Crusaders knock off Warwick in Josh Montpetit Classic
BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com
, Staff Writer
As a three-year starter for the Lancaster Catholic boys basketball team, Omar Lopez is naturally going to be counted on by his teammates and coaches to be a playmaker.
Last Friday night, the senior star delivered.
Lopez drained a game-high 18 points, helped to lead a pressure defensive effort which forced – gulp – 26 Warwick turnovers and generally was everywhere on the floor for the Crusaders, who took Joshua Montpetit Classic championship with a 56-46 win in Lititz.
"He’s averaging (12.9) a game and he had 18, but we want the ball in his hands in situations," Lancaster Catholic coach Joe Klazas said of Lopez. "We know he can make big plays when he has to."
The game was still in doubt going into the final stanza, with the Warriors leading 38-37 following a 3-pointer by Jordan Cipalla. But Catholic got a team-high six points by Lopez in the fourth while outscoring the Warwick boys 19-8 to pull out the win. Grant Conway finished with 10 points for the Crusaders, including going 4-for-4 at the foul line in the final eight minutes.
"Lancaster Catholic will always execute, so I thought that was the difference in the fourth quarter," Warwick skipper Jeff Landis said. "They executed, we turned the ball over. They’re a good team, give them credit, but we’ve got to improve. We’re going to fight. It’s a long way to go. We’ll keep fighting."
For the Warriors, who fell to 3-5 overall (2-2 Section One), their next battle will come this Friday, when they open the new year by traveling to Lancaster to face McCaskey. Lancaster Catholic (5-2 overall, 3-1 Section Four), meanwhile, will return from the break by hosting Lebanon Catholic.
To be sure, Warwick will take advantage of its upcoming practice time to address the numerous turnovers which prevented them from finding an offensive flow against the Crusaders. One week after coughing the ball up only six times in a loss to Hempfield, the Warriors were still in the Christmas spirit of giving against Lancaster Catholic.
"That was the difference in the game," Landis said. "Credit Catholic for picking up their defensive pressure, but we have to take better care of the basketball … against anyone. I mean, McCaskey’s next. My guess is they’ll probably pressure the ball a little bit too."
In the first quarter, it was Catholic who was feeling a little bit of pressure after Warwick took a 16-7 lead with 2:11 remaining on the second of Damian Soto’s two triples. Soto scored all 10 of his points in the opening stanza, when the Warriors shot 6-of-11 from the floor.
But the Crusaders went on a period-ending 8-0 run and tied the game at 16-all, as Conway and Jack Shedleski capitalized on two Warwick turnovers to bury back-to-back three-pointers in the final 1:03.
"We had a defensive lapse for two minutes in the first quarter which I thought was the difference," Landis said. "We knew obviously it was a long game and (Catholic) would make a charge. But we left two guys open we said in the scouting report we couldn’t leave open and they made us pay. We have in the scouting report, ‘Force (Conway and Shedleski) off the line. Make them drivers.’ We were able to turn them over when we made them put it on the floor. But I don’t know if we didn’t know our match-ups or our assignments when we subbed in … I don’t know."
The Warriors regained leads of 18-16 and 20-18 in the second quarter – on a putback by Jordan Cipalla (10 points) and an inside deuce by Adam Wagaman, respectively. Cipalla, Jake Shillady and Grant Zimmerman had six rebounds apiece for the Warriors, who held a 34-26 advantage on the boards.
But a layup and a putback by Lopez, who finished with seven rebounds, started the Crusaders on an 8-3 run, putting the visitors in front 26-23 going to the locker room at half. The foul line was the only place where Lopez didn’t excel on Friday night, shooting just 2-of-9 there.
"The thing we’ve talked a lot about this year is (Lopez’s) leadership," Klazas said. "We want him to come and be the hardest working kid on the floor in practice and kids have no other choice but to respond to that and follow that. So he’s done a good job of that. We always knew he was a scorer, but his defensive mindset has really gotten a lot better. He’s gotten a lot more aggressive."
When Harry Heise buried a jumper and then Evan Purvis sank the second of two freebies, the Crusaders had the biggest for either team to that point, 34-29, with 4:13 to go in the third. But Warwick’s James Willis hit a ‘three’ to make it 36-35 and then Cipalla’s triple from the left elbow with :17 remaining in the quarter put the Warriors back in front 38-37 going to the final stanza.
"The first and the third quarter were pretty strong," Landis said. "The second and the fourth left something to be desired. We’ll watch the film and (determine), ‘Is it because of who we have in when? Is it because we tired?’ I don’t know, but it was pretty consistent."
In the fourth, the Crusaders needed just 40 seconds to regain a lead they never lost, as Eric Schneider connected from beyond the arc. The Warwick boys were still within four, 46-42, after Grant Zimmerman scored on a layup with 4:20 remaining in the game, but Lancaster Catholic then pulled away, ending the game on a 10-4 run to close it out.
With league play getting underway again this Friday, the Warriors will hope to get back on track when they face McCaskey in Lancaster.
"We’ll fight," Landis said. "We were 3-7 last year after the McCaskey game and we found our way back. You don’t have any options. You can’t hang your head. Yeah, the turnovers bother me, but what really bothers me is our mental toughness. I have a lot of respect for Catholic and their program, they close games out in the fourth quarter, they’re very well coached. I take nothing away from them. But I don’t know if we always give ourselves a chance. When you come out of the game and you shrug your shoulders … you can’t be defeated. Whether you’re in the game or on the bench, you just can’t have that mentality. And at times to me, looks like we have that defeated mentality."
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