Wert’s Big Night Powers Lampeter-Strasburg Past Lancaster Mennonite As Pioneers Score Key Victory In Battle Of Two League Stalwarts

Written by: on Tuesday, January 4th, 2022

 

Typically, the very first Monday back following the New Year’s holiday tends to be one of the least productive days of the entire year -yes, even a year that is only a few days old at that point. Whether you work, go to school, or just have errands to go out and run, the malaise that comes with the first day back to the grind is one that is predictably pretty slow that always seems like nothing but an uphill climb to muscle through. For that reason, easing back into the swing of things is most typically how this day usually takes shape. Ok, but has anyone spoken to either Lancaster Mennonite or Lampeter-Strasburg in that regard? I’m thinking not considering that those two just so happened to line up against one another right out of the box following the holiday layoff for a potent matchup between arguably two of the best outfits that District 3 has to offer in either the 5A or 2A ranks respectively.

To be fair though, L-S fully expected to find themselves in this position heading into the birth of the new calendar year. With a perfect 7-0 record still to their name coming into January, the Pioneers seemed to be right on track thus far given the incredibly lofty aspirations put on them once this season came into being. Yes, that even means perhaps being the team to beat in the entire Lancaster-Lebanon League from top to bottom.

Now, as far as Mennonite was concerned, they too seemed to be right on par heading into their Monday night date at L-S.

Last year, the Lancaster-Lebanon League had to hitch its collective wagon to the Section Four and Section Five ranks respectively once the state tournament rolled around. With only district champions getting the nod into the state-sanctioned dance, both Lancaster Catholic and Lancaster Mennonite were the last two soldiers left standing from the L-L’s frontline once all was said and done. Ironically, both the Crusaders and Blazers had their seasons end on the exact same Saturday last March when each fell in the quarterfinal round of the state tournament in the cruelest of fashions, but perhaps none more so than Mennonite’s double overtime loss to Old Forge on their very own homecourt, a setback that would feel eerily similar to their loss in the 2018 state playoffs that kept the Blazers from within a whisker of playing for state gold. Granted, while the Blazers would have to fill the shoes of a solid departing senior class that featured the likes of Cole Fisher, a certified bucket-getter in his own right, the Blazers still brought an uber-talented crop back into the fold for this season, a group largely headlined by Camden Hurst, and a solid back-to-the-basket center in David Weaver as well. And throughout the month of December this season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team with a much better resume put forward than that of the Blazers seeing as how Mennonite has already been able to knock off the likes of Shippensburg, Antietam and Steel-High to name just a few, all en route to a 5-2 record coming into the backyard tussle with their public school neighbors at L-S. Oh yeah, did we mention this is a 2A school doing all this damage?

Yet while both teams showed flashes against one another for the entire 32 minutes on Monday evening in Lampeter, the Pioneers were able to prove as to why their skill and depth are going to be an absolute nightmare for L-L teams to try and contend against this winter. A lesson that Mennonite would soon learn first-hand.

In the early going, perhaps in a way that was as to be predicted, both teams came out of the gates rather sluggish.  That said, the hosts would eventually be able to build their lead up to a half dozen point threshold following a 3-ball uncorked by swingman, Isaiah Parido, a bucket which made it an 8-2 ballgame in favor of the Pioneers before a timely answer down on the other end by Mennonite’s Jaedon Mast followed suit on the Blazers’ ensuing offensive trip to keep the visitors still within reach. Then, for the remainder of the opening frame, L-S’ advantage would largely remain at that level before a bucket by L-S sophomore point guard whiz, Ty Burton, upped the Pios’ cushion to a 12-4 count with 2:39 left to play in the period, a deuce which ended in a Mennonite timeout to try and stem the tide. Granted, while the Blazers wouldn’t be able to make a huge dent into the L-S advantage for the final two minutes and change, Mennonite would be able to chip away at things given the 14-8 score that L-S carried with them into the second stanza.

In the second quarter however is where the Blazers would successfully land their first punch of the evening.

In fact, while the Mennonite onslaught would start off rather quietly with a sweet hi-lo play that culminated in Cam Hurst bucket fed from David Weaver before a Jadyn Taylor trifecta would later follow suit, the black-clad Blazers were almost suddenly right within striking distance. From there, Mennonite only kept coming and coming. Case in point, a floater in the lane sunk by Mast, a bucket which knotted things up at 15-15 with just 1:40 having expired off the second quarter clock. On the night, Mast would prove to be the one who would contribute the lion’s share of the damage as far as Mennonite’s troops were most concerned given the senior guard’s team-high 18-point outing once all was said and done.

The problem was, Mennonite was still feeling particularly greedy at that point in time. Yeah, getting back on level-ground was fine and all, but why stop there? Good thing nobody asked that question to Mennonite’s Declan Hersh considering the senior guard would go on to pour in a triple shortly thereafter, an exchange which helped propel the Blazers to ownership of their first lead of the evening at 18-15 roughly one-minute following the Mast floater which had tied things up earlier.

However, when duty called, the L-S supporting cast was more than willing to take up the cause to go and fight.

After surrendering the lead which they had enjoyed all night long up until that point with the Pioneers’ offense seemingly struggling to get into any sort of cohesive rhythm, this game could have gone one of two ways rather quickly. Fortunately for the Pios, Ben Wert wasn’t about to let his teammates slip.

