LANCASTER – If McCaskey repeats last year’s deep boys’ basketball playoff run, it might owe a debt of gratitude to its equivalent of a drill sergeant.
Conestoga Valley, again, tested every fiber of resolve from Steve Powell’s Red Tornado, who clinched a PIAA playoff berth with a wildly entertaining 81-77 overtime victory Wednesday night in a District 3-AAAA Round of 16 showdown at McCaskey High School.
In his final home game, Kobe Gantz bucketed a team-high 20 points to pace the Red Tornado (20-5), who will haul a five-game winning streak into Saturday’s quarterfinal against Spring Grove, 7:30 p.m. at Dallastown High School. The Rockets walloped CD East 66-27 Wednesday night.
“First of all, beating a team three times is very hard,” said Gantz, whose team drubbed CV by 20 in the regular season, then needed a lights-out shooting performance to post an 86-78 triumph in last week’s Lancaster-Lebanon League tournament semifinals.
“They’re a great team, well-coached, and it’s obvious they went back to the gym and looked at some film.”
As they did last week, Brad Herr’s Buckskins (16-9) led at halftime. But, just like last week, a McCaskey flurry in the second half turned momentum toward the Tornado.
Randolph Speller, scoreless until this point, drilled an off-balance 3-pointer to beat the third-quarter buzzer for a 46-42 lead. Then Speller (15 points, seven assists) scored a four-point play before dishing to Jathan Gonzalez (13 points) for another trey early in the fourth, and McCaskey very suddenly had a double-digit lead.
It reached 14 points (56-42) moments later after a three-point play from Gantz (eight steals).
“We felt we played a tremendous game last week in the semis,” said Herr, whose group was led by Connor Whitacre’s career-high 21 points in his final game. “And, again, all credit to McCaskey. They just knocked down shots on us. We came in thinking if we played that hard and played that well again, they couldn’t possibly hit that many shots again.”
Most in McCaskey’s packed house might have thought that 13-point surge all but ended this contest.
It did not.
CV began a flurry of its own, drilling its first five 3-pointers of the stanza to gradually slice into that 14-point deficit.
The Buckskins had it down to a single possession by the 2:35 mark, though they still trailed by three after Ricky Cruz (10 points) sank two free throws with 15 seconds left.
But, with the final seconds winding down, Whitacre (seven assists) dished to sophomore Austin Monroe (15 points) for a tying 3-pointer that forced overtime and sent CV’s sizable fan base into a frenzy.
“I was just thinking of getting our guys calmed down and getting ready for overtime,” Herr said. “I’m pretty even-keeled on the sidelines, and I’m a big believer that you don’t get too high and don’t get too low when dealing with teenagers. The kid [Monroe] had 13 points in the fourth quarter and really responded, and that’s very promising for us down the road.”
Said Gantz of Monroe’s clutch bucket from the top of the arc: “I’d rather that than him hit a four-point play, to be honest. Going into overtime, I was pretty confident in our team. I knew that usually teams can’t handle us at the end of the game, in the fourth and even in overtime.”
Evan Showalter (16 points) opened the extra session by finishing a feed from Whitacre, and CV had its first lead since the third quarter.
But Gantz answered with two free throws, then Speller’s put-back with 2:15 left gave the Tornado the lead for good. He soon added two more free throws.
A put-back by Jovan Marrero (15 points, 12 rebounds) pulled CV to within 76-74 with 1:40 left, but that’s as close as it would get. After going 10 for 14 from the field in the fourth, the ‘Skins targeted just three of 14 shots in OT.
Greg Nunez (nine points, nine rebounds), Gonzalez and Cruz combined to knock down five free throws over the final 66 seconds to seal it.
Reserve big man William Joseph, like Gonzalez, gave foul-plagued McCaskey a huge lift off the bench with seven points and 14 rebounds.
The Tornado even drew a pair of technical fouls from the Mid-Penn Conference officiating crew, though that only seemed to motivate the hosts even more.
And now Powell’s crew is guaranteed a much longer postseason. Conestoga Valley, seeking its first district playoff win since 2009, made certain the Tornado earned it.
“Win,” Gantz said of the goals for the rest of the postseason. “It’s my senior year, and I want to go out a winner. I want to get as far as a can, maybe see Reading again. Just win. That’s our motivation.”
Morrow on Twitter: @RageAgainstGMo
McCaskey 81, Conestoga Valley 77 (OT)
CONESTOGA VALLEY (77)
Austin Monroe 6-9 0-0 15, Connor Whitacre 4-9 12-14 21, Evan Showalter 6-12 1-3 16, Jovan Marrero 7-13 0-0 15, Jeremy Griel 2-10 0-1 4, Theo Blantz 0-0 0-0 0, Trevor High 1-3 0-0 3, Tristan Thomas 0-3 3-4 3, Grant Stoltzfus 0-3 0-0 0. Totals — 26-62 16-22 77.
Kobe Gantz 7-12 5-7 20, Ricky Cruz 1-17 7-8 10, Izaiah Baratta 1-3 4-4 7, Greg Nunez 3-5 3-8 9, Randolph Speller 4-10 5-5 15, Jathan Gonzalez 4-6 2-4 13, Omar Baskerville 0-1 0-0 0, Skyler Davis 0-4 0-0 0, William Joseph 3-7 1-2 7. Totals — 23-65 27-38 81.
Conestoga Valley _ 15 _ 15 _ 12 _ 28 _7 _ — _ 77
McCaskey _ 20 _ 9 _ 17 _ 24 _11 _ — _ 81
3-point goals — CV 9-24 (Monroe 3-3, Showalter 3-8, Whitacre 1-2, Marrero 1-2, High 1-3, Thomas 0-1, Stoltzfus 0-2, Griel 0-3); McC 8-26 (Gonzalez 3-5, Speller 2-7, Baratta 1-1, Gantz 1-4, Cruz 1-8, Baskerville 0-1). Rebounds – CV 39 (Marrero 12); McC 46 (Joseph 14). Assists – CV 21 (Whitacre 7); McC 13 (Speller 7). Steals – CV 5 (Whitacre, Griel 2); McC 14 (Gantz 8). Blocks – CV 2 (Marrero, Griel); McC 5 (Gantz, Joseph 2). Turnovers – CV 18; McC 14. Fouls – CV 25; McC 19. Fouled out:Monroe, Whitacre.