Let’s rewind for a moment back to 2007. George W. Bush was getting set to enter the final year of his two-term presidency, Facebook was quickly becoming the tidal wave of the social media future, and “Irreplaceable” by Beyoncé was blowing up the Billboard music charts. But if one happened to be in and around Lititz at the time, perhaps the most important news item of the day was the fact that the Warwick Warriors were in the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs.
If it’s hard to remember back to 12 years ago, don’t feel bad. After all, it wasn’t exactly yesterday. The only thing is, those 12 years likely felt like an eternity to the Warrior faithful.
Aside from the rare and remarkable state playoff berth clinched in 2010, along with springing an occasional landmark upset here and there, Warwick Boys’ Basketball had largely been relegated to the backburner of the Lancaster-Lebanon League for the past decade or so since that 2007 campaign which last saw the Warriors compete in the L-L tournament.
That was of course, until this year.
When the Warriors got together for the start of practice around mid-November, most knew going into the season that this group had the opportunity to have the narrative said about the Warwick program do an about-face. And without the shadow of a doubt, this year’s Warwick team has been able to make good on fulfilling that promise as evidenced by a clean sweep through Section 1 this season that ultimately culminated in the school’s first section title in nearly three decades.
But on Wednesday night, in a game that was pushed back two days due to the efforts of Mother Nature, the Warriors took to their homecourt for what was their biggest game in recent memory. And wouldn’t you know it, they were able to deliver on that stage as well by coming back to knock off Lancaster Mennonite —A team that was within a whisker of playing for the state title last year — with a Joey McCracken buzzer-beating layup at the cup just as time expired, promptly leading to an impromptu court storming that was nearly 30 years in the making.
Yet even for all their successes, Warwick head coach Chris Christensen and this group were not about to get caught up in all the fanfare that came along with nonsensical talk such as breaking curses, cleansing the program of old demons, and other things of that nature. No, they are instead much more focused on becoming a better team than they were yesterday. Literally.
“Honestly, we haven’t talked much about the past, but (his players) all know how long it’s been,” the fourth-year head coach of the Warriors said regarding the accomplishments of this year’s bunch. “We’re the 2018-19 team,” he added. “We’re trying to write our own story and take this as far as we can.”
So, on Thursday night, the Warriors had arrived at Conestoga Valley to tangle with what has arguably been the Lancaster-Lebanon League’s best franchise of this decade, the Cedar Crest Falcons, for the right to advance on to play in the league finals on Saturday afternoon at Manheim Township High School.
And after 32 dominating minutes of stellar play inside the noisy confines of Rill Gymnasium against a ready and eager Cedar Crest squad that was looking to right the wrongs from this season’s previous meeting which saw Warwick prevail with a 52-42 victory back on December 21st, the Warriors were ultimately able to punch their ticket to Saturday’s final dance by turning in the program’s best performance in recent memory.
In many ways, it should have seemed like a case of foreshadowing regarding the events yet to unfold when Warwick 6’1 senior forward, Trysten George, finished through contact and added the freebie on top to give the Warwick the early 3-0 lead just 20 seconds into the contest. But more importantly however, the George bucket established a mindset and a standard for the remaining minutes left to be played. And it would prove to be a mindset that would see the Warriors scratch and claw their way for the everything they rightly earned for the entirety of Thursday evening.
When trying to shut down not only a team, but a program such as the likes of Cedar Crest, maintaining an incredible effort on the defensive end is undoubtedly paramount. The good news for the group from Lititz? They were equally stifling on that end as well.
In fact, Cedar Crest was not able to break the scoring seal until the 4:20 mark in the opening quarter when Trey Shutter tallied a sweet reverse bucket at the tin as the 5’11 junior guard helped the Falcons get on the board and establish some early footing.
But just as they would all night long, the Warriors consistently proved to a riddle which could not be solved, as a timely take to the rack from 6’3 senior forward Brock Fassnacht allowed Warwick to go back up by a half dozen at 10-4 with 2:40 left in the opening period. From there, Warwick went back into their comfort zone — Firing in bombs from behind the arc — as a Conor Adams triple gave the Warriors their largest lead of the night at 15-7, before the first quarter eventually expired with Warwick holding serve at 15-9 over the opposition from Cornwall.
While the first quarter by and large felt like it had been dominated by the Warriors, Cedar Crest junior big man, 6’7 forward Jason Eberhart, was quickly asserting himself as a weapon for which Warwick simply could not contain. Never more was that on display than with Eberhart’s gorgeous inside move, good for two of 13-point effort on the night, which allowed the Falcons to get back within three at 18-15 just two minutes into the second frame.
And while clearly inspired by the results they had been finding after dumping the ball inside to Eberhart, Logan Horn continued to press the issue in his own right by completing a jaw-dropping, dipsy-do finish at the cup, cutting the Warriors’ cushion down to a pair at 23-21 with the second quarter having ventured past its halfway point.
However, just as they had all night long, Warwick would continue to somehow, someway, have the all answers to the test.
