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You almost expected Gene Hackman to show up on the sideline for Bermudian Springs on Monday.
Taking a page from the Hoosiers movie script, Hickory – oops, the Eagles – didn’t have a single player standing taller than 5-foot-10, yet there they were in the District Three Triple-A playoff semifinals playing Manheim Central with a 22-2 record.
“I actually told my guys, ‘Let’s be Muncie, but let’s change the script,’” Barons’ coach Chris Sherwood said. “That’s exactly what I told them. I said, ‘No one’s going to shoot underhand free throws though.”
Change the script they did.
After playing from behind through three quarters, the 7th-seeded Manheim Central boys, capitalizing on a full-court trap, outscored Bermudian Springs 19-9 down the stretch and pulled out a 43-39 victory on the floor of Hershey’s Giant Center. Junior Dan Wiederrecht scored eight of his 10 points in the final stanza and freshman Taylor Funk finished with a team-high 14 points.
“I think our guys wore them down a little bit, I honestly do,” Sherwood said. “We had never made them completely uncomfortable until the fourth quarter.”
Thanks to their big fourth-quarter performance, the Barons (24-3) are headed to their first-ever District championship game, set for tonight (Thursday) at the Giant Center against 6th-seeded Susquehanna Township, a 60-57 winner over top-seeded Bishop McDevitt. Tip-off is 6:30 p.m.
“It’s awesome,” Wiederrecht smiled. “Best feeling ever.”
“For me,” Sherwood said, “it hasn’t sunk in, but we can hear them (in the locker room). It seems like maybe it has sunk in (for the players). Kids have a little more perspective on the action that’s taking place right then. There’s a lot of emotion.”
The Eagles (22-3), while frustrating the Barons with their defense, were riding a wave of emotion when Alex Orwig buried back-to-back triples to go up 10-4 with 4:29 left in the first quarter, and again after Alexander Huntington’s trey made it 15-9 at the 4:03 mark of the second. Senior guard Neil Murren scored a game-high points to lead the Eagles, who shot 8-of-14 in the opening half.
“They’re well-coached, they’re tough kids – we have a lot of respect for them,” Sherwood said. “They made a lot of shots in the first half and we had missed some assignments.”
A base line drive by Matt Walsh (8 points), followed Tony Staffieri’s deuce, cut the Barons’ deficit to 27-24 with 1:17 left in the third, but Murren answered with a trey to give Bermudian Springs a six-point lead, 30-24, at period’s end.
Early in that final stanza, Sherwood called his troops together during a timeout.
“I just thought we were passive,” the Barons’ skipper said. “I thought that they had pushed us out of our comfort zone to a point where we had stopped attacking. They moved their feet real well, their quick, they’re well-coached defensively. So we just kinda read them riot act a little bit and said, ‘No one feels bad for you around here.’”
Wiederrecht scored six points in a 12-2 run and the Barons tied the game on Tanner Brenize’s big 3-pointer from the elbow, then grabbed their first lead at 32-30 when Funk finished on a putback with 4:58 remaining.
“That’s the way we do it. We try not to get leads until the fourth quarter,” Sherwood quipped.
“We just felt like, ‘We needed to go, we need to go,’” Wiederrecht said, “and right off the bat, we needed that streak and we took it and went.”
Senior Josh Flanagan was a big part of that streak, grabbing a key rebound and dishing to Wiederrecht for a layup, playing at the head of MC’s 1-2-2 full-court trap and providing a key senior presence for the Barons.
“There was a point when things were going bad that I said to our assistants, ‘We are going down with Josh Flanagan on the floor because he has senior urgency right now,’” Sherwood recalled. “Let’s be serious – juniors and sophomores and freshmen don’t understand the finality of it all. Kids think they’ll be back tomorrow. So you need a senior who understands the urgency involved.”
When Murren sank two free throws with 2:05 left, the Eagles were still within 36-34.
But then Walsh, Wiederrecht, Brenize and Staffieri combined to go 7-of-8 at the line to make it 43-36 with :27.4 to go, and the Barons’ student section began their chant of ‘Start the buses.’
The Barons had, in fact, reversed the Hoosiers script.
“These kids made plays,” Sherwood said, “and the credit goes to our guys who never stopped playing.”
Last Friday night, Tanner Brenize hit from beyond the arc for just the seventh time this season. It was easily the biggest of all of them.
The Manheim Central junior’s 3-pointer from the right elbow as time expired erased a 49-48 lead for West York and boosted the Barons to a classic 51-49 win in the District Three Triple-A quarterfinals on the floor of the Giant Center.
“This is the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Brenize said in a Giant Center hallway. “There’s no words that can describe it. It’s so awesome.”
It was just the fourth time all night that the Barons led and it came on the heels of a clutch triple from Bulldog star senior Kevin Rice with just :07 left, giving West York a brief 49-48 advantage.
Brenize isn’t exactly considered a 3-point threat for the Barons, but on this night, he hit all net.
“Pretty unlikely, but I say it all the time – he’s a gamer and a tough kid,” Manheim Central skipper Chris Sherwood said. “He’s played in big games in other sports. The guys weren’t afraid of the moments.”
Nor did they panic after West York took a big 15-3 lead out of the chutes in the first quarter. Noah Cable scored all seven of his points in that quarter to lead the Bulldogs. Rice finished with a team-high 20 points.
“It was 17-7 after one and we just told our guys, ‘Let’s win the second quarter and let’s go in and have a single-digit deficit and we’ll take it from there and make our adjustments,’” Sherwood recalled.
Win it, they did.
Walsh scored five of his game-high 24 points in a quarter-opening 10-2 run, as the Barons cut their deficit to 19-17 on two free throws by Tony Staffieri with 4:21 left in the half.
They were still within two, 27-25 going to the locker room, and then Josh Flanagan’s inside deuce 3:59 to go in the third gave MC its first lead, 30-28.
From there, however, the Bulldogs responded with a 14-1 run, capped by Nick Traettino’s triple, to pull in front 42-31 with 5:31 left in the fourth.
Again, the Central boys answered and when Walsh converted a traditional three-point play with :17.5 remaining, the Barons were back up, 48-46.
That set the stage for Rice’s trey from the corner.
With no timeouts left, Staffieri got the inbounds pass from Walsh, beat his man and kicked it to Brenize. The rest is history.
“It was just kids making plays,” Sherwood said. “That’s what it’s been. Tony did exactly what we wanted him to do in that situation. That was just making a basketball play.”
Ditto for Brenize.
“I knew there was little time left,” Brenize said. “It definitely felt good (leaving my hands).”
Bruce Morgan is the sports editor for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 721-4451.