HERSHEY - It's a winding, 27-plus mile trip from Myerstown to Giant Center, the proclaimed final destination of the Elco boys basketball team's season journey. And along this drive hangs a particular stoplight within a stone's throw of Hershey High School, marking only three miles left until the drive is over.
But while most of the pavement may there lie behind you, those last three miles can feel like the very longest; as the Raiders now very painfully can attest.
Despite completing a 14-point comeback, No. 5 Elco fell 64-63 to fourth-seeded Eastern York in a District 3 Class AAA tournament showdown Friday at Hershey High, sending the Golden Knights to the bracket's semifinals at Giant Center. Eastern York's Broguen Nicholas canned the game-winning free throw at 8.7 seconds left, which preceded an ensuing fallaway miss from Elco senior Colton Lawrence out of the right wing as time expired. Nicholas' 11 fourth-quarter points fueled the Golden Knights' own late comeback, which erased an eight-point deficit at 4:11 to play.
"I wanted the ball. I was getting the ball right there," Nicholas said of the final stretch. "There was no doubt about it."
The Raiders (20-5) are now scheduled to play No. 9 Berks Catholic in a 6 p.m. elimination game Monday at Warwick High School that will award its winner a state tournament berth. Two hours later, Eastern York (21-5) will tip off against top-ranked Milton Hershey.
Failing to meet the Spartans themselves understandably stung for Elco Brad Conners and his bunch.
"I thought we played 20 minutes of really good basketball. We stopped with about four minutes to go in the fourth quarter," Conners said. "It's hard. I know we have another game. But the goal was Giant Center. You've got a couple of 17 and 18-year old kids sitting there, and this is the world to them."
After staking their very first lead late in the third quarter, the Raiders momentarily held that world in the palm of their hands during the infancy of the fourth. Fast-break scores and a floater from Mason Bossert (team-best 24 points) furnished three separate eight-point Elco leads, until Nicholas began chipping away by scoring 10 straight mostly from the free throw line. En route to a game-high 25 points, the senior captain carried the Knights to within two at 2:30 to go, before an ensuing trade of baskets.
Still down one score, Eastern York at last tied the game at 63 as 0:37 remained. Regaining possession, the Raiders trotted back down with the intention of running out the clock, until a series of dribbles and hand-offs led to Nate Beamer whipping into an open driving lane and questionable charge call.
"Nate was on that opposite side all night and he was really having trouble hearing the call. I don't think he heard the call," Conners said. "We had a pick-and-pop set we wanted to run at about the 10-second mark."
Then, after speedily crossing half-court and calling timeout at under 10 seconds left, Eastern York benefited again from an Elco foul, this time against senior Caleb Buchmoyer. After the Raiders surrendered a completed inbounds pass, Buchmoyer immediately bumped Nicholas, thus handing him two foul shots with the Knights having long in the bonus.
"I got the luck of the draw there," Nicholas said. "I was actually just trying to pop out left, set up a play. And I saw him, he was a little off-balance coming towards me, so I kind of let him hit me and got the call."
Zero calls were needed to aid Eastern York on its hot start, which culminated in a 14-0 first-quarter run and eventual 12-point lead at the first break.
Unable to land the night's first blow, Elco answered via several jabs from behind the arc. The Raiders closed the half on a pair of 3s sandwiched around a Beamer transition finish, while holding Eastern York scoreless for the last 2:50. Bossert splashed a quick-trigger trey with two seconds left to cap an 8-0 Elco spurt and draw a 33-28 deficit.
Eastern York 64, Elco 63
Colton Lawrence 6 2-2 14, Mason Bossert 8 2-2 24, Caleb Buchmoyer 2 0-1 6, Dylan Stoops 4 2-4 13, Ryan Eshleman 0 0-0 0, Nate Beamer 3 0-0 6, Devin Stoops 0 0-0 0. Totals — 23 6-9 63.
Eastern York (64)
Jarad Achterberg 8 1-2 18, Broguen Nicholas 7 9-14 25, Jarad Woods 1 1-2 3 Evan Springer 3 2-2 9, Dom Particelli 4 0-0 9, Seth Bernstein 0 0-0 0, Colby Shinnel 0 0-0 0. Totals — 23 13-20 64.
Elco_ 11_ 17_ 22_ 13 _ — _ 63
E. York_ 23_ 10 _ 14_ 17 — _ 64
3-point goals — Elco 11 (Bossert 6, Dy. Stoops 3, Lawrence 2) E. York 5 (Nicholas 2, Springer, Particelli, Achterberg)