BY JEFF FALK
LITITZ – Are we good at the things we like to do, or do we like to do the things we’re good at? Either way, we’re motivated to keep doing them.
On Monday night at Warwick High School, the Elco boys’ basketball team extended one of its finest seasons in program history by qualifying for its first-ever trip to the PIAA playoffs. The Raiders pushed aside Berks Catholic 63-52 in a consolation game of the District Three Class AAA tournament that amounted to a play-in game to the state postseason.
Elco established a seven-point margin late in the opening period, and did an admirable job protecting it with timely offense and stubborn defense the rest of the way.
In addition to punching its state playoff ticket, the win moved fourth-seeded Elco to 21-5 overall. The Raiders will compete for fifth place in District Three on Thursday at a site and time to be determined, and then begin play in the PIAA postseason on Friday, March 4.
Ninth-seeded Berks Catholic concluded its season at 17-9.
“It’s great. It’s great for the kids,” said Elco head coach Brad Conners. “It’s great for the program. I’m happy for the seniors. And we have some young kids riding along with us. We didn’t win a section, a league or a district championship. But these kids have the hearts of champions.
“They (his players) knew what was at stake,” continued Conners. “We were confident coming in. We knew Berks Catholic had a good team. But we thought it was our time.”
Despite a tough-to-swallow loss to Eastern York on Friday, the Raiders came out ready to play.
With the game knotted at ten midway through the opening session, Elco ripped off an 11-4 burst accentuated by a Mason Bossert three-point field goal that gave them a 21-14 spread. Along the way, Colton Lawrence tallied six points and Caleb Buchmoyer contributed a bucket.
Despite a couple of subsequent runs by the Saints, Elco never relinquished the lead.
“What I remember about the beginning was a Colton dunk and ‘three’,” said Conners. “That’s a good recipe for a start.
“But give it to the kids,” added Conners. “They really deserve the credit. Saturday we had some of the kids over to the house for some ping-pong. They’re resilient. They were focused and they had a goal.”
After the Raiders extended their advantage to 25-18 on a Lawrence lay-in three minutes into the second quarter, Berks Catholic benefited from a technical foul on the Raider bench to close to within 29-28. But Elco ended the first half with two Bossert charity tosses, a Lawrence put-back and a 33-28 locker room lead.
“It feels good,” said Conners. “We gutted it out. It wasn’t easy. We looked at the clock at the four-minute mark and the coaches said to one another, ‘Let’s see what the kids learned.
“Colton was Colton,” Conners continued. “He did his thing. It’s nice to know you’ve got 20 points in your lineup. This is the first time ever we’ve qualified for the state playoffs. It’s an awesome feeling. We’re happy to extend our season.”
Lawrence poured in a game-high 28 points on 11 field goals and five-for-eight free throwing. Buchmoyer netted 14 points, as did Bossert.
Elco outscored Berks Catholic 22-12 at the foul line.
“It didn’t feel different to us,” said Conners. “It wasn’t as noisy as Friday night. But for our kids to make the state playoffs, it was important to them. They brought the energy. They had their energy from the start.
“From the bench, I felt like with our strength and athleticism, we were a little too much for them,” Conners added. “We thought if we could spread them out, good things were going to happen.”
The Raiders opened the second half with a three-pointer from Buchmoyer that pushed their lead to 36-28. Then Elco held the Saints to a mere three points over the final 6:20 of the third quarter, during which time they opened a 45-35 bulge, courtesy of six more points from Lawrence and a Bossert three-ball.
“We held them to 52,” said Conners of the Saints’ point output. “We mixed in a little zone because we wanted to give them a different look defensively. We dug in, and we won the battle of the boards. Early on, I thought our help-side defense was lacking. But we limited them to one shot.”
After the Raiders enjoyed four different ten-point leads in the final period – 47-37, 49-39, 51-41 and 52-42 – Berks Catholic closed to within 58-52 with 1:26 remaining. But that would prove to be the Saints’ last points, as Elco used got free throws from Buchmoyer and Bossert out of its spread offense.
“We were strong,” said Conners. “I thought they (the Saints) had a hard time guarding us. With the strength of our players, the skill of our players, we were able to keep them at bay.”
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2015-16 Elco Boys’ Basketball Results
|6:00 PM||W 78-35|
|7:30 PM||W 61-60|
|7:30 PM||W 69-61|
|7:30 PM||W 69-55|
|7:30 PM||W 80-59|
|7:30 PM||W 67-51|
|7:30 PM||W 61-57|
|7:30 PM||L 42-62|
|7:30 PM||W 72-50|
|6:00 PM||W 70-42|
|7:30 PM||W 74-44|
|7:30 PM||W 83-57|
|7:30 PM||L 68-70|
|7:30 PM||W 72-30|
|7:30 PM||W 80-54|
|7:30 PM||W 61-30|
|7:30 PM||W 65-47|
|7:30 PM||W 64-50|
|4:00 PM||L 60-70|
|7:30 PM||W 72-52|
|7:30 PM||W 52-47|
|7:30 PM||W 68-60|
|6:00 PM||L 55-71|
|7:00 PM||W 80-58|
|6:00 PM||L 63-64|
|6:00 PM||W 63-52|