With a berth in states locked up, the Elizabethtown Area High School boys basketball team continued its quest for glory in the Class 5A District 3 playoffs. While the Bears ended up getting knocked out of contention for the championship, they’ll still have a shot to finish in the top five.
Elizabethtown had a short road trip on Thursday, Feb. 21, for its district quarterfinal game at Lower Dauphin, the No. 1 team in Class 5A. Scoring came quickly during the first quarter; both teams came flying out of the gates and matched each other evenly for a time. The score was 11-11 at the midway point.
However, the Falcons were able to go on a 6-0 run late in the period, enough to give them a 21-18 lead ahead of the second. The Bears kept up with them, however, and the game continued to go back and forth offensively. Elizabethtown briefly went up 34-32, but Lower Dauphin recovered and retook the lead, going up 37-36 at the break.
At the start of the second half, the Falcons looked to be in control, holding a 48-40 advantage with just under five minutes left in the third. Elizabethtown was able to cut it to 48-44 after that, but then the wheels fell off, with the turning point coming when the referees called senior Larry Locker for a bang-bang charge, then subsequently whistled him for a technical for his reaction. Lower Dauphin took advantage, taking a 57-46 lead into the fourth.
There, the Falcons dominated, pulling away with a game-high 23 points in the quarter. They held the Bears to just 11 points as well, which was more than enough to give them an 80-57 win.
“We got down 48-40 and we called a timeout,” Elizabethtown head coach Rocky Parise said. “We executed some stuff we wanted to execute and got it to 48-44. But then stuff just didn’t go our way. They hit some shots and made some plays, credit to them. We knew their players coming in, and we knew we could play with them, but they just made plays down the stretch, and we didn’t.”
Locker led Elizabethtown with 18 points. Junior Ryan Parise finished with 14 points, while junior Elijah Eberly had 11. One bright spot for the Bears was their passing; they finished with 18 assists, 12 coming from Ryan Parise (7) and senior Amos Kollie (5). However, they were called for 15 fouls plus Locker’s tech, compared to just 6 for Lower Dauphin.
Senior Luke Hedrick had a huge night for the Falcons, sharing the game-high in points with 20. He passed the 1,000-point mark early in the third quarter on a 3-pointer. Senior Will Bowen matched him with 20 points, while senior Blake Cassel also went over double digits with 14 points. Lower Dauphin also had significant contributions from sophomores Caleb Gibbs and Tyson Hofass, who had 8 points each, and senior Brian Swist, who had 7 points and teamed with Bowen to pull down numerous offensive rebounds.
“Hedrick’s unreal,” Coach Parise said. “We were sagging on him so he wouldn’t get past us without giving up a jump shot. We wanted to double him off his ball screens and off dribble handoffs. We did that for the most part, but he just got a lot of mid-range looks.”
The Bears returned home to Daubert Gym on Monday, Feb. 25, for a consolation game against No. 12 Garden Spot. The winner would move on to the fifth-place game in districts, while the loser would go to the seventh-place game.
Elizabethtown began the game hot, scoring on four of its first six possessions to take an 11-4 lead. The Spartans chipped away, however, narrowing the gap to 18-15 by the end of the first quarter. They then went ahead 26-25 with just over two minutes left in the second. The two teams traded the lead a few times before halftime, culminating in Garden Spot senior Keontae Nunn nailing a buzzer-beater to give his team a 32-31 advantage at the break.
A 3-pointer from Kollie to start the second half put Elizabethtown back up early in the third. The game took a swerve shortly thereafter; with the score knotted up at 36-36, Locker threw down a one-handed slam dunk, kickstarting a 10-0 run to finish the quarter, featuring 3s from junior Brody Beach and sophomore Luke Pierson, as well as a fastbreak layup from Eberly, giving the Bears a 46-36 ahead of the fourth.
Two more 3-pointers from Beach and freshman Pat Gilhool to open the final period would extend Elizabethtown’s lead further. Up double digits the rest of the way, the Bears proceeded to cruise to the finish line, beating the Spartans 63-46.
“In the second, we just got out of whack and started making weird passes,” Coach Parise said. “At halftime, we just said, ‘Make the easy play and attack their traps.’ We were really passive on their traps in the second quarter, and I thought you saw a different way to go at them in the second half.”
Locker scored 13 points, forcing 5 steals as well. Ryan Parise had 9 points and 7 assists, while Eberly put up 6 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and a whopping 7 blocks, 4 of them in the first quarter alone. The Bears hit nine 3-pointers overall, five of them from Beach, which made up the entirety of his game-high 15 points, also a career high.
“It’s funny because he hasn’t been missing during the last two days of practice,” Coach Parise said. “When the lights come on, he’s really shot the ball well, and I think that’ll carry over.”
Sophomore Andrew Zentner led Garden Spot with 14 points, followed closely by Nunn at 12. However, the Spartans scored just 4 points in the third quarter and 14 points overall in the second half, struggling to score against Elizabethtown’s stop-unit.
“We wanted to play really sound defense and not get beat in penetration,” Coach Parise said. “I don’t think we did in the first half, but Nunn just kept pulling up and hitting jumpers in our face. I think we made some good adjustments at halftime and took care of that in the second half.”
As the state tournament approaches, Elizabethtown is guaranteed for either fifth or sixth-place in Class 5A for District 3. The Bears are set to face No. 2 seed Lampeter-Strasburg on the road Thursday, Feb. 28, in a rematch from the Lancaster-Lebanon League Playoffs, where they upset the Pioneers 47-44 on a game-winning and-one from Locker.
“The fifth seed is really important for us,” Coach Parise said. “With the matchups that you play (in states), it’s more favorable than the sixth or the seventh. The school’s never won a state playoff game, so that’s our goal. I think it’s gonna be a fun game on Thursday, so we’ll see if we can do it again.”