Mounts take edge in playoff chase

By on January 29, 2014

Aaron Hubbard (left) of Ephrata ducks under Warwick defender Jordan Cipalla during Friday’s game in Lititz. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

Aaron Hubbard (left) of Ephrata ducks under Warwick defender Jordan Cipalla during Friday’s game in Lititz. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

When the game was on the line last Friday, senior Zach Peifer made his presence felt for the Ephrata boys.

With Warwick clinging to a one-point lead, his putback swung the edge back to the Mounts &tstr; one six lead changes in the fourth quarter.

Damian Soto buried one of two foul shots for the Warriors with 1:53 remaining, but Peifer grabbed a key offensive rebound, drew contact and promptly sank two foul shots, putting the Ephrata boys up 61-59 with 1:18 left.

It was a lead that the Mounts never relinquished, as they went on to defeat Warwick 67-63 in a Section One-Two crossover game in Lititz.

“Zach had a monster game,” Ephrata coach Jason Coletti said. “He’s an athlete. He’s a big, strong kid. He’s in the weight room all the time, you can tell, and he’s just that physical presence down low to jump and get a rebound.”

While the Ephrata boys finished the plays that they needed to make down the stretch, Warwick sank just one of six shots in the final two minutes and struggled from the foul line. Overall, the Warriors were 11-of-21 in free throws for the game.

“Unlike the other two games this week, where I thought we fell apart in the fourth quarter because of our shot selection, I think we got the shots we wanted down the stretch,” Warwick coach Jeff Landis said. “They just didn’t go in. But they were good shots. And once again, we’re 11-of-21 from the line. It’s 53, 54 percent which is what we are for the year. Lay-ups and foul shots have been our Achilles heel for awhile and we’ve got to get better at it.”

Unfortunately for the Warriors, it appears to be too late for this season. Warwick and Ephrata seem to be headed in opposite directions, with the Mounts battling for a playoff spot and the Warriors heading home at the end of the regular season.

Friday’s win gave the Ephrata boys (6-6 L-L, 8-10 overall) a one-game lead over Cocalico in Section Two for the second and final L-L League playoff berth.

“It’s a huge win,” Coletti said. “We want to maintain that position. These seniors want to leave on a positive note, hopefully making the playoffs, and that definitely is something that they’re striving to do.”

The Warriors, meanwhile, dropped to 5-7 in L-L play (6-11 overall) with the loss.

“We haven’t been in this position for a long time,” Landis said. “We’ve got 10 days left and now Districts and everything, it’s no longer possible. So we’ll see the true character and what they’re made of. I think they’ll finish this out right and they’ll play hard because they’re quality people.”

It wasn’t for lack of effort on the Warriors’ part against the Mounts, particularly in the first quarter, when Grant Zimmerman shot 5-of-7 from the field and scored 10 of his team-high 18 points, all inside the paint. That boosted Warwick to a 14-5 lead with 3:31 to go in the period. Jake Shillady and Jordan Cipalla added 12 points apiece.

“Grant had a really good game,” Landis said. “He had 20 last night (in a loss to Hempfield) and he finished in there early tonight. But (Ephrata) weathered the storm.”

Indeed they did. While getting a boost from Gyree Durante and Matt McGillan off the bench, Ephrata put together an 7-0 run &tstr; on a drive by Peifer, a triple by senior Aaron Hubbard and a layup by Peifer &tstr; and cuts its deficit to 18-17 with :54 left in the quarter. Hubbard finished with three of the team’s seven treys and had a game-high 20 points, while Peifer chipped in with 17.

Durante and McGillan combined to score just five points, but their contributions went way beyond the box score.

“I wrote it on the chalkboard before the game, ‘We need 32 minutes of energy,’” Coletti said. “The first four minutes, I didn’t think we were energized enough. We put our two sophomores (Durante and McGillan) in who I knew would give us some energy. They picked up the tempo and that’s what we wanted.”

Warwick still led 31-27 with 1:16 to go in the half, as Soto (9 points) converted a three-point play and then knocked down two freebies.

Following a “three” by Hubbard, Shillady had a steal and a fastbreak layup, by Hubbard’s half-court shot at the buzzer tied it 33-all heading to the locker room.

“We were down one with the basketball, we were playing for the last shot and (Warwick) steals and goes up three and I’m thinking, ‘That’s the momentum we wanted,’” Coletti said. “But then (Aaron) banked it in and that was a huge lift going into half-time.”

The back-and-forth action continued into the third, and Colin Gibble’s layup with just :0.7 to remaining on the clock put Warwick up 52-49 at period’s end.

The Warriors and Mounts traded the lead several times in the early stages of the fourth, but when Peifer rebounded a miss by Hubbard and headed to the foul line with 1:18 to go, Ephrata went on top to stay, 61-59.

Cipalla hit the second of two free throws with :46.4 left to make it 61-60, but Warwick came up empty on its next two possessions, and a layup by Ephrata’s Roman Heckstall, along with Hubbard and Brady Sipe combining to go 3-of-4 from the line, extended the Mounts’ lead to 66-60 with :14.3 left.

“Everyone who plays the game wants to win so bad,” Landis said, “that when the game is on the line … you win that first game or two, you get there and expect to win. Now it’s almost like it’s in our body language, it’s like, ‘What’s going to go wrong?’”

Austin Myers nailed a 3-pointer for Warwick with :2.1 to go, but it was too little, too late.

“We knew it was going to be tough. They’re a physical team, they’re a defensive-oriented team,” Coletti said of Warwick. “We just told them, ‘Keep playing through it. Keep playing through it.’ It seems like every game comes down to the wire with us, and fortunately, we pulled this one out and made enough plays down the stretch.”

In addition to Friday’s game, Ephrata also pulled out a key 57-56 overtime victory over visiting Solanco last Thursday night.

With Solanco clinging to a 56-55 lead, Hubbard’s lay-up with two seconds to play was the game winner.

Sipe, Peifer and Aaron Huston all had 12 points to lead the Mounts.

On Saturday, Ephrata played its third game in as many days as the Mounts hosted Dover in a non-league contest.

Ephrata trailed 37-25 after three quarters, but made a run down the stretch. The Mounts out-scored Dover 22-12 the rest of the way but came up just short in a 49-47 decision.

Sipe led the way with 13 points while Zimmerman dropped in 12 in the loss.

Up next, Ephrata returns to action Wednesday night on the road at Elizabethtown. The Mounts then travel to CV Friday before facing Cocalico in Denver which figures to be a huge game in the standings next Monday.

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