BETHLEHEM >> During the warmups prior to Wednesday night’s second round state playoff game, Dock Mennonite senior Darius Ellis quickly stopped in the crowd across from the Pioneers bench to say hello to family members.
An hour later, Ellis’ family had the best view in the gym to see the 6-foot-6 center make a game-changing hustle play. Ellis acrobatically jumped out of bounds in the corner and threw the ball off a Holy Cross player to maintain possession. He was fouled the next time he touched the ball to start a 14-3 run.
The (1-1) Pioneers extended a three-point fourth-quarter lead to 14 and finished off the (2-1) Crusaders, 56-43, in the PIAA-2A state playoffs at Liberty High School in Bethlehem.
Ellis’ play came with just over five minutes left and Dock ahead, 40-37. He split his free throws and Devon Jainlett grabbed the offensive rebound on the miss and put it in for a 43-37 lead.
“You have to have the mentality like, ‘Come on guys we’ve got this,’” Ellis said. “You have to scratch and claw through everything. You have to fight – that’s the easiest word is to fight. We did it tonight.”
Ralph Saint-Fleur, Dallas Wilder and Steve Martin all scored in addition to Ellis and Jainlett during the 14-3 run to extend the 40-37 lead to 54-40.
Saint-Fleur led the Pioneers with 18 points. He scored six points in the fourth quarter, including a steal and layup to make it a 50-40 game with 1:48 to go. On the ensuing possession he drew a charge on Holy Cross leading scorer Keiran Burrier to foul him out and essentially end the game.
Dock wasn’t able to play its normal pressure defense after getting into foul trouble quickly in each half. Instead, they forced the Crusaders to take tough shots and limited them to one made three-pointer. Inside Ellis patrolled the paint and blocked six shots.
“We play really aggressive man-to-man defense,” Dock coach Mike Fergus said. “When we had five fouls in the first four minutes of the game I was like, ‘Woah.’ I had three starters with foul trouble. We had to adjust how we were guarding. If they’d have let us guard the way we do, we would’ve turned that team over a lot. The officiating was fine, we just had to adjust to it and we thought we did a nice job of that.”
“That’s the huge advantage for us now in this state tournament,” Ellis added, “our defense. We can worry about offense later. The offense will come for us, but the defense is always the biggest thing.”
The teams played a tight first quarter. Martin hit three three-pointers in the opening frame to give the Pioneers a 9-3 lead. Holy Cross responded with an 8-0 run to go ahead, 11-9, and eventually held a 14-13 advantage after eight minutes.
Dock’s defense held Holy Cross to just five points in the second quarter. Saint-Fleur hit a three-pointer to put Dock ahead for good, 20-18. Ellis hit a three on the next possession and Saint-Fleur followed with a two-point jumper to make it an 8-0 run and 25-18 lead. They went to halftime ahead, 25-19.
Holy Cross’ Leahy O’Connor hit his team’s only three of the game with 2:10 left in the third, cutting their deficit to 34-29. The triple started a 7-2 run and the third ended with Dock ahead, 36-33.
Martin and Ellis joined Saint-Fleur in double figures with 15 and 12 points, respectively.
The Pioneers will face (12-1) Math, Civics & Sciences in the quarterfinals Saturday and a site and time to be determined.
Dock Mennonite 56, Holy Cross 43
Dock Mennonite 13 12 11 20 – 56
Holy Cross 14 5 14 10 – 43
DM: Saint-Fleur 7 3-4 18, Wilder 1 1-2 3, Martin 6 0-0 15, Ellis 3 5-7 12, Jainlett 2 0-2 4, Derstine 1 0-0 2, Barnes 0 0-0 0, Kuhn 1 0-0 2, Lapp 0 0-0 0. Total 21 9-15 56.
HC: Callejas 1 0-0 2, O’Connor 4 3-4 12, Bennie 1 3-8 5, Calciano 2 0-3 4, Burrier 6 6-8 18, Osborne 0 2-4 2. Total 14 14-27 43.
3-point goals: DM: Saint-Fleur, Martin 3, Ellis. HC: O’Connor.
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