Timberwolves rally to beat the Barons in States

By on March 15, 2017
While bringing the ball up the floor, Manheim Central’s Taylor Funk (33) eludes East Stroudsburg North defender Josh Noble and dishes the ball off to an open teammate. Photo by Alan Johnson

While bringing the ball up the floor, Manheim Central’s Taylor Funk (33) eludes East Stroudsburg North defender Josh Noble and dishes the ball off to an open teammate. Photo by Alan Johnson

Funk finishes career with 1,977 points

For the first half last Friday, the Manheim Central boys were living March Madness.

Facing District 11 champ East Stroudsburg North and handling the Timberwolves’ pressure defense in a PIAA State 5A first-round game, the Barons — who finished seventh in District Three — took a 31-22 lead into the half.

Protecting the ball was a key factor in their early success, committing just seven turnovers.

“We thought if we could duplicate that number (in the second half), we’d be in really good shape,” MC Coach Chris Sherwood said. “… We don’t see this (press) very often. I mean, this (Timberwolves) team turned Pottsville over 22 times (in the District 11 finals).”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.

Senior guard Arian Azemi scored 13 of his game-high 24 points after the break and East Stroudsburg North advanced by holding on for a 58-55 victory over Manheim Central at Mount Pleasant High School in Brodheadsville.

While the Timberwolves (18-10) moved on to face Eli Brooks and the Spring Grove Rockets (21-8) in the second-round, Manheim Central ended its season with a 21-7 overall record.

“These are great guys,” an emotional Sherwood said of his players, “they battle really hard and they deserve a lot of credit to be playing here on March 10th. There’s a lot of tears in the locker room and that’s what always gets me. You think that they kinda realize the totality of everything being over because they’ll never put the uniform on again.”

This marked the end of an impressive run for eight Baron seniors, one which included two PIAA playoff appearances, the program’s first-ever State playoff win, a trip to the District Three championship game and another to the District semi-finals, a pair of Section championships and 84 combined wins over four years.

“It’s a great group of seniors that have been around this program for an awful lot,” Sherwood said. “These are the guys that have been around for what we’ve been able to do over the last four years, and guys who have graduated in the last four years have not only relied on this class, but this class has relied on them. Those classes did it together.”

Senior forward/center Taylor Funk, a St. Joseph’s University recruit and the all-time leading scorer in Manheim Central basketball history, scored a team-high 21 points in his final game. With Hawks’ coach Phil Martelli looking on from the stands, Funk finished his Barons’ career with 1,977 total points.

“Listen, he is the greatest player to ever put on a Manheim Central uniform,” Sherwood said. “Bar none. Hands down, no argument. He’s unbelievable and to be around him is special. He’s a great player. It’s been fun to watch him. It’s like he’s heaven-sent because of the person he is and how humble he is to be that good.”

After the Timberwolves snapped a 39-39 tie by reeling off a 10-2 run to start the fourth quarter — including six points from Darrin Bellinger with a transition dunk — putting them up 49-41 with 2:23 left, Funk’s triple from the right corner got the Barons within four, 54-50, with 43.8 seconds left.

Despite a couple late giveaways, Manheim Central was still within three, 56-53, when Roman Wagner converted a three-point play with 13.9 ticks remaining. ESN’s Armani Reed and Bekim Azemi went 2-of-4 at the foul line, and then with just 2.5 seconds to go, MC’s Jay Barreto toed the stripe. He buried his first attempt, cutting the Barons’ deficit to 58-55, then intentionally missed the second one, with the Barons hoping to get the rebound and then hit a game-tying three-pointer. Instead, the Timberwolves cleaned up the glass and that was the game.

“It’s 2.5 (seconds left) at the time,” Sherwood said. “We’d talked about it earlier, one possession before, but we weren’t going to do it then. But with 2.5 and the guys they had underneath, we actually have a play where we try to clear out the one side … we just didn’t get it that time.”

Earlier, in the opening minutes, Funk and Connor Hostetter buried back-to-back treys, and then Funk scored on the post with 5:43 left in the first quarter to give the Barons a quick 8-2 advantage. Funk also grabbed four boards in the first to help MC build an 11-6 advantage in that category.

“We rebounded the ball really well early,” Sherwood said.

Meanwhile, the Timberwolves started out shooting just 2-of-9 from the floor against Manheim Central’s zone D, but Josh Noble and Arian Azemi connected beyond the arc in the final 1:46 to shave their deficit to 17-12 at period’s end.

Noble finished with 11 points and his triple with 3:56 remaining in the half brought the Timberwolves within 24-20, but then Kegarise scored inside on a nice assist from Funk, Tyler Lyons dropped in a layup and point guard Jake Novak buried a trey from the right elbow with just :02 left in the second quarter, capping a 7-2 Baron run and extending their lead to 31-22 going to the locker room.

When Lyons scored in transition at the 5:54 mark of the third, the Barons still led 33-26. ESN, however, pushed the pace to a higher tempo and dialed up the intensity, sparking them on a quarter-ending 13-4 burst, and Arian Azemi’s buzzer-beating trey gave the Timberwolves a 39-37 lead.

In all, the Timberwolves forced 12 MC turnovers in the second half.

“I thought (East Stroudsburg North’s added intensity) led to some bad shots,” Sherwood said, “where in the first half, I thought we were still shooting maybe a little too much from the outside, but a couple of them went in, but we were attacking too. And I just felt like we kinda stopped attacking there in the third and kinda settling. They punched us in the mouth, which we talked would happen in the third quarter. We just didn’t react well to it.”

Funk sank two foul shots with 28 seconds elapsed in the fourth, which tied the game at 39-all. Not long afterward, Bellinger scored on a putback — the Timberwolves held an 18-13 rebounding edge in the second half — which started ESN on a go-ahead run to give them a lead they never relinquished.

“They realize that it’s over and there’s tears in (the locker room),” Sherwood said. “That’s good because that means they understand, and they’ll be great with that next chapter of their life whatever it is. I’m just very fortunate that I get to coach here and that I get kids like this.”

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