Mounts struggle in loss to Lower Dauphin

By on February 21, 2018

Do-or-die game vs. Northern set for Thursday

Ephrata could be down to its final 32 minutes of basketball.

That’s the reality the Mounts are facing after suffering a 58-41 loss on the road at Lower Dauphin Monday night in the District Three 5A opener.

The juice that carried the Mounts to seven-straight wins down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs simply wasn’t there Monday as Ephrata fell behind early and played catch-up the rest of the way.

Offensively, Ephrata shot just 38 percent from the field (18-for-47) while committing 19 key turnovers. Defensively, the Mounts had a difficult time containing 6-6 center Will Bowen, who dropped in 23 points to go along with 12 boards.

And perhaps, Ephrata was still feeling the affects of last Thursday’s excruciating 44-42 last-second loss to Lancaster Catholic in the L-L League semifinals.

Whatever the reasons, it all added up to a loss in the first round of Districts, the second-straight year that has happened.

“It was a little uncharacteristic on our part, but that’s a two-fold thing,” Ephrata Coach Jon Treese said of his team’s play Monday. “Lower Dauphin runs a zone that we don’t see all year. It may not have looked like it all the time but we actually had a pretty good gameplan to attack it, which we showed in spurts to get good opportunities.

“But we had a very emotional week last week. You take this long bus trip, and I don’t know if it was as much physical mistakes as it was more mental mistakes of being a little bit tired and putting a little pressure on ourselves because we gave up a lead early. We’ve dug back from leads, but we have not had to dig back on a night where we were down like this in a game of this magnitude in Districts. We’re going to look back on it as a learning experience and move on to play 32 minutes to earn another 32 minutes. That’s going to be the focus now all week.”

While Lower Dauphin (18-5) advanced to Thursday quarterfinals (at top-seeded Lampeter-Strasburg) and earned a state berth with the win, Ephrata still has a shot to punch its ticket to States. The Mounts need two victories in the consolation bracket to get there, beginning with Thursday’s home game vs. 16th seeded Northern York (11-12), which lost 55-35 to L-S Monday.

The Ephrata-Northern York winner will advance to Monday’s 9th place consolation semifinals set for East Pennsboro High School, beginning at 7:30 p.m. They will face the winner of Thursday’s Dover-Shippensburg match-up.

The 9th place consolation finals are set for next Wednesday at Mechanicsburg High School, beginning at 5 p.m.

“We have a familiar opponent in Northern York,” Treese said. “We took a look at them on film so we’ll start evaluating what’s the best way to stop Northern York and hopefully give ourselves the advantage at both ends of the floor.”

Monday night, Lower Dauphin got out of the gates quickly, and perhaps set the tone for the evening with four looks on the first possession before Luke Hedrick finished it off with a three. Hedrick, who chipped in with 16 points, then added another field goal before going 1-of-2 from the line to give the Falcons the early 8-2 lead.

Ephrata (18-7) got five crucial points in the first quarter by Sam Cable to prevent this one from getting out of hand early, but the Mounts still trailed 18-8 after eight minutes.

A quick 6-2 spurt by LD to start the second quarter put the Mounts in a 24-10 hole before Ephrata slightly closed the gap to 32-21 by the break. Dilyn Becker scored six of his eight points during that stretch to help give the Mounts a chance heading to the second half.

In the third, the Mounts did begin to chip away at the LD lead, opening the third on a 9-3 run to cut it to 35-30 with 4:59 to go. Brad DaBella (4 points) delivered a key triple during that stretch before Xavian Rodriguez, who led the Mounts with 14 points, converted a pair of fast-break buckets.

But despite LD going empty on its next four trips, the Mounts were sloppy in their own end, turning the ball over three-straight times during that span. The Falcons’ Josh Saufley and Bowen finally ended the LD drought with a pair of buckets to put the Falcons back up by nine (39-30) late in the third. However, a late three-ball by Zack McGillan (8 points) got Ephrata back to within 39-33 by the end of the third.

