Playoff heartbreak again

By on February 22, 2017
Ephrata’s Dilyn Becker (right) battles Lampeter-Strasburg’s Cameron Niemyer for the ball during Monday’s District playoff game at L-S. Photo by Kirk Neidermyer

Ephrata’s Dilyn Becker (right) battles Lampeter-Strasburg’s Cameron Niemyer for the ball during Monday’s District playoff game at L-S. Photo by Kirk Neidermyer

L-S comes back to stun Mounts in District opener

A week ago, Ephrata held a double-digit, second-half lead in the opening round of the L-L League Tournament at Lebanon, only to let it slip away.

The game ended with the Mounts’ Dilyn Becker launching a potential game winner that was just a bit too strong and the Cedars survived, 52-50.

Monday night at L-S in the District Three opener, it was Deja Vu all over again for the Mounts.

After a slow start, Ephrata took control and built an 11-point cushion on the Section Two champion Pioneers, and the Mounts appeared to be in good shape up nine heading to the fourth.

But like that Lebanon game a week earlier, Ephrata was unable to hold on.

The Pioneers opened the fourth quarter on an 11-2 run before Ben Sandberg’s huge three-point play with 37 seconds to go put the Pioneers ahead to stay at 38-37.

Ephrata, again, had a chance to get the win in its final possession but Becker was forced to take a difficult shot as time was winding down, and it came up short.

“It stinks…it’s just an awful feeling,” Ephrata Coach Charlie Fisher said of his team’s latest loss. “Our goal for today was to play with no regrets. I hope our guys have no regrets.”

With the win, the Pioneers (17-8) not only clinched a State playoff berth but advanced to Thursday’s quarterfinals when they’ll head to second-seeded Mechanicsburg (20-5).

Despite the loss, the Mounts (16-9) still remain alive for one of the 10 State berths allotted to District Three in Class 5A. The Mounts, who need to win two consolation games to clinch just their third trip to States in program history, host Hershey (11-12) Thursday at 7 p.m. at Ephrata Middle School.

The winner of that game will move on to face either Garden Spot (14-9) or Dover (14-10) next Monday (8 p.m.) at Warwick.

“I feel bad for (our two seniors) Micah (Krauter) and Larson (Kopp),” Fisher said. ‘We are still playing on Thursday and we still have a chance to go to States but…I feel bad for those guys.

“Thursday we got to go business as usual. We got to play a game on Thursday and it’s up to us as a program and as a team…are we going to cave and be OK with our season or are we going to try to go to States? That’s our only reward now. All the other rewards are done. It’s cool that we get to play again so we’ll see if we bounce back.”

Early on Monday, it seemed the Mounts were feeling lingering effects from their loss to Lebanon.

Offensively, Ephrata missed its first seven shots and went scoreless through the first period. On defense, the Mounts didn’t have an answer early for 6-7 junior Ryan Smith (12 points), who scored all seven L-S points in the first, catching and converting lob passes on the post and forcing Ephrata to adjust its defense in the second.

“Initially we were looking at (Smith) but their coach did a nice job of switching it up and putting him on the post instead of the perimeter,” Fisher said. “What we wanted was to bump him off the line, and he did a nice job of adjusting, putting him on the low block.”

With Krauter now fronting Smith with help from behind, Ephrata slowed down the Pioneer junior in the second, and it sparked the Mounts at the other end as well.

After a pair of free throws by Brad DaBella got the Mounts on the board with one minute gone in the second, sophomore Xavian Rodriguez, who led the Mounts with 12 points, ignited an Ephrata run. Rodriguez hit a runner from the foul line for the Mounts’ first field goal before hitting back-to-back three pointers later in the period to actually give his team its first lead at 10-9.

Ephrata later led 12-11, and held for the final shot of the half. However, that backfired after Rodriguez misfired and the Pioneers’ Payton Denlinger hauled in his own miss and finished a putback at the buzzer to put his team back on top at 13-12 heading to the half.

But the Mounts hit their first shot of the third—a three pointer by Becker— and it ignited what would amount to an 18-8 third-quarter run. DaBella and junior Brendan Holbritter both drained threes during that stretch before Krauter cashed in on a pair of drives in the final minute.

Ephrata carried a 30-21 lead into the final quarter, and appeared to be in good shape after trading baskets in the first minute of the fourth.

However, after a Sandberg lay-up cut it to seven (32-25), L-S forced a pair of turnovers and went a perfect 4-for-4 from the line at the other end after Ephrata fouls to chisel it down to three (32-29).

Then, after the Mounts failed to convert again, Sandberg cashed in again in the paint to make it a one-point ballgame with 4:56 to go.

Still, Ephrata appeared to regain the momentum when Krauter blew by Smith for a lay-up and a foul with 2:27 to go. Krauter then made the free throw to complete the three-point play for the 35-32 lead.

The Pioneers’ Jordan Swegar then sank one of two free throws to cut the L-S deficit to two before Swegar made his only field goal of the night to knot the game back up at 35-35 with 1:49 to go.

Then in the final minute, Swegar made a game-saving play with his team trailing 37-35 after Holbritter sank a pair of clutch free throws to give the Mounts the lead.

Jack Banner’s shot from the corner missed, and the ball was loose and heading out of bounds. But Swegar alertly grabbed the ball and called time-out as he was falling out of bounds and L-S retained possession.

That led to an inbounds pass to Swegar at the top of the key, who found Sandberg on the post. Sandberg (11 points) turned and connected, and was fouled, leading to the three-point play that ultimately put L-S ahead to stay.

On the Mounts’ final possession after an inbounds under their own basket with seven seconds left, Becker hit junior Sam Cable at the top of the key. Becker then came off a double screen and got the ball in the left-corner from Cable with about two seconds remaining. With L-S defenders on top of him and little time left, Becker was forced to launch a desperation heave which came up short.

Rodriguez was the lone Ephrata player in double figures, but Holbritter and Krauter each scored seven points apiece in the loss. Smith added eight boards to go with his 12 points for L-S.

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