HERSHEY >> It’s telling that the biggest spark in the fourth quarter Friday night came after whistles were blown and security had to come onto the court at Hershey High School.
For 30-plus minutes, Springfield and Mechanicsburg showed plenty of fight in the PIAA Class 5A opening-round game, but not much was geared toward each team positioning to win. And when tensions boiled over, with some questionable officiating, Springfield ended up on the wrong end of a 49-45 decision.
The game pivoted with 45 seconds to play and Mechanicsburg leading 44-42 when Springfield’s Ja’Den McKenzie appeared to tie up Mechanicsburg’s Kyle Scheib under the Wildcats’ basket. The struggle extended beyond the whistle, a little pushing and shoving ensued and players from both teams came together as security rushed to restore calm.
We got a fracas. pic.twitter.com/Z8KODqDPEM
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) March 11, 2017
After deliberation, the refereeing crew from York assessed flagrant fouls to McKenzie and fellow Cougar Mike Webb, who entered the fracas with a two-handed shove into the back of a Wildcat. Webb was ejected; McKenzie was announced as ejected, though Springfield coach Kevin McCormick said he merely subbed out the junior forward to allow him to cool off.
On the other side, Scheib was hit with a technical; no punishment was levied on a Mechanicsburg assistant who left the bench and sprinted cross-court to the melee, ostensibly to separate.
Instead of offsetting technicals and a possession arrow pointing toward Springfield, Scheib hit two free throws, going a long way toward piloting the District 3 runner-up in a battle of two sputtering offenses.
For what it’s worth, Springfield (15-12) wasn’t leaning on the call as an excuse.
“We fight, but we went a little too far tonight,” McCormick said. “We have to be a little more intelligent tonight.”
“It’s just one of the moments where you get a free timeout and you get a chance to talk about it and I didn’t do a good enough job as a point guard talking about what our plan was coming out of the break,” Springfield point guard Kyle Long said. “… I think we were dwelling too much on the past, including myself, and if we could go back, I wish we would’ve talked more about what we did next.”
That said, in a game where neither team made a convincing claim to a win, the discretion of the refs helped tip the scales.
Springfield had demonstrable woes, mainly shooting the ball. The Cougars shot a putrid 4-for-24 from 3-point range, weighed down by Kyle Sullivan’s 1-for-11 night. His only 3-point make came in the final 30 seconds on his ninth attempt, somehow clawing the Cougars back to within one score at 47-45.
That tightness of the game was a testament to Mechanicsburg’s sloppiness in finishing. The Wildcats went six minutes without a point in the fourth. They ended the drought when Scheib missed the front end of a one-and-one — the third consecutive such miss by the faltering Wildcats — but Cade Alioth grabbed the rebound for a putback.
Mechanicsburg, which hardly looked worthy of its second-round trip to District 12 champ Archbishop Wood, shot a paltry 13-for-23 from the line on a day where the final foul count was 19-10 in their favor.
Alioth was the clear difference, scoring 18 points to go with 17 boards. He hit the team’s only three field goals in the fourth quarter.
Great Orjih for 2. 19-15 Cougars. pic.twitter.com/TZ3jkOZegG
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) March 11, 2017
Scheib added 12 points, and Ty Deiter was 4-for-4 from the field for nine points.
Where Mechanicsburg’s players stepped up, Springfield’s didn’t. McKenzie and Great Orjih scored 11 points each, but 18 of those came in the first half. Webb provided a spark with nine after the break.
But Sullivan struggled mightily, and Alex DeAngelis and Long were each 0-for-5 from 3-point land. That symbolism of DeAngelis’ final attempt, a 35-foot runner as the buzzer sounded going halfway down before rimming out for what would’ve been an academic bucket anyway, seemed a fitting capstone.
“It’s a little frustrating on offense, but you’ve got to keep a way to keep the defense up,” Long said. “We couldn’t get it done. I think our defensive intensity was great and keeping them scoreless for six minutes kept us in the game even with bad offense. If we would’ve made shots, we would’ve won.”
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