Warwick Snaps Back, Grounds Down Garden Spot For Opening Round Win In Lititz Flooring Company Holiday Tournament
Written by: Andy Herr on Thursday, December 26th, 2019
Without fail, one of the most fun, yet equally grueling aspects of being considered a member of the media is putting your prognosticator cap on prior to the start of the season and determining who you think will ultimately rise to the top and compete for a league championship. And if we’re talking about the Warwick Warriors this year, rest assured that they were firmly placed within that very discussion.
In many ways, the last few years around Lititz have been a sight for sore eyes. Aside from the Warwick football program rising to new heights and accomplishing feats that had never been achieved yet to date in school’s history within the last half decade or so, the Warriors have also performed quite admirably on the hardwood as well. In fact, for a school that for years had run with the biggest of dogs inside Section One — and had generally taken their lumps a result more often times than not — Warwick was perhaps the biggest winner to come out of the Lancaster- Lebanon League’s realignment reconstruction into five sections last season when the Warriors got the call to head down to Section Two.
Ironically, in their very first season outside of their old, familiar surroundings, Warwick may have been arguably the best team in Section One regardless, as the Warriors completed a perfect, undefeated sweep over their former Section One brethren last season. Suffice to say, such an achievement would have been deemed absolutely farfetched not all that long ago.
After that, the Warriors were able to parlay their utter dominance of Section One competition into winning Warwick’s first section title since the early 90’s as the Warriors went on the eventually claim Section Two all to themselves in their inaugural campaign one year ago. From there, Warwick proceeded to march their way through the L-L League tournament, eventually winding up in the title fight against an old foe in Manheim Township. Yet even despite the fact that Warwick would fall to Township in that championship game played on the Blue Streaks’ home floor last February and then proceed to stub their toe against Central York in the district playoffs their next time out as well, abruptly ending a year that created so many long-lasting memories, the fact of the matter was the Warriors’ 2018-19 campaign had firmly laid the foundation for many successful seasons yet to unfold.
In the world of sports, it’s often been said that teams need to know first and foremost how to win above anything else. Well, boy oh boy, does this group of Warwick hoopsters make that phrase ring true in spades.
Remember that nugget about the Warwick football team fielding their two best squads in the last two consecutive years? Well, perhaps it’s no real coincidence then that most of the same skill position players seen not all that long ago out on the gridirons around the L-L League that helped make up arguably the most potent offensive attack this side of the state of Pennsylvania were now helping run the show for Warwick Basketball as well.
To be sure, while guys like Joey McCracken, Caleb Schmitz, Conor Adams, and Kai Cipalla undoubtedly make up a core nucleus of the Warwick basketball team this season, they are nothing without their equally formidable and talented counterparts which include names such as Ethan Minnich, Chase Yarberough, and Tate Landis, a coaches’ son, all of which help make up an overall roster that is rightly considered to be one of the best from top to bottom that the Lancaster-Lebanon League has to offer.
However, even for all their preseason notoriety and accolades, the Warriors’ season thus far prior to Christmas has been somewhat of a mixed bag.
Aside from winning the Nothing But Net Tip-off Tournament at Lower Dauphin the opening weekend of the season — a back-to-back slate of games that saw Warwick top Mid-Penn bluebloods Lower Dauphin and Central Dauphin in successive fashion — the Warriors immediately followed that up with a rather puzzling loss to neighboring Manheim Central on the road their next time out. Since then, Warwick had been able to right the ship in scoring a pair of victories against Manheim Township and Hempfield respectively to the tune of an average margin of victory hovering just shy of 17 points.
After that though, Warwick tasted the bitter pill of defeat — their first time ever in crossover competition as a Section Two member — falling short against the juggernauts known as McCaskey and Cedar Crest this past week.
So, all that being said, the Warriors were without question looking to get right coming out of the holiday when they welcomed a very dangerous and rapidly improving Garden Spot squad — winners of two in a row against the likes of Northern Lebanon and Donegal respectively — into Lititz for an old-fashioned L-L League slugfest on Thursday night.
But thing one became perfectly clear almost directly from the outset of this one: This would be a night in which the Warriors would absolutely shine.
