Warwick Takes A Punch, Responds With A Knockout As Warriors Topple Cumberland Valley To Advance To District 3-6A Final Four

Written by: on Saturday, February 26th, 2022

 

No matter how you slice it, whether you consider that the circumstances regarding the considerable shrinkage of the PIAA basketball bracket last March in lieu of the COVID-19 pandemic to be a necessary move or not, there most figured to be winners and losers because of such a decision. The good news? Well, the fact that the statewide bracket would not be nearly as bloated with some teams that in some instances snatched up nine-place finishes within their respective district for starters quite frankly for just one example. The bad news? Certainly and unequivocally the fact that more than a handful of deserving teams would be turned away at the doorway had they not come away with the District 3 title a year ago, squads that would have most definitely made noise with a run within the statewide field had it been a normal year in 2020-21. All things being equal, while there would be a few Lancaster-Lebanon League teams that would certainly fall within that same description, the Warwick Warriors from last season were arguably the most egregious victim of the policy.

Last season, led by arguably the best player that the Warwick boys’ basketball program has produced in a generation, Kai Cipalla, the Warriors were victims of circumstances two-fold in 2020-21. First and foremost, despite the fact that the Warriors in effect shared the L-L Section Two title with the Lebanon Cedars last season, the gang from Lititz was shut out of the league tournament altogether after falling to the eventual league champs in a one-game, do-or-die situation which saw the Cedars come out on top to lay claim the division’s lone spot in the tourney field, shutting Warwick out of what largely figured to be the Warriors’ third straight trip to the conference finals should they have been able to secure such a berth. From there, while Warwick would earn a spot in the District 3-6A playoff field just one week later, the Warriors met their match in Central Dauphin, a Rams’ squad hailing from the mighty Mid-Penn that ended the road for Warwick, the smallest 6A school in all of District 3 for transparency purposes, last season in the quarterfinal round of districts. And as mentioned, that loss to the Rams over in Dauphin County last year concluded the Warriors’ memorable ride, a jaunt that most definitely had the feel of a team that would have made a few pit stops throughout the state tournament had it been a normal year of course.

This year, while Warwick had to relinquish Cipalla’s services to nearby Millersville University, there was still more than ample reason to believe that this too could end up being a special Warriors’ cast that largely centered around veteran point guard, Tate Landis, and his assorted crew. Sure enough, after claiming the program’s fourth consecutive L-L Section Two title this year, along with a trip to the league semifinals, it surely seemed like a case of déjà vu for Warwick considering they found themselves loading up the buses and heading to another one of the Mid-Penn’s juggernauts, Cumberland Valley, on Friday night for a foray in the quarterfinal round of the District 3-6A tournament yet again. This time though, whether it be to make amends for last year’s abrupt end thanks to Central Dauphin or something much more tangible and finite, the Warriors made good on serving notice to the rest of the Mid-Penn and District 3 at large that Warwick is now a legitimate self-sustaining program and not some sort of overnight, flash in the pan.

While the Eagles from Cumberland Valley might have seemed imposing given their rightly-earned #2 seed heading into the dance, it figured to be a fair fight between them and the seventh-seeded Warriors. Even still, CV tried their best to use a shock and awe tactic out of the gates to knock Warwick back on their heels, at least from the outset. There, after 6’3 senior stretch forward Grant Kuffa was able to sink a long-range bomb which put the hosts up by an 8-4 count with 5:30 left to play in the opening quarter, the full-fledged CV blitzkrieg finally forced Warwick into burning a timeout all while staring up at the overhead scoreboard and noticing an 11-4 deficit following a put-back thanks to the handiwork of 6’4 junior forward, Nolan Gilbert, with 4:32 left to play in the first.

But as was to be expected, Warwick would turn their warship right back around and into the correct direction from there.

Granted, while being thrown into a seven-point hole isn’t exactly the most lucrative of ways to try and making a living, Tate Landis certainly did his best to rectify his team’s predicament.  Sure enough, roughly one-minute following the aforementioned Warwick timeout, the Warriors’ 5’11 senior guard sunk a much-needed trifecta to bring the visitors back within a pair, 11-9, with 3:20 left to play at that point. From there, Warwick was able to come all the way back once a Caleb Johnsen take the rack was completed, a fearless deuce tallied by the Warriors’ 6’2 freshman that knotted things up at 11-11 with 1:20 then left to play in the opening frame.

