By Satoshi Nakamoto
BERNVILLE – It was no secret. Everybody in the building knew who was supposed to get the ball.
With 4.3 seconds left, the Northern Lebanon boys’ basketball team needed a 3-pointer to force overtime.
Viking senior Isaac Ray – one of the premier sharpshooters in Central Pennsylvania – figured to be the man.
“No. Absolutely, positively, 100 percent not,” NL head coach Gary Bouchette said. “When we got into the huddle, I said, ‘Isaac you’re a decoy.’ Everybody in the stands knew who I would go to. He was a decoy. Honestly, he was not even an option.”
Instead, reserve Devin Mease drilled a deep 3-pointer to force the first extra session and propel Northern Lebanon to a 64-56 double overtime victory over Tulpehocken in riveting non-league action Wednesday night.
“I actually wasn’t nervous. I was surprised coach gave me the green light – he drew up the play for me – because, you know, we have Isaac (Ray),” said Mease, a junior. “I was just surprised, honestly. I wasn’t nervous. … I acted like I was there before.”
Ray drew a double in the team in the corner, freeing Mease for his only basket of the game as the regulation buzzer sounded.
“Everybody went into the corner with (Ray) – sometimes you look like a hero, give me a break,” smiled Bouchette. “We often say at practice, ‘If it’s on the 3-point line, it’s not (Mease’s) shot.’ He shoots deep. We actually labeled that ‘Mease Land’ at practice because that’s where he shoots from.”
In overtime, teammate Isaac Bicher sank two clutch free throws to prompt a second overtime, a stanza in which the Vikings outscored the once-undefeated Trojans 12-4 for the win. Bicher pumped in a career-high 19 points and controlled the glass, while Ray finished with a team-high 21.
“(Bicher) was the key. Not even (the OT free throws) – the rebounds he had, the block he had in the corner – just great stuff,” added Bouchette. “Sometimes you win games like that, sometimes you don’t.”
Tulpehocken senior Kevin Berry registered a game-high 25 points, including six 3-pointers, before fouling out in the fourth. The Trojans led by 10 with 6:18 left in regulation and were on the way to victory before Mease’s bomb.
“At the end of the day, I just told the kids – a player made a play,” first-year Tulpy head coach Tigh Savercool said. “He made a very good 3-pointer from a long ways away. A player made a play.”
Tulpehocken used a frantic 14-2 run to close out the third quarter, giving the Berks County hosts a 38-31 lead entering the fourth.
“Northern Lebanon did a very good job of finishing and taking advantages of opportunities when they had them and finishing at the free throw line,” explained Savercool, a former assistant at Central Dauphin and Steel-High. “That kind of kept them in the game the entire time.”
NL converted 14-of-24 free throws. The Trojans, meanwhile, connected for 8-of-15 from the charity stripe.
“It was a great team effort, everybody contributed. The defense was great, especially in the second OT and OT,” said Mease. “We got some timely shots. Everything worked out tonight.”
The Vikings led 23-19 at halftime, relying on 10-0 run to pull ahead early in the second quarter.
Berry’s long-range antics, however, kept the Trojans from falling too far behind.
“He’s gotten much more consistent. He’s in a little bit of a different role this year—we’re looking for him to score more this year,” said Savercool. “He did very good job, and we did a good job of finding him in the first half when he was hot. We kind of ride hot hands.”
In the third, the Trojans’ bench raised its energy level, sparking a 14-2 run from the players on the court. Berry and forward Isaiah Bewley (13 points) led the way.
“(Tulpehocken) came out and changed up their defense on us, and we kind of got shell-shocked,” said Bouchette. “They came out in a real pressure 3-2 defense that almost looked like a 2-3 at times. We kind of froze. We stopped moving, we stopped cutting, we stopped talking, we stopped doing the things we did early on. Then we got cold, and they started lighting us up.”
Tied at 52 in the first overtime following Bicher’s successful free throws, the Trojans had a chance to win with the ball and 15 ticks left on the clock – but their mid-range jumper rimmed out.
“I thought about calling a timeout, but I thought to myself, ‘Let’s see if our four seniors can make a play,’ because I’m a big believer in experience,” said Savercool. “At the end of the day, we didn’t make a play.”
The Vikings (2-1) travel to Pequea Valley on Friday night to open Lancaster-Lebanon League play. The Trojans (2-1) tip-off Berks Division action when they host Hamburg on Friday.
NORTHERN LEBANON 12 11 8 14 7 12 – 64
TULPEHOCKEN 14 5 19 7 7 4 – 56
Atoigue 1 5-7 8, Bicher 8 3-6 19, Fellows 2 0-1 4, Gingrich 1 0-0 2, Mease 1 0-0 3, Ray 8 3-6 21, Reese 2 3-4 7. TOTALS: 23 14-24 64.
Berry 9 1-2 25, Bewley 4 3-7 13, Carles 2 0-1 5, Ekvall 4 0-0 9, Garcia 0 0-0 0, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Rivera 0 0-0 0, Ulrich 0 4-5 4. TOTALS: 19 8-15 56.
3-Pointers: NL (4) Ray 2, Atoigue, Mease. TLP (10) Berry 6, Bewley 2, Carles, Ekvall.
Fouled Out: NL: None, TLP: Berry, Ekvall.
Total Fouls: NL: 11, TLP: 20.
JV Score: Northern Lebanon 51, Tulpehocken 28.