The ironic thing was though, it didn’t always appear that way. At least certainly not through the first 1:30 of the game mind you considering Garden Spot would jump out to an ultra-quick 4-0 lead following a strong take to the cup from 5’10 freshman Jahvar Hammond, effectively knocking the Spartans’ hosts back on their heels.
From then on however, those in attendance were treated to just a small sampling as to why many around the L-L League community feel like Warwick will be a team that is more than capable at making return trip to Manheim Township come Valentine’s Day weekend in order to settle some unfinished business.
Following the early Spartan spurt, Warwick proceeded to directly on the attack, taking the lead once and for all following back-to-back buckets courtesy of 5’11 senior guard, Conor Adams. From there, the Warriors’ would then see their lead double in size as an offensive rebound and put-back by 6’3 junior forward Caleb Schmitz— an all too common theme in which Garden Spot was subjected to on Thursday night — put Warwick up 10-5 shortly thereafter.
But the hits only kept coming in waves for Garden Spot.
With Warwick clearly starting to get into a groove, the Warriors kept the pedal down, eventually having their cushion reach double figures following back-to-back deuces courtesy of Chase Yarberough and Kai Cipalla respectively, making it a 16-5 Warriors’ advantage inside of one-minute left to play in the first. And once all was said and done, the Warriors were able to close the first quarter on an absolute tear to the tune of a 16-3 run, capping the opening eight minutes off with a 16-7 advantage.
New quarter, more of the same from Warwick.
Once the second quarter got underway, Warwick 6’2 junior guard Joey McCracken got into the mix by going on his own personal 5-0 run to start the second quarter proceedings, as Warwick’s starting quarterback fittingly put the Warriors up by two touchdowns at 21-7 just one minute into the second frame.
Yet that wasn’t even close to being the last of it.
No, certainly not when Warwick 6’2 junior forward, Corbin Horst, collected an offensive rebound and then put home the subsequent put-back for an exchange which had upped the Warwick lead to 25-7 with Garden Spot forced to call timeout amidst the current 9-0 Warwick blitz with 5:30 left in the first half.
Thankfully for the Spartans, their heady freshman was on the scene to give the Spartans their much-needed relief as a Jahvar Hammond runner in the lane gave Garden Spot their first points of the second stanza, making it a 27-9 affair with just 3:45 left showing on the second quarter clock.
Yet Warwick would only continue to throw Garden Spot further down deeper into the hole as gorgeous fast break dish from 5’10 sophomore guard Tate Landis to a streaking Kai Cipalla put the home team up 33-11 before a late half technical foul tagged against the Spartans only magnified the difference on the scoreboard as Warwick was able to sprint off into their dressing room with firm ownership of the 38-13 lead after a marvelous out of bounds set drawn up just before the buzzer which had culminated in a Kai Cipalla cold-blooded bucket.
Speaking of Cipalla, the Warriors’ junior wing picked up right where he had left off once the second half got underway as well. In fact, Cipalla would proceed to tally Warwick’s first two field goals of the third stanza, putting Warwick up by the gargantuan 42-15 lead just 1:15 into the third. And while Warwick would ultimately get solid minutes from everyone who logged time on Thursday evening, Kai Cipalla was arguably the star amongst stars, finishing with a game-high 18-point performance.
So, with Cipalla serving as the leading man in the show, it’s most certainly a blessing when a player with the all-around skill level of a Joey McCracken just so happens to be your second banana when such an occasion arises. And while those would indeed be the roles shared between the Warriors’ star junior duo on this night, it seemed only apropos that McCracken would then quickly follow suit in his teammates’ successes as this summer’s Wyomissing Summer League MVP proceeded to chip in a pair of consecutive triples, allowing the Warriors to break the 50-point barrier with their lead now standing at 50-21.
To their credit however, Garden Spot would then rally the troops once the third quarter wore along, eventually outscoring Warwick 7-6 over the final two minutes and change with the Spartans’ rally being ignited courtesy of a Devon King bucket which had stopped the Spartans’ bleeding following the latter of McCracken’s most recent pair of trifectas. That said, Warwick was still well out in front by the time the third quarter expired with the Warriors now doubling-up their guests, 56-28.
