a 12-game winning streak, there was no doubt that this was the type of situation in which Columbia always seems to thrive.
So, even with all that being said, the opportunity was now there for someone to take the baton and run with it as far as spearheading the Warriors’ collective effort moving forward considering their new-look starting lineup first introduced against the Tide. Good thing for them, not only was Chase Yarberough up the challenge, but the 6’2 senior forward would end up putting forth an all-around effort that was so outstanding that he instantly become the topic of discussion throughout the entire league, literally overnight.
In a lot of ways, those in attendance probably should have seen it coming considering Yarberough wasted literally no time at all in fearlessly firing in a triple on the Warriors’ opening possession of the ballgame, giving Warwick the early 3-0 lead just mere seconds into the contest. And while the Crimson Tide would quickly retaliate right back with a triple of their own in order to take the 5-4 lead by way of senior guard, Matt McCleary, Yarberough continued to be a thorn in Columbia’s collective side throughout the entire first eight minutes considering a pair of his back-to-back buckets later on gave the Warriors the 11-8 lead with just two minutes left in the opening quarter.
Yet even despite the fact that the Crimson Tide would proceed to fire in eight triples in their own right throughout the game’s opening period –capped off by Michael Poole Jr’s trey in the final minute of the quarter– it would prove to be Chase Yarberough’s 10-point outburst that had largely propelled Warwick out to the 14-11 lead once the dust had finally settled on Monday night’s opening quarter.
But the first stanza wouldn’t be the only time that Columbia would become familiar with the name Chase Yarberough. Oh no. Far from it in fact.
To be sure, Warwick’s emerging star picked up right where he had left off by bombing in yet another trifecta in the opening moments of the second stanza, quickly ushering the Warriors out to the 20-13 with the second quarter still well in its infancy. From there, Warwick only continued to build upon their lead as nice bucket inside by another senior, 6’0 guard Ethan Minnich, allowed the hometown team to now flirt with a double-digit lead at 24-15 shortly thereafter, before another 3-ball sunk by, you guessed it, Chase Yarberough, gave the Warriors their largest lead of the evening up until that point at 27-15 with 3:30 left before the half.
And while a Columbia triple cashed in by Michael Poole Jr would close the Crimson Tide gap back to single figures at 29-20 a few minutes later, a fearless take to the rack by Warwick 5’10 junior guard, Cam Hess, helped send the Warriors into the intermission with the 33-22 lead over their Section Five counterparts.
Okay. While it was clear by this point that Chase Yarberough had stolen the show in the first half of Monday night’s quarterfinal round, surely he couldn’t possibly maintain such a high level of play in the second half, especially considering that he likely had become the key discussion point back in the Crimson Tide locker room right at the halftime recess right? Right?
For as hot as Warwick’s senior catalyst had kick-started his night, he began the second half at an absolutely blistering pace as well. In fact, after firing in his fifth and sixth treys of the evening against the Crimson Tide zone, the Warriors suddenly looked up and saw themselves with ownership of the 39-24 advantage immediately coming out of their dressing room to jump-start their second half effort. And even when he wasn’t pulling off his greatest Houdini imitation and getting lost behind the backline of the Columbia defense, Yarberough clearly had no problems whatsoever with meeting the Crimson Tide head-on considering his two consecutive takes to the tin then put the Warriors up 43-25, seemingly within the blink of an eye coming out of the break.
Thankfully, at least as far as the Crimson Tide were most concerned, Columbia then began to settle down and started getting into their rhythm over the course of the next few minutes as a bucket by 6’1 senior forward, Ryan Redding, got the Tide back within shouting distance at 45-34, only to see a take to the rack by, yep, Chase Yarberough, had helped Warwick’s minor bleeding as the Warriors’ senior guard collected two more en route to his game-high 32-point mic drop of a performance, ushering Warwick out to the 48-34 lead for the time-being.
However, the Crimson Tide would proceed to help ready the stage in the latter part of the third period for some possible fourth quarter dramatics considering how a 5-0 Columbia run at the conclusion of the third quarter, capped off with a sweet pullup jumper by sophomore guard, Kerry “Hov” Glover, trimmed the Warwick lead down to 48-39 with the final eight minutes getting set to commence.
By this time however, it was clear that having the nickname of “Crimson Tide” was more than fitting. To be sure, the Columbia onslaught seemed to mimic that of tsunami in terms of how the visitors from the far western edge of the county proceeded to rally back at the onset of the final quarter. In fact, following a pair of takes to the rack by way of Hov Glover and Michael Poole Jr respectively, Columbia suddenly found themselves within five at 48-43, only to see the deficit swell back up to seven following a gorgeous and smooth jumper knocked down off a curl cut by 5’10 sophomore guard, Tate Landis, giving the Warriors the 50-43 lead with 5:59 still left to play.
But for it would be here where the narrative for the duration of the game would then take shape. That being: For as hard as Columbia had worked to get back within reach and claw themselves out of their early hole, someone wearing a white Warwick jersey would inevitably douse the Columbia-generated flames.
Case a point, Kai Cipalla assisting the cause with a pair of back-to-back takes to the rack, vaulting the Warriors out to the sizable 59-48 lead given that a Matt McCleary trey for Columbia had narrowed the Warriors’ lead down to four at 50-46 just a few minutes prior.