Ephrata had multiple opportunities to cut into the lead in the fourth but could never get within six points. After a Rodriguez jumper with 4:49 to play, the Falcons closed the game on a 15-4 run to salt it away. Hedrick and Bowen combined for 14 of the Falcons’ 19 points in the final stanza, ending what turned out to be a very frustrating night for the Mounts.

“The opportunities were there to maybe hit a big shot, or we got a good look inside and got the look we wanted, but you’ve got to give credit to Lower Dauphin,” Treese said. “We punched at them and got it down to six and they got a timely offensive rebound or one their big kids made a nice move inside. They did something that teams do to win games in this type of tournament. I’m proud of the way my guys punched back but I have to give credit to Lower Dauphin too. They stopped our runs when they needed to.”

And now the Mounts are in survival mode heading into Thursday’s match-up with Northern.

“We’ve been on this thing where we approach practice and everything we do to focus on these 32 minutes, meaning the game ahead of us,” Treese began. “We are kind of looking at it as this is the most exciting time of the year because now truly and officially we are playing 32 minutes to get 32 more minutes. For our seniors who have done so many great things for this program, and a group of guys who really have invested everything necessary to have the opportunity to play in the State Tournament, it’s really about showing everyone your resiliency. I think that’s what our guys have. I think they have resiliency. And we are going to find a way to focus these next two days at practice and make sure we are absolutely ready for those next 32 minutes.”

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As mentioned above, Ephrata entered Monday’s contest fresh off the Mounts’ heartbreaking 44-42 loss to Lancaster Catholic last Thursday in the L-L League semifinals at Penn Manor.

In a game that was nip and tuck throughout, the Crusaders broke a 42-42 tie with 0.1 seconds left when Ephrata was whistled for a foul on Catholic’s David Kamwanga as he pulled up and shot along the baseline.

The Mounts watched helplessly then as Kamwanga stepped to the line and buried both freebies to give the Crusaders the 44-42 victory and send them to the L-L Finals for the second-straight year.

“I’ve never seen that call made before at the end of the game, but we can’t focus on one call,” Treese said following the heart-breaking loss. “It was a great basketball game. Two teams did a lot of good things. We knew it was going to be one of those battles where someone was going to do something a little bit better and someone was going to have to come out on top.

“Lancaster Catholic, the things they do they do exceptionally well. We got the looks we wanted, we played well and stuck to our gameplan. We had every opportunity but it certainly ended in a way I didn’t expect. But credit to them. I don’t want to take anything away from Lancaster Catholic.”

Ephrata got off to a sizzling start, sinking five three-pointers through a period and a half to lead 19-9 midway through the second. But Catholic closed the quarter on a 12-2 run, punctuated by Johnny Besecker’s bank-in three at the buzzer to knot things at 21-21 heading to the half.

Miles McCaskey had a big third quarter for Catholic, scoring seven of his nine points to give the Crusaders a 32-27 lead with 2:07 to go. But a big three-point play by McGillan, followed by a transition hoop by Rodriguez, drew the teams even again at 32-32 heading to the fourth.

DaBella’s trey midway through the fourth put the Mounts up 40-38, before Catholic’s RJ Van Tash made a tough turn-around jumper with 3:31 to go to tie the game again. Then after Kamwanga and Becker traded hoops to draw the teams even at 42-42, Catholic eventually got the ball back in the final minute and change and decided to hold for the last shot.

That set the stage for the controversial ending, when Kamwanga, to his credit, came through with the winning foul shots.

Kamwanga led the Crusaders with 10 points while McCaskey and Besecker each chipped in with nine apiece. DaBella, McGillan and Rodriguez all had nine while Becker chipped in with eight for the Mounts in the loss.

Catholic went on to drop Friday’s title tilt to Lampeter-Strasburg, which captured its first league title in program history with a 50-40 victory at Manheim Township.

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