However, Cumberland Valley would end up having the last laugh as four consecutive Eagles’ points chipped in courtesy of Gilbert followed suit, allowing the Eagles to trudge into the second stanza with ownership of the 15-11 advantage after a wildly entertaining opening eight minutes.

Undeterred though, Warwick was eager for this fight all night long. Case in point, a 5-0 run, all of which came via 6’0 sophomore guard, Carter Horst, propelling the Warriors out to their first lead of the evening, 16-15, just 1:10 into the second period.

Yet here again though, CV would retaliate right back.

For that, consider a floater in the lane from 6’0 junior guard, J.D. Hunter, making it a 21-20 Eagles’ cushion, before another bucket in the lane shortly afterwards from Trey Collard made it a 23-20 affair after the 6’3 senior’s bucket with 2:45 left to play before the halftime recess. And while Warwick’s Ryan Fink would promptly counter that with a three-point of play his own in the immediate aftermath, Cumberland Valley was able to maintain the slimmest of leads heading into the break given their 26-25 advantage heading into the dressing room.

In the third quarter though, the Warriors finally made their move.

Even despite the fact that CV simply refused to allowed Warwick to run away and hide, something perhaps best exemplified by Tate Landis’ step-back jumper which made it a dead-heat at 30-30 with ironically 3:30 left to play in the third, a Trevor Evans’ 3-ball on the Warriors’ ensuing trip down the floor seemed to finally open up the flood gates in Warwick’s favor.

There, following the 6’3 sophomore’s trifecta that put Warwick back out in front, a Landis dash to the tin right afterwards upped the Warriors’ lead to a 35-30 difference with 2:11 remaining in the third. Later, an Evans’ three-point play in the most old fashioned of ways ushered Warwick out to the 38-30 lead their next trip down the floor, all of which was a prelude for a 5-0 flurry from 6’1 senior sniper, Chase Krall, emphatically ushering Warwick into the final period with not only the 43-34 lead behind them, but nearly all of the momentum known to mankind it would have appeared as well.

To their credit though, while Cumberland Valley figured to make a valiant effort at overtaking the lead heading down the stretch – such as what appeared to be in the works given the 43-38 separation following a baseline drive by CV 6’0 senior guard, Spencer Titus – the Warriors seemed to have solved the riddle for what is known as Cumberland Valley. But as Warwick would soon discover, putting the Eagles down for the count isn’t exactly the easiest of tasks to try and accomplish.

Sure enough, the hosts gradually built themselves back up and dusted themselves off as the final period progressed. That especially rang true in the aftermath of a triple dialed up by Grant Kuffa, a trifecta which cut the Warwick lead down to a half dozen at 47-41 with 2:07 left to play.  From there, CV continued to push the envelope as a Titus theft and layup chopped the Warriors’ down to manageable four-point gap, all of which preceded a cold-blooded trey from Cumberland Valley 5’8 junior guard, Dylan Levis, slicing the once-comfortable Warwick cushion found not all that long ago down to a measly one-point advantage with just 18.8 seconds left to play.

Needless to say, Warwick suddenly found themselves in a precarious position that they certainly didn’t expect to reside within just a few minutes prior. Of course, their collective nerves likely didn’t improve all that much given the Eagles’ theft on the ensuing inbounds play following the Levis trey, a heart-pulsating moment in time before Tate Landis thankfully stole the ball right back just seconds later during the wild fracas as far as the Warriors’ contingent was most concerned. Then, after being forced to walk the floor following the Cumberland Valley subsequent foul after his pilfer, the future York College Spartan proceeded to go a cool 2-2 from the charity stripe with 12.8 left to play, making it a 49-46 Warriors’ lead with time running out on Cumberland Valley’s hopes of extending this one into an extra session.

Yet as it would turn out, the Eagles’ wishes for such an extension were ultimately granted thanks to the fearless efforts of Kuffa as the senior forward buried a back-breaking tripe right in front of the CV bench just when his troops needed him most, effectively knotting things up at 49-49 with just 2.8 then left to go in regulation. Regulation of course in play given that Warwick’s half-court heave at the end of the final quarter careened off the backboard, sending this wild affair into a deserving four-minute addition.

Sure, while the overtime period in theory allows both sides to have an equal shot at an eventual triumph, there was no mistaking that Cumberland Valley surely felt as if they could change their school nickname from Eagles to something within the feline category of animala given their new lease on life coming out the other side of regulation. That said, Warwick didn’t seem to care all that much for how Cumberland Valley likely felt. No, they instead decided to take matters into their own hands during the extra session.

