Barons capture first-ever State playoff victory

By on March 11, 2015
Manheim Central’s players celebrate after defeating Wilkes-Barre GAR 35-32 last Saturday night at Wyoming Area High School for their first-ever State playoff victory. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

Manheim Central’s players celebrate after defeating Wilkes-Barre GAR 35-32 last Saturday night at Wyoming Area High School for their first-ever State playoff victory. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

Tanner Brenize’s play early in the fourth quarter last Friday night wasn’t one that will necessarily show up in a boxscore, but it easily could have been a game-turning moment for the Manheim Central boys basketball team.

The Baron senior sacrificed his body to outleap a Wilkes-Barre GAR defender for an offensive rebound, then got the ball to teammate Taylor Funk underneath the basket.

Funk’s layup started Manheim Central on an 8-2 run which gave the Barons a lead they never lost, as they held on for a 35-32 win over the District Two runner-up Grenadiers in a PIAA State Triple-A first-round playoff game at Wyoming Area High School in Exeter.

“Oh my God, unbelievable,” MC coach Chris Sherwood said of Brenize’s rebound. “That play could have been a turning point in the game.”

“Tanner and I were just talking about it in the locker room, he came up to me and said, ‘I jumped higher than I ever have before,’” senior Matt Walsh smiled. “Tanner’s the definition of a role player, but he plays his role very, very well. You don’t win games without guys like him.”

The Barons (25-4) have made a habit of winning over the past two seasons, going a combined 49-9, and Friday’s State playoff victory was their first-ever in program history.

“It’s amazing,” Walsh smiled. “It’s awesome just to be a part of it. I’m really glad that I’m with the group of guys that I am. I couldn’t ask for a better team.”

Beating Wilkes-Barre GAR (21-6) didn’t come easy, though. They faced a double-digit deficit at the break, trailing 21-11, but Brenize’s effort on the boards was the signature play in the Barons’ second-half turnaround.

After getting a halftime gut check, the Central responded, attacking Wilkes-Barre GAR’s 2-2-1 zone with new fervor and outscoring them 24-11 in the second half. Walsh scored 10 of his game-high 13 points following the intermission, including going 7-of-10 at the foul line in the fourth.

“We came in the locker room and Coach told us that they were just punching us in the mouth &tstr; exactly what we talk about doing to other teams,” Walsh said. “So we knew we had to come out stronger in the second half. We had to give them a punch right back.”

Sherwood recalled their 67-62 win over McCaskey in last year’s L-L League playoff quarter-finals when he met with his players at the half.

“I told our guys, ‘It’s now on you guys because when we beat McCaskey, everyone was thinking, here’s what we’re going to do and we did it. We did it against the 2-2-1,’” he said. “Same type of pressure. Today, we invented something in the first half. I don’t know what we were doing. We weren’t aggressive and it could be jetlag, it could the be the two and a half hour bus ride. But we attacked it (in the second half), we really attacked it and we knocked down some shots early.”

It was the Grenadiers’ Tino Altavilla who was knocking down shots in the first half, burying three treys, including back-to-back shots in a half-ending 11-1 run by Wilkes-Barre GAR. Guard Seth Callahan paced W-B with 11 points for the game.

Central, meanwhile, shot just 1-of-8 from the floor in the second quarter.

But the maroon and gray were a different team in the second half. Dan Wiederrecht drained a mid-range J, then Walsh and Funk nailed triples, point guard Tony Staffieri hit two of three foul shots, Funk converted inside, and suddenly, the Barons were up 23-21 with 5:02 left in the third quarter.

“When you knock down some shots early and you’re attacking (the zone) … I thought (Wilkes-Barre GAR) was a little shell-shocked,” Sherwood said. “They became the team that had their feet in cement when we were the team that had our feet in cement early.”

That cement didn’t hurt Manheim Central in claiming a 12-5 edge in the rebounding department in the third quarter &tstr; and a 19-13 advantage overall in the second half. Funk pulled down nine boards in that time over the Grenadiers’ 6-foot-8 Nigebo Francis.

“Rebounding is always a big thing as far as winning games goes,” Walsh said. “They had a 6-foot-8 kid and so did we, so it wasn’t like we were bigger than them, so to speak. I think we just got in better position. I think we were more aggressive on it too.”

Callahan’s layup tied it 23-all, and that’s how it remained going to the fourth.

Brenize stepped up next.

Call it an example of senior urgency.

“I heard Tanner in practice early this week. We had a shooting drill and Tanner said something that just made me think, ‘OK, he’s not ready to take the uniform off,’” Sherwood recalled. “I thought that was a big sign, so I’m not surprised that he made that play, to tell you the truth. But it’s Tanner, so of course I’m not surprised.”

Francis’ putback dunk tied it 25-25 with 5:28 left, but it would be the final time that Wilkes-Barre GAR was even with the Barons.

Staffieri’s steal and layup put MC back in front, and after he sank the front end of a 1-and-1, it was 31-25 with 2:20 remaining.

The Grenadiers got within two, 31-29, on a deuce by Rashaun Jackson, and again at 32-30 following a free throw by Callahan. Walsh answered by making one of two at the foul line, and Callahan’s off-balance jumper cut Wilkes-Barre GAR’s deficit to 33-32 with :4.2 to go.

But Walsh drained both of his foul shots with :3.0 remaining and that was the game.

“It’s huge,” Sherwood said of the Barons’ first State playoff win. “I’m not ready to stop. These guys enjoy being with each other, so let’s go give Neumann-Goretti everything they can handle and see what happens.”

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