BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Slow starts under new coaches are the norm, not the exception. So it’s fairly safe to say that the Annville-Cleona boys’ basketball team and head coach Mark Edwards have morphed out of the getting-to-know-you phase and moved into the feeling-comfortable stage.
On Tuesday night, the surging Little Dutchmen won their fourth straight game, 65-58 over Pequea Valley. Not unlike their season to date, the Little Dutchmen were a bit sluggish at the beginning, before catching fire in the third period.
After opening the campaign 1-4, Annville-Cleona improved to 5-4 overall and 2-2 in Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Pequea Valley plummeted to 2-8 on the season and 0-4 in the circuit.
“There’s a lot of little things we’re doing differently,” said first-year Annville-Cleona head coach Justin Edwards. “The biggest thing is that the kids are meeting their expectations. We set high expectations. A lot of that was the staff and the kids understanding what I’m asking them to do. But we had to make adjustments, so we both stepped back and we met each other halfway. We’re not a state contending team. But we are progressing.”
Following a lackluster first half, the Little Dutchmen took on the appearance of totally different club in the third quarter. With seniors Alec Wizar and Tyson Hayes leading the way, A-C hit an amazing five three-point field goals during a third period in which it turned an eight-point halftime deficit into a comfortable 11-point lead.
Down 36-32, Annville-Cleona outscored the Braves 15-0 over a 2:17 stretch at the end of the third period. A dozen of those 15 points came on treys from Wizar and Hayes. And when Wizar drilled his fifth three-pointer of the evening five seconds into the final quarter, A-C had a 50-36 advantage.
While Annville-Cleona didn’t exactly put Pequea Valley away, it didn’t allow the Braves to get closer than six points the rest of the way.
“The key was rebounds,” said Edwards. “We were minus-four in rebounds at halftime. I wrote a big, giant minus-four on the (chalk) board in the locker room. Defensively, we stepped up and got stops, and got easier shots for those guys (Wizar and Hayes).
“I had to light a little fire at halftime,” Edwards added, “and the guys responded and stepped up.”
Wizar finished with 31 points, on ten field goals and six-of-seven shooting from the charity stripe. Hayes contributed three three-pointers and 20 points.
“It’s sort of what we’ve been hoping for,” said Edwards. “You know Alec can get hot. Tyson is a little different. He was in a little more of a complementary role last year, but he’s been thrust into a leadership role this year. He can do things other guys can’t do physically. He’s tough and he can make guys around him better. He’s been effective as a leader and a teammate.”
A three-pointer from Casey Smith gave Annville-Cleona a 14-13 edge at the end of eight minutes of action. But Pequea Valley tallied the final ten points of the second quarter to take a 30-22 lead to the break.
“We were a little flat to start,” said Edwards. “We had a great weekend (winning the championship of the Northern Lebanon Holiday Tournament). I was concerned we’d be flat and we were. I’m a believer in working through it without a timeout. It’s sort of like life skills in the middle of the game. You find out who the leaders are when things are going tough. Anyone can do it when they’re going smoothly.
“Flat is such a cliche way of describing it,” Edwards continued. “We weren’t screening well. We weren’t defending well. We weren’t on the glass the way we’re capable of. And the shots we were getting could’ve been better.”
Because the long-time Class AA Little Dutchmen are in Class AAA this seasonm, it would seem their most realistic goal would be to compete for a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Four title.
“I think Annville should always contend for a section title,” said Edwards. “I know what kind of kids are here. There’s always been that ‘play hard’ approach. I think this team has a high ceiling as far as athletes go.”