Shooting stars: McGillan, Mounts out-gun Cedar Crest, face Catholic in Wednesday’s semifinals

By on February 14, 2018

L/L League Rifle
Ephrata Rifle -Joel Potts 2nd place

Through no fault of his own, Zack McGillan sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

Playing for an Ephrata squad packed with a bunch of senior veterans and a budding star in junior post player Xavian Rodriguez, McGillan quietly, steadily just goes about his business.

Monday, however, McGillan was at the forefront of Ephrata’s offensive attack in the opening round of the L-L League playoffs vs. Cedar Crest at Warwick.

With the Mounts looking to win their first L-L crown since the 1974-75 season, McGillan, who averages eight points per contest, delivered in a big way. The junior erupted for a career-high 30 points, which included eight three pointers, as the Mounts built a huge lead over the Section One runners-up before holding on to earn a big 84-69 victory and punch their ticket to Wednesday’s semifinals.

Brad DaBella also had a big night offensively for Ephrata (18-5) with 22 points, including four treys, while Dilyn Becker (13) and Rodriguez (12) also reached double figures. But it was McGillan who clearly stole the show.

“It was just one of those nights,” McGillan said after the win. “My teammates got me open and I just let it fly from there. It was just my night tonight.”

Most of McGillan’s damage came in the first half when he went a perfect 7-for-7 from behind the arc, which included a half-court buzzer beater at the end of the first quarter. He collected his 29th and 30th points at the foul line with 25 seconds to go to close out a memorable night for both McGillan and his teammates.

“Zach did great,” DaBella said afterward. “He really stepped up tonight and hit all the big shots.”

With the win, the Mounts advanced to Wednesday’s semifinals opposite defending L-L League and District Three 4A champion Lancaster Catholic (21-2), which knocked off Garden Spot 70-60 in Monday’s quarters.

That game will tip-off Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Penn Manor, preceding the second semifinal between Section One champion Hempfield and Lampeter-Strasburg, the Section Two champ.

The winners of Wednesday’s semifinal games will advance to Friday’s championship set for Manheim Township, beginning at 7 p.m.

“I’m really happy they only get 48 hours too,” Ephrata Coach Jon Treese said when asked about having just two days to prepare for the defending champion Crusaders. “I’m sure they were watching the game also so there’s going to be a whole lot of coaches trying to play chess and not so much checkers.”

“It’s a game of matchups,” he continued. “They have some really good pieces and good things they can do offensively and defensively. My guys are confident and they have every reason to be confident. I think it’s going to come down to someone getting that matchup or someone exploiting something just a little bit better than the other team and that’s who’s going to end up on top.”

Back to Monday where it was actually the Falcons (18-5) who got off and running early as Cole Laney, who would go on to score a team-high 20 points, tallied the game’s first basket with a break-away dunk. He followed it up by draining a three on the Falcons’ next possession to give his squad the early 5-0 lead.

But DaBella finally got Ephrata on the board with a three-pointer at the 6:16 mark, and that started a 12-0 Mount run in which DaBella sandwiched a pair of triples around two treys by McGillan, and the Mounts were suddenly up by seven.

The Ephrata scoring barrage was just heating up.

After the Falcons cut it to 12-9, Ephrata quickly countered with a 10-0 spurt as McGillan ended that run with his third triple of the quarter. Cedar Crest’s Dylan Miller (18) momentarily stopped the bleeding by converting a lay-up with five ticks left in the quarter. But McGillan found the ball in his hands and launched a shot from just beyond half-court that banked home and beat the buzzer to give Ephrata a stunning 25-11 lead after just eight minutes.

“We talked about match-ups, especially in the playoffs, and we figured if they were going to leave Zack open, we were going to let Zack shoot,” Treese explained when asked about his team’s hot start. “Zack just stepped up and hit a lot of big shots. And then our guys did a real nice job of executing certain sets to give us different looks to try to keep them off-balance. We were getting set-up looks for him, we were getting just natural drive and kicks to him…it just seemed like our offense kind of gelled in the right way tonight.”

The Mounts began the second quarter the same way they ended it — with McGillan knocking down an open look for a three to make it 28-11. Ephrata kept the Falcons on their heels for the majority of the quarter, building the lead to 41-19 after DaBella knocked down three free throws after he was fouled attempting a trey.

Then after yet another McGillan bomb, Crest cut the deficit to 19 points (44-25) on a three-point play by Miller before turning it over, allowing the Mounts one more possession in the final seconds. Becker then punctuated Ephrata’s near-perfect first half, swishing a step-back jumper from the baseline at the buzzer to put the Mounts up 46-25 at the break.

“This gym definitely treats us nice,” DaBella said, referring to his team’s previous success at Warwick. “I think we were just locked in, but it all starts at the defensive end. We get all the energy on the defensive end and that just carries over to the offense.”

Ephrata needed some of that defensive energy in the second half as the Falcons tried to get back in the game.

Despite some dribble-drive success by Crest in the third, Ephrata maintained a 21-point lead (64-43) through three quarters. However, a comeback attempt led by Cedar Crest guard Logan Horn made things a little uncomfortable for the Mounts early in the third.

Horn (15 points) led a 9-0 Cedar Crest run to start the third and cut the Ephrata lead to 64-52 with still 5:32 to play. Cedar Crest eventually got to within 10 points at 70-60 on a pair of free throws by Miller. To make matters worse for the Mounts, Becker, the point guard, fouled out on the play.

However, after Laney was whistled for a technical foul, the Mounts eventually put the game and win away at the foul line, connecting on 10-of-14 free throws in the final two minutes to claim the big victory.

“We knew they were a really good team coming in,” McGillan said. “Coach was telling us how good they were and we believed that because they are usually always a very good team. We just had to focus on what we had to focus on and stick to it…And it worked.”

“This means a lot,” added DaBella. “It definitely boosts our confidence and it’s just great to beat a really good team like that. We both fought hard and we just showed up and had a lot of energy and played a great game.”

And now the Mounts are on to the L-L’s version of the Final Four, a place they feel they truly belong and where they’ve been looking to go ever since they first rolled the balls out back in late November.

“These kids have put in a ton of work to get to this point,” Treese said. “I talked to them about the minutes we’ve logged and the things we’ve done, and I said to them, this is an opportunity that you’ve truly earned. You shouldn’t let anyone take away something that I feel you’ve truly earned. So I think they were focused on that the whole time. Tonight was their opportunity to come out and show exactly what they were capable of, and in terms of a program wide thing, this shows how much hard work pays off. It shows what kind of athletes we have here in Ephrata, and as a head coach you want to use that as a springboard.”

“This is where we want to be every year,” he continued. “That’s a credit to our upperclassmen. They’ve taken on that challenge since I got here. They’ve made no bones about. That’s what we are coming to do. I feel like they’ve given us the best example possible of what we want our program to be.”

In addition to the L-L League playoffs, the Mounts have also qualified for the District Three Class 5A playoffs, which get underway Monday evening.

Ephrata enters play as the ninth seed and will travel to Lower Dauphin to face the host Falcons (17-5), who are seeded eighth.

Gametime is set for 7 p.m.


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