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Conestoga holds off Boyertown, claims Holiday Tournament crown

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BOYERTOWN >> Boyertown coach Mike Ludwig set some clear goals for his team going into this week’s Holiday Tournament.

​“We knew this was a quality tournament,” said Ludwig. “We wanted to play our first game, get some confidence and then test ourselves again against top competition.”

It’s safe to say the Bears reached Ludwig’s goals. After a hard-fought win Thursday night over Governor Mifflin, Boyertown hung with perennial District 1 contender Conestoga ​Friday before succumbing, 53-42, in a physical Holiday Tournament finale.​

Conestoga’s Charlie Schappell throws down a dunk during the second half of Friday night’s game. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

​Jerry Kapp ​paced the Bears with ​14 points, but it wasn’t quite enough against an often-stifling Pioneers defense.​ Ludwig described the environment as a “playoff atmosphere,” and expressed encouragement that the experience would serve his team for the better down the line.

​“Spring-Ford, Norristown, Methacton — they’re all quality teams, and those are our next three games,” he pointed out. “Like I just told the kids in the locker room, our league this year is going to be games like this one every single night. That’s why it was important to see a team like Conestoga in this tournament — it gets you ready for the league.”

​The Pioneers came into the tourney flying high, having already passed what may arguably be their toughest league test. Last week’s victory over Lower Merion gave ‘Stoga the momentum they sustained throughout Thursday’s victory over Pennridge and on Friday against the Bears.

Boyertown’s Sean Tamasitis drives it into the lane while being guarded by Conestoga’s Zach Lezanic. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

Conestoga was led by​ Zach Lezanic’s 15 points in claiming the Holiday Tournament title, but the real story was the team’s ​all-around​ effort​ and gameplan​. ‘Stoga limited the Bears’ possessions with a methodical offense that was willing to, as the saying goes, pass up a good shot for the chance at a great shot.

​“That’s been our philosophy for years​ — patience,” said Conestoga coach Mike Troy. “Control the ball, stay in the system, and obviously, those higher percentage shots are going to go in.”

When Boyertown did get a good look, it was often one-and-done, thanks to the Pioneers’ interior duo of Charlie Schappell ​(​​10 points, five blocked shots)​ and Mike Erickson, who controlled the boards with authority on both ends, limiting Boyertown possessions while extending several for their own squad.

Boyertown’s Jerry Kapp (23) drives to the basket during Friday night’s game against Conestoga. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

Of the 10 Conestoga first-half field goals, six were of the layup or ​p​utback variety — and two others were from three-point range. By contrast, the Bears were held without a first-half 3-pointer until Marcus Thomas connected in the dying seconds. Conestoga went to the locker room with a 24-17 advantage.

The third quarter was a defensive struggle until the Pioneers caught fire from long range in the late going. Evan Medley, Zach Lezanic and Scott Martin connected on three-pointers on consecutive possessions to give the Pioneers their largest lead at 38-23. Kapp beat the ​third-quarter ​buzzer to bring the Bears within a dozen.

​By the fourth quarter, both teams were in the double bonus quite early, and Boyertown’s​ comeback attempt more or less came down to a foul shooting competition — one they were not equipped to win on this evening. The Bears’ 73% mark from the line thus far this season betrayed them Friday, as the team shot only 11-23 at the charity stripe.

“We can’t deny that we didn’t shoot well, but it’s an outlier,” said Ludwig. “We’ll get back to work tomorrow, and foul shooting will certainly be an emphasis — because we’re going to need it down the stretch.”

Conestoga’s Zach Lezanic brings it up court while a pair of Boyertown defenders pursue. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

Just as Boyertown cut the deficit within single digits, Schappell punctuated the Pioneers’ showing with a breakaway, two-handed dunk to seal the victory and his own outstanding tournament performance. He credited his team’s perseverance in allowing them to stay composed through an often tense, hard-fought contest.

“By staying calm, staying together, and trusting one another, we pulled through,” said the senior forward, who is heading to Denison University in Ohio next year. “Being in an atmosphere like this one is the reason why we play. It’s onto bigger and better goals from here.”

“We challenged the kids by saying this was their first chance to bring home some hardware this year,” added Coach Troy.

From the looks of things, it may not be their last.

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