BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – For 20 minutes, the Elco boys played some of their best basketball of the season. There was a lot to like about what the Raiders had going on.
But over the final 13 seconds, anything that could conceivably go against the Raiders did.
On Friday night at Hershey High School, during the quarterfinals of the District Three Class AAA playoffs, three critical bang-bang plays in the waning moments went against the Raiders, and they cost Elco dearly in a 64-63 loss to Eastern York. After erasing a 14-point first-half deficit, Elco relinquished an eight-point fourth-quarter lead.
With 13 seconds to go and the game tied at 63, Elco’s Nate Beamer took the ball hard to the hole and was whistled for a charge, on a call that could’ve gone either way. Three seconds later, Eastern York stud Broguen Nichols used his ball handling skills to draw an ill-advised Raider foul at mid-court, and then sank the free throw that would prove to be the decisive point.
Elco did get one final good look at a potential game-winning basket at the buzzer. But star Colton Lawrence’s fall-away ten-footer from the right wing was just short.
“We talked in the huddle,” said Elco head coach Brad Conners of a timeout between Nichols’ free throws. “We were going. We were going to spots. We wanted to go then. I thought our best chance was to get the rebound and go. There was plenty of time.
“The calls were questionable,” Conners continued. “It was tough. It was a good game. It went down to the wire, like a district playoff game should.”
The loss dropped Elco to 20-5 overall and into the consolation bracket of the District Three Class AAA tournament. The Raiders will now compete in what amounts to a play-in game to the PIAA postseason, on Monday at 6 p.m. at Warwick.
It’s on to the district semifinals for Eastern York, now 21-5.
“We wanted to run the clock down, and then we wanted to run a set with about ten seconds left,” said Conners of Beamer’s drive down the lane. “But Nate was on the other side of the court and he was having a hard time hearing the calls. I thought at that point they (the Golden Knights) were going to set their defense. Looking back now, I wish I would’ve called the time out.
“The goal was the Giant Center,” Conners continued, “and getting into the district championship game. We are good enough to do that, and to compete with the best teams in the district.”
“Oh yeah, I wanted the ball,” said Nicholas. “I was getting the ball right there. I got the luck of the draw though. He (Raider defender Caleb Buchmoyer) was a little off balance. I let him hit me and got the call.”
A hard ‘take’ to the rack from Lawrence gave Elco a 63-61 edge with 51 seconds remaining. But 14 ticks later, Jared Atchterberg responded in kind for Eastern York.
Elco had tallied the last six points of the third quarter – on a Mason Bossert floater, a Beamer drive and two foul shots from Lawrence – and scored the first five points of the fourth period – courtesy of a three-pointer by Bossert and a steal and lay-in from Lawrence – to turn a three-point deficit into a 55-47 lead. The Raiders matched that advantage at 59-51, with five minutes to go, when Bossert converted a driving lay-in.
But with Nichols tallying ten straight Eastern York points, the Golden Knights pulled to within 61-59 with two-and-a-half minutes remaining.
“In the middle periods, we played great basketball,” said Conners. “But we got passive and stopped attacking. They (the Golden Knights) went zone, and we let them trap us. They turned us over and the momentum started going their way.
“It’s very hard,” continued Conners. “The goal was Giant Center. There’s 17-year-olds in there (the locker room). This is the world to them.”
During stretches of the first half, Elco was within a couple of points of being blown out of the building. But the Raiders caught fire near the end of the second period, and the heat spilled over into the third quarter.
Elco registered the final eight points of the opening half, courtesy of a Buchmoyer trey, a Beamer drive and a Bossert ‘three’, and trailed only 33-28 at the break. Then the Raiders weathered a technical-foul-induced, four-point possession by Eastern York, and tied the game at 39 on another Buchmoyer three-pointer, and at 41 on a jumper from Stoops.
“We played through that. I don’t think that had any effect at all,” said Conners of the technical foul. “We played 20 minutes of good basketball. They (the Golden Knights) went to that zone, and we blinked. We wanted to attack it and sting it.
“We were attacking and things were going well,” continued Conners. “But the attitude changed. That wasn’t our message at all. We wanted to keep scoring the basketball. I thought in the middle quarters we really played good basketball.”
On six three-pointers, Bossert poured in 24 Raider points. Stoops enjoyed one of his best offensive games of the year with 15 points, and Lawrence contributed 12.
Nicholas struck for a game-high 25 points. Eastern York outscored Eastern Lebanon County by seven points at the foul line.
“It would be big,” said Conners of a possible trip to states. “Right now, everyone’s really down. But there is a tomorrow.
“We were cautiously optimistic about this game,” Conners added. “I feel terrible for them (his players). I feel horrible. I love this team. I appreciate everything they gave me.”
“They were really tough,” said Nicholas of the Raiders. “They made us make bad passes, and they capitalized on them.”
Eastern York shot the ball extremely well in the opening period, and the result was very few empty trips and a 21-8 lead. The Golden Knights got there on a 14-0 run.
Eastern York’s advantage reached 31-17 in the middle of the second stanza.
“It was a little bit of both,” said Conners of Eastern York’s hot shooting and his team’s porous defense early. “It’s a credit to them (the Golden Knights). They had a good game plan. It took us time to figure it out. In the second quarter, I thought we figured it out. I don’t think our defense was very good early on, but it got better. This is a tough one to swallow. This is a special group.
“They (the Golden Knights) came out on fire,” added Conners. “They were ready to go. To our guys’ credit, they battled back. Right now it hurts. I feel horrible for the seniors. What I’m going to remember about this game was the middle two quarters. They’re just really disappointed.”
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