BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY LORI MESSERSMITH
ASSUMPTION HILL – When you’re in a funk and your back’s against the wall, the initial reaction is to turn to what comes naturally, to do what you do best. But what the Lebanon Catholic boys’ basketball team did was turn to defense.
On Friday night, the high-flying Beavers got back on the winning track with an inspired defensive performance, as they slowed the Raiders of Elco 70-57. By making Elco star Colton Lawrence work for every single one of his 19 points, Lebanon Catholic held the Raiders to a mere 36 points over the final three periods of play.
Catholic’s stingy effort snapped a modest two-game losing skein and lifted it to 11-4 overall and 6-4 in Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. The up-and-down Raiders plummeted to 5-10 on the year and 2-8 in Section Three of the L-L.
“It went good. That’s an understatement,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Scott Clentimack. “We got some of our mojo back. We were able to play at our pace. I didn’t think they (the Raiders) could play at that pace. The last couple of games we haven’t played at our pace, or the other teams played it better.
“I don’t know if playing at home made a difference,” Clentimack continued. “Elco’s been playing really, really well. It wasn’t perfect, but we sped the game up. I’m not worried about us getting tired. I was pleased. It was a key game for us, to get off that little two-game schneid.”
“We tried to have four guys on the perimeter and drop it into Colton,” said Elco head coach Brad Conners of his plan of attack. “But every time we did that, they double teamed him. Someone has to hit an outside shot. We took them. We were willing to take them.
“They (the Beavers) sat on Colton,” added Conners. “From someone else, we needed a little consistency.”
It was also Lebanon Catholic’s defense which dictated the key stretch of the game, a five-minute span late in the first half during which it held the Raiders without a point. With senior guard Anthony Thomas tallying eight points and Anthony Pletz and Alex Frattaroli adding a deuce apiece, the resulting 12-0 burst turned a six-point Elco lead into a six-point Beaver advantage.
Though they were certainly not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination, the Beavers would never trail again.
“We talked about, after the last two games, being tougher,” said Clentimack. “We are what we are. But I thought John Groh was our key for us. Lawrence is a tough match-up. He’s not one-dimensional, and John can be hot and cold defensively. But I thought he did a really good job. And I thought we fed off that defensively. In my opinion, coming in I didn’t know if it was a good match-up for us.
“We needed this,” continued Clentimack. “This was key. It was a big win. I think the kids were having some doubts in their minds.”
“We aren’t looking to get into a track meet,” said Conners. “But if we get a rebound, I’d like us to sprint to spots, get the ball reversed and after that attack. They (the Beavers) want to get up and down.”
Thomas poured in a career-high 27 points on nine-of-ten free throwing, while Frattaroli complimented him with 14 points and Pletz canned 13. In addition to Lawrence’s 19, the Raiders got 13 points from Derek Miller and 11 from Caleb Buchmoyer.
Usually 60 percent from the free throw line, Lebanon Catholic connected on 24 of 32 attempts and outscored the Raiders by 17 points there. While the Raiders won the rebounding battle 35-24, the Beavers limited Elco to four-for-21 shooting from beyond the arc.
“I don’t know what to say about Anthony Thomas,” said Clentimack. “I think this is what he’s capable of. Other nights he disappears. He doesn’t need to score 27 for us. But for us to be effective, we need him to score 12 to 15 points.
“I told our guys, ‘We’ve got to attack the rim. We’ve got to get to the foul line,'” added Clentimack. “We average about 14 foul shots a game. That’s nothing. And we made them.”
“Dustin Miller asked for the switch and did a nice job on him,” said Conners of Thomas. “They run dribble-drive and they spread you. But nobody else did a very good job on him. We knew it was coming. But I thought we could do a better job on Anthony Thomas.
“Pletz is a great kid,” Conners continued. “I loved him during the two years I had him. I wish him nothing but the best. For us, it was about us getting better. It looks like we’re improving. But I thought the (Thursday’s Conrad) Weiser game we took a small step back. Tonight we took a huge step back. But it was nothing about Lebanon Catholic.”
A mini 7-0 Beaver burst early in the second half pushed their lead to 43-32. Thomas took it strong to the hole, Frattaroli knocked down a lay-up and Pletz drained a three-pointer.
Another lay-in from Frattaroli, with 3:13 remaining, jacked the Lebanon Catholic lead to 61-46.
“Their section is tough,” said Conners of the Beavers. “They’re going to have a tough time getting one of the top two spots. For districts and Class A, they have a nice team. Clentimack does a nice job. They pressure the ball. They get after it. I like their style of play.”
On buckets from Thomas, Groh and Pletz, the Beavers scored six points in the game’s opening minute, then also led 8-2 and 10-4 in a fast-paced opening quarter. But the Raiders, behind Lawrence and Miller, notched the first seven points of the second period to grab a 28-22 cushion.
“They’ve got a nice team,” said Clentimack of the Raiders. “I see some similarities to us two years ago. I think their day is going to come. I think they have some good athletes, and they’re mixing in some good basketball players. They’re taking their lumps, but they’re competitive. And they’ve been playing well lately. If they continue to develop and mature, they have a chance to be pretty good.”
“I’ve seen improvement, up until tonight,” said Conners. “We’ve been playing much better basketball. We play in a tough section and the crossover games are tough. When it comes to crunch time, I still have young guys, and there have been times when we’ve taken bad shots. It’s a little bit of growing pains. We lean on the sophomores, and Colton and Caleb, we ask them to do a lot.”