LANCASTER — A little ice at the end of a physical, hard-fought game never hurts.
The Conestoga Valley Buckskins built their lead with an aggressive, push-the-pace offense, but it was senior guard Connor Whitacre who iced the game from the free-throw line, advancing the Buckskins past the Lancaster Catholic Crusaders, 54-48, in Saturday night’s L-L League Quarterfinal.
“There’s nobody else we’d rather have in that situation,” said Buckskins head coach Brad Herr. “Even though he had missed a couple earlier, the kid is just the definition of clutch on this team, and has been for years.”
Whitacre was the lone Buckskin to try the line all night, finishing 9-for-12 and draining six straight with under a minute to play after an uncharacteristic 0-fer earlier in the final quarter.
“Going into a tight game in the fourth quarter you know it’s going to come down to free-throws,” Whitacre said. “After I missed those two, I just kind of told myself that I can’t do that again, I know I’m going to have the ball. It’s just a mental game.”
The Section Two runner-up Buckskins (16-7) move on to face Section One champion McCaskey (17-5) at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at Penn Manor High School. McCaskey advanced with a 71-55 victory over Section Three runner-up Elco.
The Buckskins and Crusaders (14-9) went into the second quarter Saturday knotted at 8-all before Conestoga Valley upped the energy, getting a show-stopping one-handed slam from senior Jovan Marrero and a steal and layup from sophomore Austin Monroe.
The Section Four champion Crusaders (14-9) closed the half on an 8-3 run as CV led 25-24 at the break, but the pace was set for the rest of the half.
“The first playoff game of the season, hostile environment, it just takes a little to settle down,” Whitacre said. “Austin is a sophomore, so it’s his first time in the playoffs. He’s an example, just settle down and get our flow going.”
“Our guys have just become increasingly more unselfish as the season has gone on,” Herr said. “They do a great job of looking for one another and I thought that our defense created a lot of opportunities for us, sprinting down the floor and some transition buckets as a result.”
While Catholic tried to feed big men Thomas Gonzales (14 points) and Sean Landis (13) in the paint and along the baseline, Conestoga Valley employed a two-three zone to great effect.
“We want the same thing versus a zone versus a man,” said Crusaders’ coach Joe Klazas, “but sometimes … we have to get ourselves in open areas and look to catch and shoot in spots. We definitely wanted to be a little more aggressive and wanted to attack. I think that’s what kept us in the game.”
Conestoga Valley led by as many as 10 points in the third quarter after 3-pointers from Monroe and Trevor High. But the Crusaders continued to fight, closing the gap with a Danny Bomberger trey to close the quarter.
Catholic crawled to within 48-47 late in the fourth, but a critical block by Bucks’ senior Evan Showalter denied Landis inside before Whitacre closed out the game from the line.
“When we had it to one, they made a good play from the backside and get that block,” Klazas said. “(Whitacre) wasn’t who wanted to foul but … they wanted the ball in his hands and we were limited in choices with what we could do there.”
Showalter, by the way, had a game-high 17 points.
“Evan will often very quietly have spectacular games,” Herr said. “He’s not a very flashy player but he just gets it done.”
Not unlike the entire Buckskins squad, which can look forward to another playoff game Tuesday after putting Saturday’s game on ice.
Conestoga Valley 54, Lancaster Catholic 48
Conestoga Valley (54)
E. Showalter 7 0-0 17, C. Whitacre 1 9-12 11, A. Monroe 4 0-0 9, J. Marrero 3 0-0 6, J. Griel 2 0-0 6, T. High 1 0-0 3, G. Stolzfus 1 0-0 2, T. Blantz 0 0-0 0, T. Thomas 0 0-0 0, L. Monroe 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 9-12 54.
Lancaster Catholic (48)
T. Gonzales 5 4-6 14, S. Landis 4 5-9 13, D. Bomberger 2 0-0 6, C. Wenger 1 2-2 4, A. DeBord 1 2-2 4, M. Cannon 1 0-0 3, B. Downey 1 0-0 2, S. Henry 0 2-2 2, J. Ware 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 15-21 48.
CV _ 08 _ 17 _ 15 _ 14 _ — _ 54
LC _ 08 _ 16 _ 10 _ 14 _ — _ 48
3-Point Goals — CV 7 (Showalter 3, Griel 2, A. Monroe, T. High); LC 3 (Bomberger 2, Cannon)