Immediately following the Horn bucket, the Warriors too proceeded to go into the paint in order to find fruitful results waiting for them, as a Caleb Schmitz bucket from point-blank range tempered the rising Cedar Crest flames, at least for the time being, as the 6’4 sophomore forward’s hoop once again sent the message that these Warriors were here to fight as long as the night would allow. And with the inside game running like a top, the hero of the night before, 6’2 sophomore guard Joey McCracken, proceeded to step outside and pour one in from bonus distance, as McCracken’s triple helped Warwick increase their advantage out to seven at 28-21 with the first half quickly winding down.
But wouldn’t you know it, that was more than enough time for Kai Cipalla to get in on the act as well as the 6’1 sophomore guard rifled in a back-breaking triple just before the first half horn, sending the Warriors into the intermission with an extra ounce of momentum by virtue of their 33-26 halftime cushion.
Yet even for all the good vibes that Warwick was carrying with them into the second half, even the most ardent of Warriors’ supporters had to feel like a tidal wave was about to hit them in the form of a rejuvenated and inspired Cedar Crest team coming out the recess. So, without question, weathering the storm of a possible Falcons’ onslaught would likely be the determining key to victory.
Sure enough, the Falcons came out firing behind their senior leader, as a Logan Horn take to the rack, good for two of his team-high 14 points on the night, helped Cedar Crest start off on the right foot and likely knock the Warriors back on their heels to start the second half.
But if you’ve been following along here, you likely know what’s coming next. If you guessed a Warwick answer, you’d be correct. If you guessed a barrage of 3-balls, most of which were dialed up by Joey McCracken, that would be considered extra credit.
To be sure, McCracken would help the Warriors find their stride and then some to start the second half of play as a pair of long balls cashed in by the Warriors’ multi-sports star saw the Warriors’ lead swell to out a gargantuan 51-34 difference with just one-minute left in the third quarter. Ironically enough, just as he was able to do just one quarter previous, Kai Cipalla would have the ultimate closing argument with another buzzer-beating bucket, this one just beating the third quarter horn, sent Warwick into the final period with the commanding 53-36 advantage.
And with the Warriors’ shooting prowess from behind the arc serving as the most definite reason as to the separation currently being expressed up on the scoreboard, it was another Warrior’s turn, senior guard Colby Martin, to steal the show and ride off into the sunset heading down the homeward mile.
Right on cue, the 5’11 sharpshooter would do precisely that by immediately pumping in four trifectas in the final period to walk off the stage and finish with game-high scoring honors by posting a 16-point effort for his troubles. But once all was said and done and the dust had finally settled, it would prove to be a performance authored by all members of the Warriors’ ballclub that helped Warwick ascend into the Lancaster-Lebanon League title game for the first time in 29 long years, dispatching an impressive Cedar Crest squad in the process, 72-47.
“I thought we got a really good game from our bench,” a jubilant Warwick head coach Chris Christensen said after witnessing his team drill 11 3-balls en route to the league finals. “It sounds crazy, but I think our foul trouble helped us in the second half,” said Christensen. “Our bench came in and played tough,” he said lauding the efforts of the Warriors’ core nucleus. “They played extremely well and were able to hang around and give us a seven-point lead heading into halftime.”
“Joey (McCracken) was cramping and when he and Ryan (Shirk) came back in, they were fresh to start the second half which doesn’t happen every night. When (McCracken & Shirk) came back in, they were ready to rock. I think just having a little extra boost over some people that may have been playing the whole game really benefited us.”
Yet even for all the chalk-talk and X’s & O’s that could have been drawn up on the whiteboard in the locker room beforehand, this was a game decided as much between the ears as it was on the floor.
“We just played 16 hours ago,” Christensen said with a laugh reminding the assembled media gathered around about his team’s exploits from the not-so-distant past. “There wasn’t much preparation. Just a little walk-thru. But, our guys were ready to go.”
“I think last time (against Cedar Crest), our guys were extremely nervous. Tonight, we came out ready to rock.”
And after a performance such as that turned in on Thursday night, it’s understandable that Warwick fans are now left clamoring for a reemergence to the stage and an encore on Saturday.
NEXT UP: With their impressive takedown of Cedar Crest on Thursday evening now behind them, Warwick will now prepare for a dear old foe on Saturday afternoon against Manheim Township in a much-anticipated battle for league supremacy. And in an ironic twist of fate, it will be the first time since the L-L League moved its conference championship game away from the Giant Center and into Manheim Township in 2008 that the Blue Streaks will be playing on their home floor for Lancaster-Lebanon League title belt.
But even though Warwick has what could be considered the most unenviable of tasks given that fact, Christensen and his band of Warriors will once again be ready to embrace the adversity that comes with Saturday’s assignment.
“They are the number one seed in my opinion,” the Warriors’ boss said without hesitation regarding Manheim Township and their Section 1 crown this season. “I’m looking at it like that, we’re going to talk about it like that, and we’re going to go play there. The benefit to us is that we have played there this year and won there in overtime.”
“Our guys will be more than motivated,” Christensen added. “It might as well be a home game. It’s close enough. I know we’ll get people there and it will be a great atmosphere. It’s kind of the new rivalry in my opinion, so it will be fun.”
For Cedar Crest, the Falcons must now press the reset button after dropping their fourth game in the last five contests when they head into the District 3-6A playoffs next Friday night as the #4 seed where they will await the winner of Tuesday night’s contest between Harrisburg and Hempfield which will take place on Tuesday evening inside the state’s capital city.