With both sides struggling to put the ball in the hole once the overtime period commenced, Tate Landis was on the scene to finally break the scoring seal with a determined take to the rack, two of his biggest points amid his game-high 19-point bucketing, making it a 51-49 Warwick lead with just 1:44 left to go. There, with his team nursing a two-point lead, Warwick’s Ryan Fink came away with a humongous steal to thwart the next Cumberland Valley trip down the floor before he too would toe the charity stripe and complete the 1-2 trip which upped the Warriors’ lead to 52-49 with 1:22 remaining. And while CV would fight an ill-timed bout with the turnover bug in their next excursion down the floor yet again, Warwick’s 0-2 foul shooting display didn’t yield any further damage as far as the Eagles were concerned. True, but surrendering an offensive rebound to the Warriors on the heels of the second miss had to feel like a dagger in the heart, something inserted into the Eagles’ metaphorical midsection by way of Warwick’s Carter Horst and his persistent effort to snare the bounding ball following its’ venture off the rim. And while Horst’s effort on the glass all game long was arguably the secret sauce that helped fuel the Warriors in eventually reaching the final summit, his 2-2 trip to foul line following his clutch offensive rebound made it a 54-49 Warwick lead with those who had made the hour-long trip westward on Friday night from Lititz starting to realize what was about to take place.

And with Cumberland Valley most definitely stymied throughout the entire overtime period, Warwick was able to capitalize upon the Eagles’ two-point tally accrued during the four-minute extra stanza as Landis helped seal the deal for good with a 3-4 contribution from the foul line inside the final 30 seconds to help put the Warriors not just past Cumberland Valley on this night by virtue of the 58-51 final count, but into the District 3-6A semifinal round on Tuesday night opposite of a rematch with as fate would have it, Central Dauphin. Yet if that wasn’t already enough, consider this – it might have been the program’s biggest win a dozen years given that it officially sealed the Warriors’ invitation into the state tournament field this season, something the program hasn’t been able to claim since the 2009-10 campaign.

Suffice to say, it was a celebratory mood that Warwick head coach Chris Christensen emerged out of the locker room with following his squad’s thrilling victory, music muffled from blasting in the background and all.

“Coming into tonight, we believed. Believing is half the battle,” Christensen acknowledged. “We’ve seen (Cumberland Valley) before, out and around in summer leagues and stuff which gave us a good idea of what we were getting into size-wise, things like that, and how hard they play,” he lauded of the opposition. “We talked before the game, ‘We need 32 minutes from everyone who steps on the floor. If you get eight minutes, we need all your eight minutes,’” Christensen divulged of the pregame instructions. “Early on, we were getting beat off the dribble pretty bad. Once we adjusted after the first couple minutes, it was really important to have the guards stay in front and not have to help because (Cumberland Valley) has some big dudes that are gonna finish.”

“The momentum swings of that game,” Christensen continued with what felt like a tinge of outward disbelief after having emerged from the fog of battle, “Especially at the end of regulation there and to come out in overtime and be able to regroup and refocus was awesome. Just awesome.”

“We’ve been saying for a couple weeks now that they’ve grown up,” he added of his still somewhat young squad in terms of what the grade-level would suggest considering what’s listed on the roster sheet in lieu of their perseverance displayed throughout the entirety of Friday night. “Our sophomores aren’t really sophomores anymore and our seniors are more like college guys,” he remarked with laugh. “But credit to our guys. They stick with it and keep listening to us and do what we ask of them to do.”

“It’s up there,” Christensen said in closing regarding the win over Cumberland Valley in terms of his Warwick-led tenure. “It was definitely a blast. It was a roller coaster, but it was fun.”

 

NEXT UP: What’s even more fun is the fact that Warwick now moves onward and upward into the District 3-6A final four. Their opposition? Returning the scene of the crime of where their season ended last year against Central Dauphin on the Rams’ home floor come this Tuesday night.

“We knew going into that game last year that we were in an uphill battle,” Christensen shared of having to face Central Dauphin and their litany of weapons one year ago. “Like, they had a guy who got offered by Kansas,” he said of freshman Malachi Palmer who has since made his way from Central Dauphin to Hillcrest Prep School in Phoenix. “But we said (to this year’s team) on paper, for the rest of the year now, ‘You’re the underdogs. You don’t have to feel like one, but you’re the dogs, so let’s go be dogs.’”

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