LANCASTER- As Joe Klazas’ club continues to gel and grow this season, don’t be surprised to see Lancaster Catholic in familiar territory near the end of the 2015-16 boys’ basketball campaign.
This is an intriguing group, with a mixture of size, athleticism and depth. So league and district playoffs should again be in Catholic’s future.
And while the first couple of weeks have been a bit of a seesaw, the Crusaders seemingly took a big step forward Friday night with a 59-56 triumph over two-time defending Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 4 champ Lancaster Mennonite.
Though the Crusaders (3-3, 2-2) never trailed in the second half, they certainly survived a gutsy battle from Geoff Groff’s Blazers (3-4, 2-2), who spent most of the fourth quarter within one or two possessions of the lead.
Thomas Gonzales (game-high 13 points), Chad Wenger (11 points) and Andrew DeBord combined to sink nine of 10 free throws over the final 1:40 to keep Mennonite at arm’s length.
"We were looking to light a fire under ourselves,” said Wenger, whose club was rolled by Elco Wednesday night. “Last game, you talk to anybody on the team, we wish we could have that game back and beat them. But we can’t. We came out tonight and we played our butts off."
Wenger dished out a team-high six assists and added two steals. Sean Landis added 10 points and nine boards, with Gonzales also pulling down nine caroms. Landis and Gonzales also shared five blocks. The Crusaders enjoyed a noticeable size advantage over the smallish Blazers, who essentially start five guards.
DeBord posted six points, six boards and three assists, while Bryan Downey and Mark Cannon added a combined 12 points off the bench.
"Obviously we're aiming to understand all the options we can have,” said Klazas, whose team is hunting its first Section 4 title since 2012-13. “For [our] bigs, we definitely want to try to get the ball inside at times. We're trying to get them to understand that if that opportunity may not be there [inside], it's a great opportunity for a shooter to step in on a kick-out and make shots.
“[We're] going through the process and making sure they understand we do have a lot of options. We have size. Today we really stressed on getting it inside."
Catholic owned the glass with a 44-28 advantage. And there were a lot of rebounds to gather in the first half, with Mennonite making just eight of 32 attempts over those 16 minutes, including 15 misses from the arc.
But Groff’s Blazers, with last year’s star Julian Collazo (now at Cairn University) in attendance, showed the fight that made them back-to-back section champs.
Down six at halftime (27-21) and as many as 11 points late in the third quarter (41-30), the team rattled off nine straight points to sandwich the stanza break and slice to within a deuce.
Included in that run were a couple of finishes from reserve forward Ryan Lopez, plus a 3-pointer from reserve guard Kyle Kerr (team-high 12 points).
"I felt like we were more patient offensively and more aggressive,” Groff said explaining the comeback bid. “By being patient, we weren't taking that first shot. And by being aggressive, we were doing more basket cuts. So now they have to slide a little bit more, which I feel makes the close-outs [take] a little bit extra [time]. Sometimes that extra split-second is enough for the shooter to get his feet set. I felt we did a better job at that toward the end."
With Catholic, which Klazas said was shooting roughly 50 percent from the stripe coming into this contest, making its late free throws, Kerr kept Mennonite’s hopes alive with two more 3-pointers in the final minute.
The last came with 3 seconds left and made it a 58-56 game. But Wenger was soon fouled again, made the first and missed the second free throw with 1.3 ticks left.
Three clips of the end of Lancaster Catholic and Lancaster Mennonite. The Crusaders ultimately won, 59-56. Geoff Morrow
Cody Hurst rebounded for Mennonite, but there was no time to fire a realistic shot, and Catholic celebrated with its Crazies (student section).
"We definitely know we can work the ball around and score anytime we want on the inside,” said Wenger, a versatile guard. “We know we're good shooters; shots haven't been falling down yet. But we know they're going to start falling down, and once we get some momentum, teams better watch out."
Richie Rosas and Nate Jean-Philippe both scored 11 points for the Blazers, with Carter Hurst posting eight points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Mennonite turned the ball over only four times – and not once in the second half – vs. 16 turnovers for the Crusaders, who shot much better than the Blazers (21-for-48 vs. 21-for-59).
Morrow on Twitter: @RageAgainstGMo
Lancaster Catholic 59, Lancaster Mennonite 56
Lancaster Mennonite (56)
Kyle Kerr 4 0-0 12, Carter Hurst 3 2-2 8, Cody Hurst 2 0-1 4, John Gillespie 1 1-2 3, Richie Rosas 5 0-0 11, Nate Jean-Philippe 4 0-1 11, Ryan Lopez 2 2-2 6, Timmy Stefanosky 0 1-2 1. Totals — 21 6-10 56.
Lancaster Catholic (59)
Jon Ware 2 0-0 5, Bryan Downey 3 0-0 7, Mark Cannon 2 0-1 5, Chad Wenger 2 7-9 11, Dylan Atkinson 0 0-0 0, Andrew DeBord 1 4-4 6, Thomas Gonzales 5 3-3 13, Sean Landis 5 0-3 10, Danny Bomberger 1 0-0 2, Shawn Henry 0 0-0 0. Totals — 21 14-20 59.
Lancaster Mennonite _ 10 _ 11 _ 13 _ 22 _ — _ 56
Lancaster Catholic _ 11 _ 16 _ 14 _ 18 _ — _ 59
3-point goals — LM 8 (Kerr 4, Jean-Philippe 3, Rosas); LC 3 (Ware, Downey, Cannon).
JV score — Lancaster Catholic 48, Lancaster Mennonite 43