BY JEFF FALK
ASSUMPTION HILL – While certainly not friendly from a fan’s point of view, it is one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking strategies in all of scholastic sports.
One team holds the ball in an attempt to draw another out of a zone defense.
It is basketball’s version of a chess match. A game of ‘chicken’, with an orange rock. A staring contest to see who will blink first.
On Friday night, the Elco and Lebanon Catholic boys’ basketball squads, and their head coaches – Brad Conners and Scott Clentimack – engaged in a little game of cat and mouse, because both believed wholeheartedly that it gave their side the best chance to win. And while each team pretty much got what it wanted out of the move, in the end it was the more athletic team which prevailed.
The Raiders survived the Beavers’ third-quarter attempt to level the playing field and emerged with a 51-35 Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Three-Four crossover win, in the league opener for both teams. After tallying the only points of the nerve-racking third quarter – an inside move from junior Colton Lawrence – Elco outscored Lebanon Catholic 15-5 over the final period.
The outcome evened the Raiders’ overall mark to 2-2. Lebanon Catholic’s record now stands at 2-1.
“Scott had a good game plan. That was a good game plan,” said Conners of Catholic’s zone defense. “I’m looking on the floor, and we have the best players on the floor. But it didn’t seem like it was going well. I told the kids, ‘let’s make them come out’. But three minutes was all I could stand.
“Oh, we’ll take the win,” continued Conners. “When we decided to play, when we decided to not to settle, we got the lead to 17. I told Mason (Bossert) he was setting for ‘threes’ early, then he decided to go to the basket and there were ‘threes’ available. Our kids have got to learn that it’s better to play inside out than outside in.”
“Going into the third quarter down six, I was surprised they did it,” said Clentimack of the Raiders’ willingness to hold the basketball. “It kind of worked in our favor. We’re trying to win a basketball game. This is about us. This is about what we’re trying to do. It wasn’t about us being afraid of them. But kids want to play. I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty.
“This was about trying to win a game,” Clentimack continued. “We don’t have the type of team to come out and play you. We played three games this year, and we’ve played more zone than we have in 16 years. But they (the Raiders) had some success against it.”
Nursing a six-point lead, the Raiders opened the second half by holding the ball against Catholic’s zone alignment. What the battle of the strategies served to do was reduce the number of full possessions in the third period to four.
On the strength of Lawrence’s bucket, Elco emerged from the stalemate with a 36-28 advantage. And when the Raiders recorded the first seven points of a quicker-tempo fourth quarter – on five more points from Lawrence and a jumper by Bossert – Elco’s lead was suddenly 43-28.
Guard Joe Gates momentarily stopped the Catholic bleeding with a stop-and-pop – the Beavers’ first points over the opening 11 minutes of the second half. But Lebanon Catholic managed just three more points the rest of the way.
“They wanted to come out and go, go, go and build the lead in the second half and cruise to a win,” said Conners of his troops. “That’s the way they were thinking. I told the kids, ‘We’re backed into a corner. We’ve got to come out fighting.’
“Scott always has his kids ready to play,” added Conners. “We knew we were going to see zone. Last night at practice we decided, ‘Let’s run some zone offense.’ We want to play. Our kids want to go. We settled for ‘threes’ because we have kids who can shoot ‘threes’.”
“It’s about winning and losing,” said Clentimack. “I enjoy being around the kids. But sometimes it’s hard to get kids to compete when you don’t have many options. It’s got to be important to them.
“It was really difficult in the locker room after the game,” Clentimack added. “You want to say you appreciate the effort. But you don’t want to give them the idea of moral victories. We lost, and that’s not OK.”
Lawrence poured in a game-high 25 points for an Elco club which attempted only three free throws, while Bossert pumped in 17. The two accounted for 42 of the Raiders’ total of 51.
Gates collected a dozen Catholic points and teammate Luke Frattaroli notched ten.
“No, I’m not concerned about that,” said Conners, of Lawrence and Bossert’s domination of the score book, “because at the Conestoga Valley game, we were balanced. We don’t want to settle. We’ve got guys who can drive and finish.
“No, that wasn’t Mason’s best game of the year,” Conners continued. “If you remember the Muhlenberg game, he turned the ball over only once. He’s been doing exactly what we ask of him. Mason has a reputation around the county, even though he’s a sophomore.”
“If he’s (Lawrence) not on that team, (Caleb) Buchmoyer is the talk of the county,” said Clentimack. “I think Colton overshadows Caleb a little bit. If he’s (Lawrence) not on that team, everyone’s talking about Caleb. I think they (the Raiders) have enough.
“Bossert comes from a basketball family,” Clentimack continued. “He understands the game. Both of his parents played Division One basketball. He’s a coach’s son. And they (the Raiders) can run six or seven guys in there. Any high school team who has three scoring options, they’d like to have that.”
Bossert tallied nine straight Raider points as part of a 12-0 run that Elco opened the second period on. With the Beavers shut out for the first 3:16 of the quarter, the Raiders opened a 29-14 advantage.
But Lebanon Catholic outscored Elco 14-5 over the remainder of the half – including a John Groh buzzer-beating stick back – to trim the Raiders’ lead to 34-28.
“We wanted to influence the sidelines,” said Conners of his team’s defensive effort. “We don’t want to give up the sidelines. I remember a lot of blow-bys in the first half. But I thought our kids started to settle down.”
“I talked to the kids at halftime,” said Clentimack. “It wasn’t that they weren’t playing hard, they just weren’t playing as hard as John Groh. John set the tone. You’ve got to want it. You’ve got to play hard. That’s what’s fun – going out and competing.”
Lawrence recorded seven consecutive Elco points in the opening stanza, as the Raiders were building a 15-7 lead. The athletic 6-2 junior threw down an ally-oop from Bossert, nailed a corner three-ball and then reverse slammed a feed at the the rim from Bossert.
“We’ll take 2-2, and feel good about it,” said Conners. “Here’s the thing: we talk about shot selection all the time. With young kids, you want to teach them the difference between good shots and bad shots. I think there’s a learning curve there. But we have kids who can shoot the ‘three’.”
“They’re good,” said Clentimack of the Raiders. “They started these kids as freshmen, just like we did a couple of years back. Now’s their time. I knew they were going to be good. They have a nice team.”