ANNVILLE – Everybody loves a good underdog story. Sprinkle in some elements of rags-to-riches and it just makes it even more compelling.
But do you know what else the Annville-Cleona girls’ basketball turnaround is? It’s the feel-good story of the early going of the Lebanon County scholastic basketball season.
On a Friday Senior night at ‘The Barn’, the Little Dutchmen stoked their early-season momentum with an emphatic 46-9 dissection of their visitors from Octorara. The difference in the game was athletic Annville-Cleona’s trapping man-to-man pressure defense that stymied the Braves, and created multiple turnovers that resulted in easy points.
From the waning moments of the opening quarter on, Annville-Cleona overwhelmingly outscored Octorara 40-3.
The triumph was significant because in its first four games of the 2021 season, the Little Dutchmen have now equaled their win total from a season ago. It’s been nearly a decade since Annville-Cleona began a year 3-1, or 3-1 in Section Five of the Lancaster-Lebanon League.
Something else no one is quite sure of is the last time Annville-Cleona held an opponent to single-digit scoring for an entire game.
With the outcome, Octorara slipped to 0-4 on the year and 0-3 in the section.
“We haven’t done that yet,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Lisa Shucker, of her club’s 3-1 start. “It’s a big one for us. No one on this team has started a season 3-1.
“I think you’re finally seeing kids who are products of this coaching staff,” continued Shucker. “These kids have bought in. We have phenomenal leaders. We have phenomenal athletes. It’s a nice combination to have.”
Believe it or not, the Braves actually led early in this one, at 5-4 – after Alyssa Ulrich had notched the first two buckets of the game for the home team. But a jumper from Josie Clay near the end of the opening quarter ignited a massive 13-0 run by Annville-Cleona.
“A win is a win,” said Shucker. “We should be happy about that. But we didn’t come out with intensity in the first half. We challenged the girls at halftime. We have a lot of stuff to improve on.
“They’re all important, because you never know who might go down,” Shucker continued. “We don’t know if we’re always going to have all of our players. We have to win every single game if we want to make the playoffs.”
The Little Dutchmen’s full-court pressure defense held the Braves to a single bucket in the second period. And thanks to six second-quarter points by Clay, three from Ulrich and a basket from Brittany Nye, Annville-Cleona led 17-7 at the break.
“That helped us with our intensity,” said Shucker of her side’s trapping man-to-man. “It gave us some turnovers and quick baskets. In the first half, we didn’t have the intensity, so we weren’t able to do it.
“We want to press all the time,” added Shucker. “We want to press as much as we can. We have three different presses, but it was our man-to-man that was working tonight. It’s nice that when we sub, we don’t lose anything. That’s helpful when you’re going to press.”
On this particular night, Annville-Cleona substituted liberally and used ten players while the outcome was being decided. With Clay notching 13 points, and Nye and Ulrich each popping for 12 points, the Little Dutchmen’s scoring was as balanced as their defense.
Octorara managed just three total field goals.
“It’s (the chemistry) phenomenal,” said Shucker. “No one’s out there to play for themselves. Everybody roots for each other. They’re gelling well. They’re playing well.
“I think we should be 4-0,” Shucker added. “We didn’t play to our capabilities in our loss to Lancaster Mennonite. We were a little star struck. We’re looking to get them back. But we’re not overlooking anybody.”
Annville-Cleona’s roll spilled over into the second half, in the form of 27 unanswered points, which produced a 44-7 lead. The Little Dutchmen held the Braves score-less for an incredible stretch of 12:52 that spanned the entire third quarter and halfway through the fourth.
“Our main goal is to make playoffs,” said Shucker. “We’re going to battle like crazy to get there. If we can do it, it’ll be the first time any of these girls have made it to the playoffs. We have a real chance.
“They’re (her players) fired up,” concluded Shucker. “They’re excited. That’s a big goal. But we also want to be able to grow our younger kids.”