For many teams, Tuesday night around the Lancaster-Lebanon League signified the end of the road as far as the 2018-19 campaign was concerned. But perhaps no team in the entirety of the 26-team L-L landscape would have a more interesting Tuesday evening than the Solanco Golden Mules.
As far as the group from Quarryville was concerned, not only would only Tuesday night’s trip to Warwick mean the end of the line in terms of road games this season, but it would also mark the penultimate game in the Scott Long coaching era with Solanco’s head man slated to take over the school’s head principal position at the start of the next school year. And while Long is understandably excited about the overall career trajectory that a highly-respected and well-valued administrative position such as that can offer oneself, it was not without a heavy heart that he was forced to resign his post.
“This is pretty much it for me with coaching,” Long said prior to Tuesday night’s game against Warwick. “At least for the immediate future.”
“My passion for school leadership has been growing each year and I really love working at Solanco,” Long went on to say. “When our current principal announced her retirement and the opportunity presented itself, I knew it was the right time.”
And while the influx of important administrative duties will also lead to an increase in time constraints, Coach Long isn’t one to forget that his most important matter of business remains at home.
“I have two young kids and I was starting to miss stuff,” Long admitted. “So all in all, I knew it was the right time. I will miss coaching dearly, but I would anticipate coaching some youth ball if my son plays in a few years,” he said with promise.
Now sure, there are sure to be other high school coaches around the mid-state that end up following suit and relinquishing their duties as well, but chances are that those decisions will become official in the weeks and months that follow. All things considered, it’s a rare occurrence for a team to know heading into their final few games of the regular season that their head coach will be absent from them when traveling on the long and winding road into the future. And with that in mind, one could be sure that the Golden Mules would want to offer their head coach one last memory to go out on when they boarded the bus for Lititz.
The only thing was, their Tuesday night challenge promised to be anything but a minor speedbump along the way.
In terms of surprises, it’s hard to find anyone else this year in the L-L that has raised more eyebrows this season than the Warwick Warriors. While those around the league were fairly convinced that the Warriors would certainly be an improved product when compared to some of their teams in recent memory, you’d be hard-pressed to find many that saw this coming.
It’s been a quite a hitlist this season for the Warriors. Aside from a complete sweep of Section 1 – An accomplishment largely believed to be impossible from even the most ardent of Warrior-backers —Warwick finished this year’s league slate with only one blemish on their L-L record. And once all was said and done, the Warriors’ 12-1 league record was good enough to bring the program’s first section title back to the school on West Orange Street for the first time in nearly three decades.
But even for all their successes and back-pats along the way this season, there was still plenty of business left to attend to before next Monday’s L-L quarterfinal game in what will be the school’s first appearance in the league playoffs since 2007.
Well, if Tuesday night’s game against Solanco was to be treated as a homework assignment prior to a final exam, let’s just say that Warwick would have received nearly perfect credit.
To be sure, it wouldn’t take those in attendance very long to get a read on how this one would ultimately play out. While sparked from a Joey McCracken 3-ball on the Warriors’ first possession of the ballgame, Warwick took off and never looked back out the rearview mirror as the Warriors raced out to the early 7-0 cushion after a relentless effort on the offensive glass from Caleb Schmitz resulted in an easy put-back for the 6’4 sophomore forward as the Golden Mules were forced to dig themselves out of a hole before even breaking a sweat.
And a while a smooth Jalen Henry take to the rack resulted in Solanco’s first points of the evening, making it a 7-2 ballgame with 3:50 to go in the first quarter, the Warriors only continued to build upon their lead throughout the remainder of the first period as a Conor Adams take to the tin gave the home-standing Warriors their first double digit lead of the early evening at 12-2 with 2:46 left in the first. From there, it only continued to be a night bathed in the Warriors’ red and black as yet another Warwick trademark triple, this one dialed up by 5’11 senior guard Colby Martin, helped usher the Warriors into the second stanza with the decisive 17-5 bulge on their guests from Quarryville.
Once the second quarter got underway, the Warriors only continued with their ongoing theme of being less than welcoming party hosts.
Despite the fact that the Golden Mules would be able to get back within 10 following yet another Jalen Henry take to the cup after the first minute of play in the second quarter, Ryan Shirk was there with his own personal 6-0 rebuttal as Warwick’s sharpshooting senior guard helped the Warriors extend their lead out to 25-9 with 4:35 left in the first half, as Solanco promptly called timeout in order to right the ship. Speaking of the Warriors’ unquestioned bucket-getter, he would finish with game-high scoring honors yet again by turning in a 19-point effort once all was said and done late Tuesday evening.
