HARRISBURG — Lancaster Mennonite’s Timmy Stefanosky glided to his right late in the fourth quarter, leaping awkwardly through traffic to follow-up teammate Nathaniel Jean-Philippe’s game-tying shot.
Stefenosky sprawled out while still airborne, heaving a put-back effort over his right shoulder and off the backboard, the ball finding open net to tie the score and ultimately send the Blazers’ District 3 third-place game versus Upper Dauphin into overtime.
That play in and of itself was characteristic of the Blazers’ wild run through the 2016 basketball postseason in which they went well out of their way in taking top-seeded Trinity into overtime in the District semis before falling to Upper Dauphin Friday night at CD East High School in a second consecutive extra-period affair.
This time, it was the Trojans’ Matt Miller ripping at the Blazers’ heartstrings, his buzzer-beating floater from the edge of the paint resulting in a grueling, 69-68 final that sends Upper Dauphin into next weekend’s PIAA state tournament.
“They put the ball in my hands,” said Miller of the game-winning shot, part of his 34-point effort including all seven of his team’s points in OT. “Honestly I didn’t think it was going to go in, but that’s what we play for, games like this.”
Meanwhile, the loss sends Mennonite (13-14) home, despite the valiant effort versus the No. 4 Trojans (23-4).
“They’re a tough group of kids,” Blazers’ coach Geoff Groff said of his squad. “They battle and they battle. Down the stretch that’s what has allowed us to compete. We have some guys, once they see the ball going through the basket they take it to another level and you saw that in the fourth quarter.”
Included in that statement, among others, are sophomore Carter Hurst (17 points), who utilized a combination of spinning jukes on his way to 12 first-half points, junior guard Richie Rosas (17 points), who pumped in a trio of second half threes, and Jean-Philippe, who dropped five points in overtime on his way to a team-high 20.
After Miller opened the scoring in overtime, Philippe drilled a three-ball from the wing, later adding a bucket to take a four-point lead. Following a Stefanosky free-throw, Miller rolled in a trey to climb within 68-67 with 1:43 remaining.
“When you see the ball going through the basket, the basket gets bigger and bigger,” Groff said of Miller. “He kept finding his spot on the floor and was more aggressive than I had seen him. Some of that was we allowed him to get into a rhythm too early.”
While Miller helped the Trojans turn a 33-29 halftime deficit into a six-point lead entering the fourth, the Blazers rallied back with a slew of 3-pointers in the second half to put the Upper Dauphin crowd on edge.
“It was stressful, it was nerve-wracking but it was also entertainment right there,” said Miller, a senior. “Like I said, that’s what we play for.”
For Groff and his Blazers’ squad, however, there was sure to be a silver-lining having taken the best AA schools in the district down to the wire.
“This group of guys don’t often have a lot to say. Both the older players and younger players were appreciative of their time with each other,” Groff said, even before the Blazers huddled together for a post-game prayer. “That’s what we’re trying to have happen here. You like to win, but the experience has to be something bigger than winning.”
It’s there, on the surface at least—having laid everything on the line and coming off that much better for it.
Upper Dauphin 69, Lancaster Mennonite 68
Lancaster Mennonite (68)
Nathaniel Jean-Philippe 8 0-0 20, Richie Rosas 5 3-5 17, Carter Hurst 7 2-2 17, Cody Hurst 1 3-4 5, Timmy Stefanosky 2 1-2 5, Ezra Buckwalter 1 0-1 2, John Gillespie 1 0-3 2. Totals 25 9-13 68.
Upper Dauphin (69)
Matthew Miller 12 6-6 34, Jordan Gessner 6 6-7 18, Maxwell Snyder 2 0-0 5, Alex Uhler 1 2-2 4, Travis Deitrich 2 0-0 4, Calen Reigner 2 0-1 4, Masen Bellis 0 0-0 0, Drake Lenker 0 0-0 0. Totals 25 14-16 69.
LM _ 17 _ 16 _ 09 _ 20 _ 06 _ — _ 68
UD _ 13 _ 16 _ 19 _ 14 _ 07 _ — _ 69
3-Point Goals — LMH 9 (Jean-Philippe 4, Rosas 4, Carter Hurst); UD 5 (Miller 4, Snyder)