HAMBURG >> Lancaster Mennonite mirrored Kutztown: Perimeter sharpshooting, size under the basket, quickness, tough defense. The mirror nearly cracked for the Cougars.
But Kutztown survived a frantic final few seconds Thursday night to advance to the District 3 3A championship game with a 49-48 nail-biter over the Blazers in a semifinal held at Hamburg High School.
“We’ve already earned our state bid, but I thought his validated our season,” Kutztown head Ted Snyder said. “We were hoping to play at (Santander Arena, in the Berks League championships), but it didn’t work out.”
It was a full escape job from a matchup nightmare for the Cougars, the Berks League’s Section 3 champions and the top seed in the six-team 3A district bracket. They earned a trip to Hershey’s Giant Center for the title game on Wednesday against four-time defending champ Trinity (three under old 2A, one new 3A) by their fingernails, a fact acknowledged by Snyder.
The Blazers forced Kutztown out of their comfort zone — man-to-man — defensively after the break.
“They were the quickest team we’ve played all year and that sped us up,” Snyder said. “We’ve been a man team (defensively) all year, and they were quick. We worked on zone a bit, but our matchup zone wasn’t good, so we went 1-3-1 and I thought that was effective. They had to throw some long passes and shoot some threes from the corner. I think that was adjustment that won the game for us.”
Leading 40-38 headed into the fourth quarter, the Blazers did not hit a field goal in the final stanza until the previously scoreless and snake-bitten Gillespie finally hit a shot with 58 seconds to go and his team down six, 48-43. Perimeter threat Elijah Terry, who nailed his first four 3-point attempts off the bench for Mennonite, missed his final four down the stretch.
Both Kutztown (20-3) and Lancaster Mennonite (17-8) have already qualified for the PIAA tournament. The Blazers were state quarterfinalists a year ago.
“You can’t tell if these kids won or lost a game sometimes, Snyder said of his club. “They’re very even-keel. I don’t think (Giant Center) will be too big a stage for us.”
Kutztown’s Ivan Fegely — who had been held scoreless until the fourth quarter — figured heavily in the final seconds on Hawk Hill. With his Cougars clinging to a 49-46 lead with less than 30 seconds to play, Fegely was stripped in the corner on a full court trap press by Mennonite, in which Blazer John Gillespie made pay off with a basket and a foul.
“That’s tough place to inbounds from, the corner,” Snyder said.
After Gillespie failed to tie the game by missing the free throw — the Blazers were a miserable 4 of 14 overall from the freebie stripe, leaving several points on the floor — Mennonite grabbed the offensive rebound. A shot from the down low missed and a second offensive carom was secured, before Fegely stole the ball back.
In the double bonus, Fegely was fouled racing down the court with :03 showing on the clock; he elongated the suspense by missing both free throws. Gillespie then missed a shot from half-court as the buzzer sounded, with the ball just missing the mark to the left of the rim.
That’s a ton of hair-raising action with the game on the line for a player who clocked just four points on the night.
“The involvement was crazy, the atmosphere was crazy,” Fegely said. “I had to do what I had to do to help lead our team to victory there. I’m blessed to get this opportunity now to play at the Giant Center. I just love it. It was tough. They (Mennonite) emulated us.”
Mennonite went ice cold at red-light time. Fegely attributes that to his club’s tough defensive pressure when it most mattered. “It’s a nod to your pressure,” he said, “making teams miss shots. They rushed their shots. If we have one guy running at an open shooter, he has to be thinking of that guy rushing toward him. They looked wide open, but I think they were rushed and worried about guys coming up on them.”
Lorencz Jean-Baptiste, as has been the case for the entire season, was again clutch for Kutztown. The junior swingman led all scorers with 22 points. His basket with under four minutes to play finally gave Kutztown the lead for good, at 43-41, late in the game. Jean-Baptiste was the only Cougar to clock double-figures.
Kutztown trailed 31-26 at halftime and didn’t taste the lead again until Jean-Baptsite’s aforementioned conversion.
Once seized, the Cougars did not let go. Fegely and Matt Angstadt (four points) both hit key baskets to keep the Blazers at bay as the clock drifted toward two minutes to play.
A slight knock forced Mennonite leading scorer, forward Roman Ali (15 points), to the bench for a spell during the final period.
Ali’s absence, totaling nearly half of the final quarter, didn’t help break the Lancaster outfit’s icy finish. Ali returned to the floor with a bit more than three minutes to play, but was held scoreless the rest of the way.
District 3 3A semifinal
at Hamburg High School
Kutztown 49, Lancaster Mennonite 48
Lanc Mennonite — 13 18 11 8 — 48
Kutztown — 14 12 12 11 — 49
Gillespie 2 1-6 5, Forte 3 0-2 6, Ali 7 1-2 15, Hurst 2 1-2 6, Terry 4 0-0 12, Bynum 1 1-2 4. Totals: 19 4-14 48.
3-pointers: 6 (Terry 4, Bynum, Hurst)
Angstadt 2 0-0 4, Eck 2 1-2 5, Jean-Baptiste 8 4-4 22, Fenerty 1 2-3 4, D Fegely 4 1-2 9, I Fegely 2 0-3 4, Tucker 0 1-2 1. Totals: 19 9-16 49.
3-pointers: 2 (Jean-Baptiste 2)
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