Despite the overwhelmingly large margin of difference separating the two sides heading into the final frame, several members of both the Spartans’ and Warriors’ rosters alike took their turns checking into the contest and getting their names into the scorer’s book. Case in point, Garden Spot 5’11 senior guard Brady Conroy fearlessly bombing in an NBA triple, trimming the Warwick lead down to 59-33 with 5:20 left to play. Shortly thereafter, Garden Spot 5’8 junior guard Josh Horst immediately followed suit, sinking a sweet triple in his own right inside the waning few minutes of Thursday’s holiday tournament contest.
As far as the Warwick contingent was concerned, 5’10 sophomore guard Ryan Fink excelled in his role in being the Warriors’ go-to scorer down the stretch, capping his meaningful minutes off with a hard, determined take to the cup which put his Warriors up by a 64-36 count with time starting to run out.
But without a shadow of a doubt, the loudest roar of the evening came when Warwick’s Chase Krall proceeded to check into the contest, come down with an offensive rebound before going back up with it and finishing through traffic, much to the delight of his fellow Warriors who had now arose from off the bench in a rousing show of support, effectively putting the finishing touches on an emphatic Warwick win over Garden Spot on Thursday night, 66-38.
As mentioned, while 28-point victories are understandably nothing whatsoever to sneeze at, the fact of the matter is that this Warwick team has far greater goals left out there for them to tackle this year that reaches far beyond Thursday night — no matter how impressive it may have been — on the first night of their Christmas tournament.
“We know how good we can be,” Warwick head coach Chris Christensen said in the hallway just outside his team’s locker room following their triumph over Garden Spot. “We know that if we don’t bring it every night what can happen. I think our schedule, playing some really good teams early, is preparing us for the long run.”
“Three loses, nine points,” Christensen said noting the difference that currently separates his team from boasting an unblemished resume thus far. “There’s something you can take out of that. I think our guys are motivated and they’re finally getting their legs, those that were football guys. This was our first long break here with Christmas. I think we’re hopefully getting in the swing of things here with everybody,” said Christensen before summing up the night in its entirety by saying, “It was nice to get some guys off the bench tonight contributing, coming in, and bringing some energy too.”
Yet for a team that has so much being expected of them, posting a pair of successive setbacks during the midway point of December could easily derail the most mentally-fragile of ballclubs. The good news for Coach Christensen? It does not appear as if that’s something that will be keeping him up at night.
“I think we knew they were going to be tough games,” the Warriors’ head man said remarking on the pregame vibe of his squad heading into their most recent outings against McCaskey and Cedar Crest. “I think we did a pretty good job taking away some things that we wanted to take away from certain people, but some other guys stepped up and made big plays. I don’t think we necessarily made all the plays we needed to make to win those types of games yet, but I think we’ll get there.”
Speaking of “getting there,” you’re certainly not all that far off when the majority of your headliners are used to winning — no matter what the sport — whether it be football, golf, or anything else of the like. For a coach, it’s an invaluable, secret sauce that not everyone is as fortunate to have sitting in their spice rack. But for Warwick, particularity this year, don’t surprised to see it act as one of their main ingredients.
“It’s contagious in the school,” Christensen said lauding the effects of Warwick’s recent athletic achievements as it pertains to his club most specifically. “Going from sport, to sport, to sport and expecting to win no matter what sport you’re in is big for us. The football team winning is a great, great thing for the basketball team, especially since they’re the same guys.”
“Winning carries over,” said Christensen matter of factly. “It’s a good thing for our school and community in general.”
NEXT UP: For those that have spent any great length of time around the Warwick program, seeing the Warriors play Lancaster Catholic over the Christmas holiday is something nearly just as common as seeing the sun rise in the east before setting in the west. And sure enough, this year will be no different as Warwick will look to officially go on a winning streak on Saturday night back inside their home gym when they welcome the mighty Crusaders for a primetime Saturday night slugfest in the final game of the Lititz Flooring Company Holiday Tournament.
For Garden Spot, it’s certainly no rest for the weary considering the Spartans will travel back to Lititz on Friday afternoon for a rare, late-afternoon tip against the aforementioned Crusaders when Garden Spot will look to get back into shape with a win that would create quite a few tremors around the L-L League landscape should they be able to get the better of Lancaster Catholic.
Follow LLhoops on Twitter @LLhoops