But for as much water as Solanco’s boat may have already been taking on up until that point, the Warriors only continued to throw buckets, both of the literal and figurative variety, onto the Golden Mules’ vessel throughout the remainder of the opening half.
In fact, after another Joey McCracken 3-ball at the 1:40 mark of the second quarter, the Warwick lead had suddenly extended out to the largest difference of the night, 20 points, as the Warriors were in firm and comfortable command by virtue of their 32-12 lead with time quickly winding down on the game’s opening 16 minutes.
Yet to their credit, Solanco continued to show off a moxie full of fighting spirit as the first half clock melted away. To be sure, the Golden Mules deservedly trotted into the halftime recess with an extra pep in their step as evidenced by their 5-0 spurt to close the second session, capped off by a cold-blooded trifecta buried by all-star caliber senior guard, Dawson Kreider, making it a 32-17 affair at the intermission.
And while some in attendance may have been quick to disregard the late half close authored by the Golden Mules that helped draw them closer in terms of the difference up on the scoreboard, Solanco returned to the court to start the second half with an added bit of enthusiasm, and an extra hint of unfinished business.
In terms of starting fast, no Golden Mule came out of the chute with more energy and fire than Dawson Kreider to begin the second half. With Kreider getting off to a fast start to aid the Solanco cause, the Mules quickly found themselves back within a dozen at 34-22 after Kreider knocked down yet another triple to add to his team-high 14-point effort on the night.
But that would prove to be all the closer Solanco would get for the remainder of the evening.
Immediately following the Kreider trifecta, Colby Martin proceeded to race right down the court and fire in one of this his three triples on the evening, upping the Warwick lead back to 15 in just the blink of an eye.
So, with the Warriors’ snowball rolling downhill at an alarming pace as far as the Solanco contingent was concerned, Warwick only continued to sizzle. In fact, after a Ryan Shirk theft and layup, the Warriors’ lead had suddenly ballooned out to a 20-point difference at 45-25 with 3:30 left to go in the third quarter. Then, their lead swelled out to 25 as yet another Colby Martin 3-ball allowed the Warriors to double-up Solanco at 50-25 with 2:44 left in the third frame.
And while a well-defined marksmanship from behind the arc was instrumental to the Warriors’ cause all game long, and truly all season long for that matter, the Golden Mules were able to pick up some of those contagious elements of long-range shooting prowess in the waning moments of the third quarter as 5’8 sophomore Ethan Clary bombed in a triple of his own, keeping the Golden Mules’ deficit at 25 with the final quarter getting set to begin with Warwick in command, 56-31.
To put it mildly, the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s Solanco and Warwick grudge match would quickly become “The Corbin Horst Show.”
Once he received his opportunity hop up off the bench and check into the contest, the 6’1 sophomore wing quickly seized the moment by draining a quartet of 3-balls, three of which were in successive fashion, creating the loudest roars of the evening, as Solanco was forced to burn another timeout while in the midst of the current Horst-led onslaught.
And while 6’0 sophomore guard Colesen Sheaffer would be able to rattle in a 3-ball of his own to rally the Solanco troops in the waning stages, the damage had already been done as Warwick would be able to ultimately sail past Solanco, 72-40.
NEXT UP: For Warwick, the Warriors will likely take these next few days and play the delicate game of balancing rest and rust over the ensuing days as the program begins prep for its first league playoff appearance in more than a decade when the Warriors welcome Lancaster Mennonite, last season’s PIAA 3A Eastern State Final runner-up, into the friendly confines in Lititz for what promises to be an up and down affair with plenty of scoring to go around.
For Solanco, Wednesday night marks the end of the line for this year’s journey when the Golden Mules play host to a quality Eastern York outfit back at home in the southern end of Lancaster County. And as mentioned, Wednesday night will also mark the end of line for Coach Scott Long as well. Even still, forgive him in advance if he too finds difficulty in expressing the right words he hopes to get across to his young men once the dust finally settles late Wednesday evening.
“I am going to struggle with what I say,” Long admitted. “But I just will make sure the kids know how I feel about them and how lucky I feel I was to be with them for the last four years.”
“If all my players were around that I have coached, I would hope they’d say that I pushed them to be better players, tried to put them in a position to be successful, and genuinely cared for them.”
But perhaps the best news in all of this in terms as far as Solanco is concerned? While the boys’ basketball team may be losing a head coach at the end of the day, the school itself is inheriting a remarkable leader in return that everyone can now learn from. And when you get right down to it, that’s not really such a bad transaction.