For much of the evening up until that point, whenever L-S needed some sort of energizing play, Wert was able to provide the goods. Whether it be his persistent work in cleaning up the loose ends on the offensive glass, or swatting would-be Mennonite shots into oblivion down on the defensive end of the floor, Ben Wert was the medicine that L-S was in search of for a large swath of Monday night. Speaking of which, yet another put-back from point-blank range by the Pios’ 6’1 junior forward swung momentum all the way back into L-S’ favor which capped off an immediate 10-0 run following Mennonite’s go-ahead bucket, a Pioneers’ salvo which was punctuated with a Blazers’ timeout while staring up at a 25-18 deficit with 1:53 left to play in the opening half. Unfortunately for those who had made the short trek down Route 30 from their school located amidst the Rockvale Outlets, the Pioneers’ late-half surge would only get worse, a feat best exemplified by way of a Luka Vranich floater in the paint just mere moments before the first half horn blared out to help send the hosts into the locker room with the decisive yet somewhat misleading 32-19 advantage with the second half getting ready to commence following a brief respite.

Yet even though Lancaster Mennonite found themselves down by a hefty margin at the halftime break, the Blazers came out in a manner that could only rightly be described akin to that as being undaunted.

While it too may have to seemed to be born with the same level of innocence that had mimicked their second quarter flurry, a smooth pullup jumper sunk by junior guard, Savier Sumrall, allowed the guests to pull within a baker’s dozen at 36-23 just two minutes into the third frame. Then, the gap had suddenly collapsed its way all the way down to within single digits following four straight points tallied by way of Jaedon Mast, a crucial moment in time that got the Blazers well within shouting distance at 38-31 with 3:30 still showing on the third quarter clock.

Yet as he would do all night long, Ben Wert would help break Mennonite’s hot fever.

By way of yet another clean up, second-chance bucket put home inside, Wert’s much-needed bucket at that point was arguably the biggest two points of his entire night -at least up until then- given that it clearly allowed the Pios to exhale somewhat while also allowing the L-S contingent to enjoy a 40-31 lead with time still winding down in the third stanza. Even still though, Mennonite would keep plugging away before eventually slicing the Pioneers’ lead back down to six at 45-39 following a steal and finish courtesy of Mast, before L-S would eventually be able to carry the 47-39 cushion with them into the final period of play.

That fourth quarter though? Well, you might as well call that Wert’s Coronation to be perfectly honest.

Fittingly, the final eight minutes got started in the most apropos way possible given that it saw Ben Wert bomb in a corner trey to help kick-start the fourth quarter proceedings, clearly getting L-S started off on the right foot to begin the homeward stretch. Speaking of appropriate, there was arguably no play more emblematic of Wert’s entire evening than with his persistent stick-to-itiveness in hunting down a loose ball offensive rebound which he eventually collected before kicking it out to a wide-open Berkeley Wagner who then promptly poured in a cold-blooded triple to push the Pioneers’ lead back up to nine at 53-44.  

Then, as far as the punctuation that would cap off this story the best, Wert would go on to place his own personal exclamation mark on things with a game-clinching 9-0 run all by his lonesome behind a pair of 3-balls and an old-school three-point play to follow suit, all en route to his stellar 26-point night of work that quite honestly might not even be doing it enough justice given how crucial Wert was at nearly every turn with energizer plays to help push Mennonite back away to arm’s length time after time.

And once all was said and done, the scoreboard lights would show off a sizable Lampeter-Strasburg 72-52 victory over Lancaster Mennonite for a win that certainly did not come without its fair share of Pioneer sweat beads given how the Blazers simply refused to roll over and let their rivals run away and hide throughout nearly the entirety of the evening. Oh, by the way, we’d remised if we didn’t mention that L-S’ victory on Monday night also signified the 100th victory for Pioneers’ head man, Ed Berryman, a coach who has rightly elevated himself into the upper echelon discussion of L-L boys’ basketball coaches given the high-level perennial performance of the program he is tasked with overseeing.  

 

NEXT UP: As is the case with the January slate of high school hoops, the enjoyment or heartbreak that comes at the end of every ballgame is short-lived either way. Case in point, L-S returning to the floor just 46 hours later following the conclusion of the Mennonite game when they host the Cocalico Eagles on Wednesday night in a quest to remain perfect on the season which is rapidly approaching its halfway point. After that, the Pioneers will keep things within the family so to speak when they wrap up the week with a Friday night tussle with another Section Three foe, Garden Spot, as they round-out their first swing of divisional play.

For Mennonite, there is still plenty of reason for optimism and promise. Yes, even in a 20-point setback. Granted, while nothing in life is ever really a surefire guarantee, it certainly seems more than fair to believe that the Blazers will appear in the league tournament this season given the rebirth of two-team section entrants once again this year as Columbia and Mennonite largely appear to have a decisive stranglehold on both of those two coveted spots inside L-L Section Five. Speaking of Section Five, the Blazers’ slate for the remainder of this week remains within their own confines as well seeing as how LMH will line up against Pequea Valley and Annville-Cleona on Wednesday and Friday night respectively before taking two more big swings at District 3 royalty after that when they match up York Catholic on Saturday before taking on Lancaster Catholic on Monday night. Suffice to say, there’s more than ample reason to suggest that if the Blazers get things clicking at the right time, this could end up being yet another long postseason run for Lancaster Mennonite. Yes, that means District 3 playoffs and beyond.

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