By this time, it was obvious that if Warwick was ultimately going to fend off the Columbia charge and advance into Wednesday night’s semifinal round of the league tournament, the Warriors would have to do so by way of knocking down clutch free throws from the charity stripe. The good news there was that guys such as Tate Landis and Ethan Minnich were up to the challenge as the sophomore and senior’s efforts from the foul line late had helped keep that critical separation from the two sides with the game starting to wind down.
Even still, Columbia simply refuse to let Warwick run away and hide over the final few minutes as a second-chance bucket chipped in Columbia 6’1 junior forward, Luis Cruz, sliced the Warriors’ lead back down to a half dozen at 69-63 with 38 seconds remaining. Shortly thereafter, yet another Crimson Tide deuce –this one by Matt McCleary which had helped him pocket a team-best 18 points once the night was over with—got Columbia within five at 70-65 inside of 30 seconds still left to tick off the game clock.
However, that prove to be all the closer that the valiant Crimson Tide charge would get over the last handful of seconds as a Kai Cipalla free throw with 17.6 second remaining helped serve as final period on this remarkable Warwick story, giving the Warriors the emotional 71-65 L-L quarterfinal win over a very dangerous Columbia crew that will be more than a handful for the rest of the District 3-3A bracket to try and contend with starting next week.
Okay. Without a shadow of a doubt, Chase Yarberough was the star of the show in Warwick’s win on Monday. And yes, as true as that may be, it would be nothing if not fair to not classify this as a total team win put forth by everyone in a Warriors’ uniform who got onto the floor at some point in time against Columbia on Monday night. In fact, while it certainly may not be the most glamorous stat known to man, Warwick’s work in cleaning the defensive glass and allowing the Crimson Tide next to nothing in terms of second-chance opportunities all game long may have been the most underappreciated aspect as to why Warwick would ultimately push Columbia aside and surge onward.
“I thought Tate (Landis) did a really good job at frustrating their point guard and I thought we locked in and played to the scouting report,” a somewhat hoarse but nonetheless excited Warwick head coach, Chris Christensen, said afterwards. “For a nice change, we had four days to work on (the gameplan). I called it a ‘football week’ because we had four days to work and then have a game,” Christensen added. “Our defense was great. We focused on rebounding and told some guys that normally aren’t rebounders to step up. They just got it done.”
Yes, while a win to advance into the final four of the league tournament is always welcomed, don’t think for a millisecond that the Warriors’ triumph over Columbia was not all the more sweeter given the noise swirling around outside the Warwick locker room that losing two starters, especially one so late in the season, spelled nothing but impending doom for their postseason aspirations in both the L-L and upcoming District 3 playoffs. If nothing else, that had certainly helped fuel their fire heading into Monday.
“To be honest, the best thing that could have happened to us was being here on Friday night (hosting the play-in round of the league tournament) and hearing comments from people,” said Christensen. “People coming into our gym and hearing comments that had us sunk. To come out and get it done, it’s just a credit to our guys.”
“I think the Solanco game was big for us,” Christensen highlighted of his team’s earlier one-game trial run with a new lineup taking to the floor. “Just going out there and guys getting comfortable playing with each other and having that game to go out and win and to know, ‘Okay, we’re still going to play at 7 o’clock on Monday. Are we gonna play hard and go for it, or are we going to say we’re done?’ I think for once that the comments, Twitter, all that good stuff, it worked in our favor,” he said with a wry grin before summing up everything succinctly by stating with clear sense of pride, “I just give our guys a ton of credit for just stepping up to the opportunity and playing hard.”
NEXT UP: From here, Warwick now finds themselves just one game shy of making good on a return trip back to the league finals for the second consecutive year. However, it certainly will be no cakewalk in getting back to Manheim Township to compete for L-L supremacy considering that the Warriors will now matchup with an old, familiar friend in Lancaster Catholic in the league semis on Wednesday night at Hempfield in the final game of a double-header contested on the Black Knights’ home floor. And sure, while seeing the Crusaders’ name pop up on your bracket would cause even the most battle-tested teams to have an unspoken fear and trepidation in having to go up against what may just be the league’s best team before proving it once and for all on Friday night in the title game, rest assured that the Warriors’ performance on Monday night should service notice as to just how fearless and resilient this Warwick team is and ultimately will be for the remainder of the postseason, no matter how long they keep their dancing shoes on. Oh yeah, the fact that the Crusaders won a buzzer-beater on the Warriors’ home floor in late December of this year probably doesn’t hurt matters either.
For Columbia, the Crimson Tide will now spend a majority of the next six days in fine-tuning themselves before setting off on the journey that this is the District 3-3A tournament. And in yet another ironic twist of fate that the 3A bracket offers, the Crimson Tide will come out of their home locker room to find the Lancaster Mennonite Blazers waiting for them on the opposite bench for the second consecutive time. Yes, whether they suspected it at the time while they were cutting down the nets on their home floor in celebration of their perfect romp through Section Five this season just moments after taking care of Mennonite in a 91-76 final decision their last time inside their home gym or not, the Blazers would proceed to come right back up on “The Hill” just two weeks later for a rematch with much higher stakes considering the lose-or-go home scenario that only the opening round of districts can offer when Mennonite and Columbia square off against one another for the final time this season. And if you’re keeping track at home, it’s a series thus far that has seen Columbia prevail by a combined total of 22 points over their fellow L-L Section Five brethren.
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