There will a couple of hiccups for the Elizabethtown Area High School boys basketball team before the end of the regular season. The Bears pulled through, however, and now have the postseason to look forward to.
The team had an away contest at Hempfield on Friday, Feb. 1, moved from its previous date of Thursday, Jan. 31, due to snow. Elizabethtown was able to quickly get on the scoreboard thanks to a quick layup from senior Amos Kollie. However, the Black Knights seized control afterward, scoring the next nine points and later taking a 16-11 lead into the second off a buzzer-beating, coast-to-coast score from senior Eli Washington.
The second quarter saw both teams go back and forth for a while, with the Bears briefly getting the score to 24-20. Unfortunately, sophomore starter Luke Pierson came down awkwardly on his ankle midway through the period, putting him out of commission for the rest of the game and narrowing Elizabethtown’s rotation to six players. Hempfield took advantage, going on an 11-2 run to close out the half, highlighted by another buzzer-beater that put the score at 35-22.
“We started out down 9-2, but I think the difference was the stretch midway through the second quarter where we had cut it to four, but they got it back to 13 before the half,” head coach Rocky Parise said. “Luke going down didn’t help us either.”
The two sides returned to trading points in the third; Hempfield was up 41-29 with just over three minutes left in the quarter. Elizabethtown finished on a 9-4 run though, cutting the lead to 45-37 going into the fourth. The Bears continued to gain momentum in crunch time; a layup from junior Elijah Eberly put them within reach at 55-53 with nearly two minutes to go.
The Black Knights held them at bay with free throws at every turn, however, even after senior Larry Locker converted an and-one to narrow it to 59-56, followed by a putback from junior Ryan Parise that put the score at 59-58. A pair of Hempfield foul shots upped the score to 61-58 with a handful of seconds remaining, and a last-second 3-pointer to tie from Elizabethtown fell short, giving the Black Knights the win.
Locker finished with 18 points to lead the Bears, pulling down 5 rebounds as well. Kollie and Ryan Parise had 12 points each, while Eberly (9 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks) was solid statistically. Still, the first half struggles on offense ended up costing Elizabethtown in the long run.
“I think we were pounding it into Larry too much,” Coach Parise said. “It wasn’t working for whatever reason, and Larry needed to regroup. I think we put too much pressure on him, so in the second half, we tried to get away from that a little bit. It worked a lot better, and then he got his opportunities. We started running in transition too, which we didn’t get a lot of in the first. You saw in the last two minutes that we were executing our stuff. It was just a couple of mistakes.”
Meanwhile, senior Austin Groft had a big night for Hempfield, leading all players with 19 points. Washington finished with 15, while sophomore Ryan Hilton (9 points), senior Adam Wernoch (8 points) and junior Connor Elslager (7 points) all chipped in as well. Much of the Black Knights’ offensive success was predicated on their lack of turnovers; they had just 3 on the night, and the Bears were unable to force any steals.
“They took care of the ball,” Coach Parise said. “We’re a team that prides ourselves on turning teams over and getting some easy baskets, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
The Bears had another away game on Monday, Feb. 4, at Lebanon, rescheduled from Tuesday, Jan. 29. Playing without a still-injured Pierson in the starting lineup, Elizabethtown got off to a rocky start in the first half. The Cedars took a 12-9 lead at the end of the first and exploded in the second, scoring 19 points to go up 31-18 at the break.
Things didn’t get going for the Bears in the third quarter either. They had just 9 points for the third time in the game, putting them down 45-27 ahead of the fourth. While they did match Lebanon 22-22 in the final period, it wasn’t enough for the victory, as the Cedars pulled off a surprising 67-49 upset.
Senior Scottie Porter returned from a long-term injury to lead the Cedars with 14 points. Junior Raylin Pena and freshman Luke Collins chipped in with 12 and 10, respectively. Eberly had 12 for Elizabethtown, while Ryan Parise added 9. Locker led the team with 18 points, passing 1971 graduate Terry Marks for first on the Bears’ all-time scoring list.
“He’s been playing within the flow of the game,” Coach Parise said. “He went 7 for 19, but they were all good shots. The pressure ended at 1,000, but it is nice for him to get past that too.”
Finally, the Bears had their final home game of the season in Daubert Gym on Tuesday, Feb. 5, against Ephrata, which also served as their Senior Night. They began strong, scoring the first seven points to end the first up 14-6. The second was much of the same, and Elizabethtown was able to pull ahead to lead 30-16 at the half.
The Mounts tried to hang around during the second half, but the Bears responded to them at every turn. They held a 52-35 advantage ahead of the fourth and coasted to a 70-47 victory from there. The win gives Elizabethtown a 13-9 record ahead of the postseason, its best since Parise was hired in 2016. The Bears will also compete in both the Lancaster-Lebanon League and District 3 playoffs for the first time under his watch.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “Especially for these guys, since they stuck with it and kept believing in themselves. We just kept working harder and harder. To make the playoffs from where we were at two years ago is a huge accomplishment for us. We’re just so proud of that.”
It was a balanced attack offensively for Elizabethtown. Locker led all scorers with 24 points, also finishing with 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Eberly had a nice statline as well, posting a total of 17 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals. Sweger (7 points, 3 steals) hit some big shots, while Kollie (6 points, 6 assists) and Ryan Parise (5 points, 5 assists) passed the ball extremely well; the Bears finished with 19 assists as a team.
“We’ve really been talking about being mature, but not confusing maturity with not being enthusiastic or playing hard. I think we did that tonight,” Coach Parise said. “We dug in on defense when we had to, we rebounded the ball and I thought we really shared the ball. When we’re passing the ball, we’re pretty darn good, and that was the focus tonight.”
Senior Xavian Rodriguez led Ephrata with 20 points, with fellow senior Jared Groff contributing 10.
While the Bears will have to wait a few days before their final district seed for Class 5A is revealed, they are confirmed to face Eastern Lebanon County in the play-in round of the L-L League playoffs at Warwick on Friday, Feb. 8. It’s their first appearance since 2012.
“We’re really excited to practice,” Coach Parise said. “We haven’t had one in about two weeks. We’re just gonna dig in tomorrow and prepare. ELCO has a bunch of guys who can shoot, but we do too.”