The Elizabethtown Area High School boys basketball team had a gauntlet of a stretch. The Bears had to finish up in the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs and quickly get ready for the Class 5A District 3 playoffs at the same time. Amazingly, they came out relatively unscathed, earning their first state postseason berth in 10 years in the process.
The team faced Lampeter-Strasburg in the L-L quarterfinals on Wednesday, Feb. 13, postponed twice from the original date of Monday, Feb. 11, due to snowy weather. The Pioneers entered the game as the top team in the league with a record of 20-2, good for the No. 2 seed in Class 5A for District 3 as well. But the Bears played up to their level in every sense, culminating in an all-time classic.
Both sides were slow to start things off, going back and forth in the first quarter before finally waking up. Senior Dylan Sweger knocked down three 3-pointers for Elizabethtown, the third to give his team an 11-7 lead ahead of the second.
The pace slowed back down in the second, as neither team scored much. A 3 from junior Seth Beers gave L-S the lead with three minutes to go before halftime, though Sweger nailed a buzzer-beating 3-ball to cut the Pioneers lead to 20-19 at the break.
Elizabethtown took the lead back on its first possession of the third thanks to a layup from junior Elijah Eberly. The Bears later extended their lead to five and held it through the end of the quarter, taking a 35-30 advantage into the fourth.
L-S battled back, tying the game at 35-35 with just over six minutes remaining and going up 41-40 with just under four minutes left. Elizabethtown responded with an Eberly jumper off a pass from senior Larry Locker and a floater from junior Ryan Parise to go up 44-41 by the two-minute mark.
Beers came up big for the Pioneers again with around a minute remaining, converting a tough 3-pointer to tie it back up at 44-44. L-S got the ball back shortly thereafter and attempted to run down the clock for one final go-ahead bucket. Elizabethtown head coach Rocky Parise answered by having his team commit a few intentional fouls to reset things.
During a timeout, Coach Parise drew up a strategy to double-team Beers after he brought the ball up the court to try and force a turnover. It worked to perfection; Eberly and senior Amos Kolllie swarmed Beers as he tried to pass the ball, with Kollie tipping it and Locker collecting the steal.
Just a few seconds later, Kollie found Locker for a fastbreak layup, which he converted while drawing a foul for an and-one. Elizabethtown’s all-time leading scorer made the free throw as well, giving his team a 47-44 lead with 6.9 seconds left. A Pioneers 3 to tie clanged off the side of the backboard, and Elizabethtown escaped with a monumental upset to move onto the semifinals.
“I didn’t want to just stand there and let them waste the clock (to) take the last shot,” Coach Parise said. “I didn’t want to be passive like that. So we started fouling, and I think that kind of got to them a little bit. When we called the timeout, they made a substitution and put someone in that we thought we could leave to double Seth and get the ball out of his hands.”
While Locker (9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks) played hero for the Bears thanks to his game-winning score, he was absent at certain points of the night on account of some stellar defense from L-S.
The rest of the team stepped up, however. Seven of Ryan Parise’s 9 points came in the third. He finished with 3 assists as well. Eberly (8 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks and 4 steals) was balanced statistically, while junior Brody Beach (6 points) made two 3-balls. Half of the Bears’ 16 made field goals were from behind the arc. Meanwhile, Kollie didn’t score, but he did have 5 rebounds and 4 assists, including the pass that led to Locker’s and-one.
“That’s the great thing about this team,” Coach Parise said. “Larry’s been carrying us for like a month, but give (L-S) credit; they did a really good job on him. Other guys on the team stepped up, and that’s the best part about our team. It can anybody on any given night, and I think we saw that tonight.”
But the star for Elizabethtown was Sweger, who was a perfect 5-for-5 from 3-point range, accounting for all of his game-high 15 points. He led all players with 6 rebounds as well. It was a great performance from a player who started all of last season but switched to a sixth-man role to let sophomore Luke Pierson into the lineup. Now, with Pierson out due to a sprained ankle, he’s back on the court at tip-off ready to contribute more than usual.
“We miss Luke, but Dylan might’ve been our best player tonight,” Coach Parise said. “We asked him to come off the bench this year, which he thrived at. We were fortunate enough that, when Luke got hurt, we could insert a guy who started his whole junior year. The kid’s just got heart, and he stepped up.”
Senior Patrick Holmes led L-S with 13 points, with Beers right behind him at 12. The latter made a trio of 3-pointers. Elizabethtown kept the Pioneers off-balance by changing its defensive schemes up, alternating between man and zone and switching assignments as necessary, including putting Sweger (normally a guard) down low in the post and having Eberly (a forward) up top to guard the point.
“We just wanted to switch defenses,” Coach Parise said. “We put (Elijah) on Beers because he did a really good job on him. Because we’re so diverse, we can move guys around. You almost talk about going with the hot hand offensively; go with the hot hand defensively if it’s working for us, and that’s kind of what we did.”
