Undermanned New Hope shakes off the rust
Let's just say New Hope Academy wasn't facing an ideal situation in its District 3, Class A playoff opener Tuesday.
For starters, the Mighty Ants were playing their first game since Feb. 4. And that game didn't exactly provide ideal preparation: New Hope beat Hershey Christian 85-8.
Add to that the fact New Hope was short three of its best players. Sophomore guards Hakeem Moore and Dejian Williams and junior forward Calvin Fountain all missed the contest for disciplinary reasons. Those three together account for close to 40 points per game.
For sure, what the third-seeded Mighty Ants produced against No. 14 Mount Calvary wasn't a vintage performance. New Hope let the Chargers hang around before pulling away to 50-37 victory at Dallastown.
This youthful group of mostly sophomores will now move on to a meeting Friday with No. 6 Lebanon Catholic at Milton Hershey at 6:30. A win there would guarantee New Hope a state playoff spot.
After a lengthy chat with his team following Tuesday's game, Mighty Ants coach Sam Sutton said that's been the goal all season.
"We're not just here to get our feet wet," Sutton said. "We do believe we're a state playoff team. That's the goal for us, and that's been the goal since Day 1."
Still, Sutton knows New Hope will probably need a more complete outing than the one it produced Tuesday. Mount Calvary trailed by six at halftime, despite having twice as many turnovers (16) as shot attempts (8) in the first half.
New Hope's layoff might have had something to do with that.
"We did have a scrimmage, and that helped us out," Sutton said. "But we were definitely out of sync out there. It was obvious."
In Lebanon Catholic (13-10), New Hope will face a solid squad that endured a testy regular season schedule. The Mighty Ants (17-2), meanwhile, have taken on criticism for what some see as a watered-down schedule.
That's a notion Sutton disagreed with.
"You hear so much about the teams that we played and how we played such a weak schedule, but for some reason you don't hear about the big boys that we had," the coach said, referring to wins against teams like Big Spring and Math, Civics and Sciences Charter.
The layoff forced the cancellation of the Mighty Ants' game with Philadelphia's Prep Charter. That would have served as an ideal litmus test going into the playoffs.
"These guys really want to prove themselves, and I feel like we missed an opportunity tonight," Sutton said. "But we got the win and we're very happy."
Sophomore guard Collin Smith was impressive for New Hope, scoring 27 points. And Sutton said his suspended trio of players should return in time for Friday's game.
That would certainly be a boost to the second-year school as it searches for its first state playoff bid.