Eagles’ road ends one win shy of States

By on March 6, 2019
Cocalico players watch the final moments of the season tick by last Thursday at Milton Hershey as the host Spartans defeated the Eagles, 63-45 in the consolation finals of the District Three 5A Tournament. Photo by Missi Mortimer

Cocalico players watch the final moments of the season tick by last Thursday at Milton Hershey as the host Spartans defeated the Eagles, 63-45 in the consolation finals of the District Three 5A Tournament. Photo by Missi Mortimer

Milton Hershey earns final berth with 63-45 victory over Cocalico

HERSHEY—Time and time again, particularly in the latter part of the season, Cocalico overcame various obstacles to remain alive.

It became kind of a calling card.

First it was the Eagles’ unlikely finish to the regular season. On the outside looking in heading into the season’s final week, Cocalico reeled off three-straight wins over Solanco, Manheim Central and Exeter— all in a span of three days— to wedge themselves into the District playoffs as the 16th seed.

Then, after a tough six-point loss to eventual 5A champion Lower Dauphin in the first round, the Eagles took down eighth-seeded Shippensburg, then fifth-seeded New Oxford, to punch their ticket to the consolation final last Thursday at 10th-seeded Milton Hershey.

With one win standing in their way of the program’s first State berth since the 80s, it seemed inevitable that the Eagles would find a way to get it done.

Unfortunately, things did not hold to the script.

The Spartans got out of the gates fast, opening up a 16-point first quarter lead. Sure, Cocalico did fight back, twice whittling it down to six with plenty of game to go.

Unfortunately, Milton Hershey’s speed and relentless work on the boards proved to be too much to overcome as the Spartans pulled away late for an eventual 63-45 victory.

Milton Hershey landed four players in double figures, led by 6-6 big man Josh Parra, who scored 15 points and added nine boards to lead the way. Jaiden Young, Naeem Cross and Nate Boyd all chipped in with 11 points for the Spartans (19-7), who earned ninth place in the District and now will face District Seven champ Mars (24-1) Friday (6 p.m.) at Greensburg Salem High School.

As for Cocalico, which got a game-high 19 point effort from senior Connor Mack, the Eagles’ ride ends at 15-11.

“Our guys battled. They played their butts off and that’s all you can ask for,” said Cocalico Coach Seth Sigman said following the loss. “They’re good. They aren’t your average 10 seed in the District playoffs. They are a good team. We knew that rebounding was going to be tough. I thought they set the tone early, getting a couple offensive rebound putbacks…that’s what talked about. We couldn’t do that.”

“We wanted them to shoot,” he continued. “We thought if they are shooting outside shots that’s what we’d want. They made a couple early but overall they did not make that many. They got too many of the rebounds on those missed shots. In the first half we got it to six with the ball twice, and we turned it over both times. You creep back, you creep back, you creep back…we made it a game. We showed up to play. We weren’t rolling over for anybody. It’s just that they are very good. They are very good.”

The Eagles found that out early.

After Peyton Stetter gave the Eagles a 5-4 lead two minutes into the game, the Spartans put together a 15-0 run. They did so excelling in transition (forcing four Cocalico turnovers during that stretch), long range shooting, and board work at the offensive end.

With the Eagles trying to man up defensively, they had no answers for the rebounding, in particular, which gave MH second and third opportunities, and led to the 21-5 Spartan advantage.

A late flurry by the Eagles— Mack contributing three field goals, including a three, as well as a Ben Karbe basket— got the Eagles back to within 11 at 25-14 heading to the second.

Cocalico began to claw back even more in the second, and the spark was provided at the defensive end as the Eagles went to a zone to prevent the Spartans from getting to the rim.

While it did slow down Milton Hershey at the offensive end, Cocalico finally got going offensively as well as Mack, Carter Nuneville and Karbe all drained three-pointers during that stretch to cut the deficit to just six. (31-25 with 2:47 to go in the half.

“We talked about trying to play a man, more like a saggy man, so that we would have our box-out responsibilities,” Sigman explained. “We knew in zone it’s a little iffy but we also knew they were getting to the rim too easy so we had to change something. We were down big so we had to do something different. I think the zone bothered them a little bit, we got some stops and we finally started making some shots and got back into it.”

A lay-up by Young with 49 seconds left made it an eight-point game heading to the half. Unfortunately for Cocalico, Milton Hershey would figure things out in the third as they opened the quarter with a quick 6-0 run to open the lead back up to 14.

It stayed that way for most of the period before a pair of putbacks by Stetter got Cocalico to within 13 (50-37) by quarter’s end.

But Milton Hershey got a big three-point play to start the period before Parra scored on a putback. A Mack three-pointer midway through the period cut the Spartan advantage to 15, but that was as close as Cocalico could get as the Spartans kept the Eagles at arm’s length the rest of the way.

Besides Mack’s 19, Stetter chipped in with eight points while Karbe added six for Cocalico in the season finale.

“We knew for the last week of the regular season we had to win all three of our games just to get in,” Sigman said. “We did that. We dropped some games during the regular season that we shouldn’t have lost. We knew we were better than that. In the post-season I think we played like that. We beat the 8th seed, then we beat the 5 seed, and our mindset was there is no reason we can’t beat the 10th seed. They made plays, got some putbacks at the offensive end and that kills you in a game like that.”

Still, it turned into a satisfying season for the third-year Coach and his team. And one he will look to build upon entering next year.

“It’s been a great season, an awesome season,” he said. “Our kids battled, they played hard…they are just great kids. They are coachable, They try to do what we ask them to do. It doesn’t mean they are always perfect but this is a big program-step year for us. Our seniors were sophomores during my first year. They had six wins that year, last year we had eight wins, and those two combined makes 14, and we had 15 wins this year. We did one better in this one season than the last two combined so it’s a credit to our guys and the work they put in in the off-season. The weight room…all that stuff matters. And hopefully it sets a good example for our younger guys. I told them in the locker room after the game, ‘this is the new standard,’ and that’s how we are going to approach it.”

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