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Barons clinch District berth
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer
Three District Three Triple-A playoff spots.
That’s the situation in which the Manheim Central boys basketball team found itself as they entered the home stretch this week.
The Barons, of course, were one of those teams, along with Northern Lebanon, Susquehannock and Wyomissing, hoping to grab one of those final three positions and not to be left out of District playoff picture.
On Tuesday night, in their regular-season finale, the Central boys did indeed punch their ticket to the post-season, as Evan Stauffer scored a game-high 17 to lead three Barons’ players in double figures and help send the team to a 57-45 victory over Garden Spot in a Section Three battle in Manheim.
Colby Gatchell added 13 points and Matt Walsh chipped in with 10 for the Barons, who improved to 9-7 in league play (14-8 overall) with their third victory five days.
Afterward, Barons’ skipper Chris Sherwood believed that his team would finish with the 16th spot in the final District Three Triple-A rankings. The top 18 teams advance.
"It was Senior Night and it was a credit to our seniors — there’s no two ways about it," Sherwood said. "Our seniors came out to play. It was a team effort and everybody who played played well, but it’s just a credit to the leadership our seniors have to know that we’re playing Friday, Monday and Tuesday and we win all three games to get in. Fourteen wins … it’s a heck of a year for those guys, but we’re not done."
The Central boys took charge by jumping to a 34-16 advantage in the first half. Their defensive effort played a key role in the outcome, holding Spartans’ threat Nathan Duell to just seven points for the game.
"We had to shut down Duell," Sherwood said. "Our guys played phenomenal defense, phenomenal defense tonight, and that was the key."
Garden Spot outscored Central 29-23 in the second half, but it wasn’t enough. Stauffer finished the game 5-of-7 from the foul line and the Barons held on for the victory.
Central will now begin preparations for the post-season, and when the District play-in round gets underway next Friday, Feb. 15, Sherwood expects that his team will be hosting an opponent on their home floor.
"These guys have done so much and they worked so hard in the off-season — a lot of teams do and I can’t help but feel bad for a team that has 14 wins in Susquehannock who’s probably going to be left out," Sherwood said. "The system is broken. That’s a good 14-win team that’s being left out. I am ecstatic for our guys, though. Our guys have put in the time. I hate to bring this up but our guys could have folded a couple years ago, but these guys just continued to play and they honored their fallen teammate (DeVaughn Lee)."
On Monday night, the Central boys took a step in the right direction toward qualifying for Districts, capitalizing on a 20-point first quarter on their way to a 60-37 non-league win over Spring Grove in Manheim.
Walsh scored 12 of his game-high 17 points in that opening stanza to help get the Barons started. Stauffer and senior Jacoby Brumbach finished with 16 and 14 points, respectively.
"Our possessions were great in the first half," Sherwood said. "The reason you have a 20-point first quarter is because you have good possessions. We had, like, a 30-some odd second possession one time. Sure enough, though, to start the fourth, the lead’s at 18 and we have to launch away. So there are some things we’ve got to continue to learn."
The Rockets fought back and cut Central’s lead to nine, 26-15, with 3:26 left in the half on a triple by Colton Wildasin from the right elbow and Tyler Sheffer’s layup. Nick Spangler paced Spring Grove with 11 points.
But the Rockets committed six of their 17 turnovers in the second quarter and MC finished the half on a 9-3 run to stretch their lead 35-18 at the intermission. Senior Zach Schnitzler was 4-of-4 from the foul line in the quarter and the Barons, as a team, went 22-for-31 from the stripe for the game.
"We just put this in — run at the ball, trap the ball and rotate everybody up," Sherwood said of his team forcing turnovers by Spring Grove. "To give their coach credit, late in the first half, he made adjustments … They’re not a great ball-handling team and that’s why we did it."
Although the Barons’ lead was at 20 points, 48-28, after three, Spring Grove didn’t go away, and when Darin Gordon made both ends of a 1-and-1 with 5:38 to go, the Rockets were within 48-34. But that’s as close as Spring Grove would get.
For the Barons, after notching their 13th win of the season against the Rockets, they turned their attention to an important match-up with GS with a District playoff berth at stake.
"They know what’s going on, they know what it’s all about and I expect to get their best effort (Tuesday) night," Sherwood said, "because that’s the type of kids they are. But hey, this is a reward for the seniors and we’ll find out. I know they’ll be ready to go."
Last Friday night in Myerstown, Evan Stauffer’s game-high 17 points led three players in double figures for the Barons, who outscored ELCO 32-24 in the second half to earn a hard-fought 51-44 Section Three win. Jacoby Brumbach and Matt Walsh added 14 and 13 points, respectively, as the Central boys snapped a three-game skid.
The win improved the Barons’ record to 12-8 overall (8-7 Section Three) heading into their final two games of the regular season.
"If someone told me (in the pre-season) that with two games left we would have 12 wins knocking on the door at 14, I would have been absolutely ecstatic," Sherwood said. "If you look down our losses and where our losses were, I think you would have a tough time finding a game where you said, ‘Wow, they really should have won that game’ … I mean, they’re a gutsy bunch of seniors and a bunch of sophomores and juniors that are trying to learn every day that also have some athleticism. I’m really happy. I’m really excited and I hope we’re playing past Tuesday."
Sherwood was certainly excited by the way his players competed against Raiders big man Cameron Paul on Friday night. Although Paul led ELCO with 15 points, the sophomore center had to work hard for everything he got.
Senior Austin Hatch deserved a lot of credit for the role he played against Paul.
"(Austin)’s averaging less than a minute per game probably. There’s several games that he hasn’t even played and we called his number early on," Sherwood said. "We thought Austin could be physical with him and he was and we just had our guards kinda double down and rip at the ball when he caught it and that helped us out a little bit."
Still, the ELCO boys (1-14 L-L, 4-17 overall) were sitting in decent shape at the half, leading by one, 20-19, going to the locker room. Senior Robert Shultz chipped in with 11 points in the game for the Raiders.
But Central answered the bell in the second half, taking a lead it never lost by going on a 17-12 run in the third quarter.
"(After losing to Donegal and L-S), we had talked for the next two days that ELCO was ready to win," Sherwood said. "We’ve seen them on tape a couple of times and we thought they had played a couple opponents really well in the last two weeks. We just thought they were ready to win. So we knew the type of game we were walking into. We were able to make some adjustments in the second half, changing up our presses a little bit. There were some looks we thought we could get offensively and we were confident coming out in the second half that those things would work for us and they did and guys executed."
The Barons also got a boost by playing excellent full-court defense, both in zone and man, while Brumbach and Stauffer combined to shoot 14-of-20 from the stripe overall, helping the Barons seal it.
In our zone, we matched up with the guys in the back and I just thought our kids did such a super job," Sherwood said. "We’re telling our guys, ‘Effort, effort, effort,’ and one of the parts of effort is paying attention to detail and I’ve had a problem with this all year. But on Friday, it came together. Guys payed attention to detail and we did the little things." More BARONS, page B-6