Elizabethtown’s run in the L-L League playoffs came to an end on Thursday, Feb. 14, at Conestoga Valley, where the Bears fell to Manheim Township 63-52. This was their third matchup of the season against the Blue Streaks, who would go on to beat Warwick 69-58 on Saturday, Feb. 16, to win the championship.
Manheim Township was steady out of the gates, converting four 3-pointers in the first quarter to take an 18-16 lead. The Blue Streaks had a 6-0 run in the second as well, eventually going to halftime up 36-27.
To their credit, the Bears did not fade away. They kept pace with Manheim Township in the third, cutting the lead to 48-40 ahead of the fourth. Elizabethtown then used a Beach 3, a Kollie and-one and a Locker hook shot to grab a 49-48 lead with just over five minutes left. However, the Blue Streaks immediately answered with a backdoor layup. They held the Bears off down the stretch as well to get the victory.
“We knew we weren’t gonna quit,” Coach Parise said. “We’ve seen what these guys are made of, and any time they hit a bump in the road, they just keep going right over it. We rallied together to take the lead but just couldn’t finish it down the stretch.”
Locker led the team with 19 points, also notching 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Ryan Parise chipped in with 12 points as well. Kollie (7 points) had 4 assists, while Eberly (4 points) pulled down 12 rebounds.
Sophomore Zach Oldac had a game-high 20 points for Manheim Township, with seniors Tyler Crespo and Will Greiner contributing 18 and 11, respectively. The three hit all 8 of the Blue Streaks’ 3-pointers, 6 of which came in the first half.
“I felt like we were ready for them,” Coach Parise said. “We know their personnel real well, and they know ours. It just had to do with execution. They hit a bunch of shots that we didn’t. Credit to them.”
The Bears shifted their attention toward the District 3 playoffs in a first-round game at Shippensburg on Monday, Feb. 18. A win would guarantee a spot in states for both teams. The first quarter began slowly; Elizabethtown held a 10-7 lead at one point, but the Greyhounds closed the quarter with a buzzer-beating 3 to go up 12-10.
Shippensburg went on an 8-0 run early in the second to take a 22-12 lead. However, the Bears battled back, going on a 9-0 run of their own to tie the game at 28-28. The Greyhounds then ended the half on a 7-2 run to go back up 35-30.
The third quarter was a back and forth affair, and Shippensburg was able to take a 53-51 lead into the fourth. A fastbreak layup and a free throw from Kollie put Elizabethtown up 54-53 early in the final period, however. After trading leads for the next few minutes, two putbacks from Locker gave the Bears a 60-57 advantage with around four minutes left.
With the score at 62-59, Greyhounds senior reverse Jacob Frey nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game with just a minute to go. Elizabethtown proceeded to drain the remainder of the clock in regulation for one final go-ahead shot. And once again, Locker came up big in the clutch, converting a fadeaway post shot off a pass from Sweger to send the Bears home victorious with a 64-62 win.
“We ran our delay game, which we like to score off of,” Coach Parise said. “We had a set we were gonna run with about 12 seconds left. Those guys couldn’t have done that two years ago, but the experiences that they’ve had and the poise that they showed in those last 30 seconds … as a coach, I couldn’t be more proud. They executed the play to perfection.”
Elizabethtown was able to get contributions from everyone as usual. Eberly (8 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks) and Kollie (5 rebounds, 4 assists) each had 12 points. Ryan Parise (6 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists) had a key bucket down the stretch, while Sweger (5 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) got the game-winning assist.
But it was Locker who carried the Bears for much of the night. He finished with a game-high 29 points, as well as 8 rebounds.
“He stepped up,” Coach Parise said. “He was making jump shots in the first half. I just feel like he’s playing with the weight of the world off his shoulders. For four years at E-Town, he’s had so much pressure on him, and now he’s playing loose and free for the first time in his career.”
Freshman Jayden Statum led Shippensburg with 16 points. Sophomore Collin Taylor (12 points), senior Adam Houser (10 points) and freshman Anthony Smith (9 points) all had solid scoring numbers as well.
The win was Elizabethtown’s first in district play since 2012. The Bears had last gone to states in 2009, ending a decade-long drought. However, that game won’t be until Friday, March 8. Before then, they’ll go to Lower Dauphin on Thursday, Feb. 21, to take on the top-seeded Falcons in the 5A quarterfinals for District 3. It’ll be a tough outing for sure, but with Pierson potentially returning from injury and a couple of huge victories feeding momentum, the Bears may continue to surprise.
“It feels great,” Coach Parise said. “It’s interesting because we’ve been focusing on one game at a time. This gave us our state berth, but now we’re ready to focus on Thursday. We’re very familiar with Lower Dauphin since we had our team camp with them this summer. We’re really excited, and we might get Luke back as well. I’m just so proud of these guys.”