Originally published in the Elizabethtown Merchandiser. By Leah Sintic. Photos by Cheri Sine
Punching their ticket to the PIAA District III 1A finals for only the second time in school history, the Mount Calvary Chargers claimed the crown for the first time on Friday, February 28, fending off third-seeded Halifax High School, 71-56, at the Giant Center in Hershey to be named 2020 District III Champions.
“It means so much,” celebrated senior captain Jack Hilsher. “We’ve been talking about winning in the Giant Center for years, and we finally did it. It was such a cool experience and one we won’t forget.”
The early minutes of the contest belied the eventual 15-point triumph as the Chargers struggled to find their rhythm and trailed Halifax, 11-7, after the first quarter.
In fact, it wasn’t until a mere five minutes remained in the first half that Mount Calvary held their first lead of the contest, when Aidan Masters pushed the ball up the court and found Hunter Stewart cutting into the paint to secure a layup and the lead, 16-14.
Stewart’s first half contributions, both in scoring and rebounds, kept the Chargers in the contest during their early scoring drought, and he finished the night as MC’s high scorer tallying 19, and earned a double-double by adding 12 rebounds.
“We needed momentum and points, and I saw opportunities so I took them,” explained Stewart. “It felt great, but it wasn’t the main thing that I was focusing on,” the junior went on to say referring to the overall team mentality that permeated the performance.
Damian Rutt’s second quarter efforts included eight of his total 13 points and were a major factor in narrowing the gap before heading to the midway break.
Despite the glimpse of what was to come in the latter half, Halifax still had a bit more in the tank and managed to edge ahead, 29-26, with a buzzer beater at the half. The Wildcats’ first half success was due largely in part to their primary threat, Nathan Blasick, who finished the contest with 26 of Halifax’ points.
“When we faced adversity, this team fought back, held each other up and pushed each other to play better,” credited head coach Kory Pruner. “Guys off the bench stepped up in the first half when we dealt with foul trouble, and we managed to survive a nervous start.”
A completely different Charger team seized the court in the third quarter and rocketed ahead, outscoring the Wildcats 25-9 in the period.
“It was really just these boys focusing on playing our style of basketball: gritty defense, team-first offense and push the pace,” Pruner went on to say. “Halifax was not going to quit because they are also a great team of fighters, so we knew we needed to stay focused and disciplined until the end.”
Contributions came from all over the MC squad; Masters and Hilsher each notched 11 points apiece joining Stewart and Rutt in double-digit figures.
When Halifax focused their defensive efforts on Masters, MC’s year-long high scorer, he created other opportunities, dishing out eight assists, resulting in key buckets from freshman Brett Taylor (nine points), and Harrison Crick (six points).
In the fourth quarter, the concentrated Halifax defense didn’t allow Masters a field goal, but he capitalized his time at the line converting five-of-six free throws.
“I’m so proud of this team. God has blessed our team with a district championship and He has ultimately blessed these young men with a memory that lasts a lifetime. All year we have strived to be a team that puts God, team and others before ourselves, and I believe that was on display,” concluded Pruner.
In order to earn their way into the title match, the MC team took down the Lions of Lancaster County Christian in a resounding 49-29 triumph in the previous Monday’s semifinal showdown.
The clash started out as a defensive one, registering a low-scoring 18-11 Charger advantage at the half, before the MC club opened up a more comfortable lead in the second half of play.
“We focused on our defensive success to start the game and continued to ask them to have more ball movement on offense to get better shots,” explained Pruner. “LCCS was able to slow down our offense by forcing outside shots, but we also did not look to push the ball enough. Once we began to do those things, we were able to extend a lead.”
Senior Chip Stambaugh continued his aggressive post-season performance, leading all scorers with 16, scoring in each of the four quarters, netting six-of-nine from the line, and pulling down 11 rebounds.
Stewart was the second Charger athlete to notch double digits, joining Stambaugh with a double-double, securing 11 points and 12 boards.
Masters added eight points to the Charger tally, a quieter contribution from the junior who averages 18 points per game, but Masters’ influence on the outcome was also felt in a supply of nine rebounds, five assists, and two steals.
With the Lions’ defense forcing the long-range shot, MCCS responded by sinking five momentum-boosting, three-point buckets, two apiece from Masters and Hilsher, and one from Evan Barnes.
While the Chargers faced their share of missed shots, their tenacity on the boards gave them ample second-chance opportunities and they out-rebounded the Lions 47-24 collectively.
“We almost doubled their shot attempts due to great rebounding and forcing turnovers,” pointed out Pruner. “But the story of the night was the defensive effort, as we shut down their two leading scorers.”
That intense defense held the Lions biggest offensive threat, Charles Hall, to 10 points and the rest of the LCCS squad to single digit contributions.
The two-win week brings the Chargers’ victory count to 25, winning their last 21 consecutive contests, sporting an overall 25-2 record and they’re not done yet.
Systematically checking off their goals, the Chargers now possess the CCAC tournament and District III titles and have set their sights on the PIAA tournament, hunting for a win at the state level. Their first test will come on March 6 against District I opponent North Penn Liberty High School.
Last Tuesday’s District III consolation playoff match against Veritas Academy turned out to be the end of a successful season for the Lady Chargers, halting their post-season run with a loss at home, 34-28, capping the year with an overall record of 18-9.
Kenzie Baughman’s 14 points and composure at the line, shooting seven-of-nine, kept the Lady Chargers within reach during the contest, but despite a fourth quarter surge of 18 points that narrowed the gap, the squad came up just short.
Defensively, Kara Locker and Julia Martin picked off four steals apiece, trying to spark some MCCS momentum. Martin also led the team in rebounds with seven.
The win for Veritas advanced them into a battle for fifth place against Halifax High School, with Halifax prevailing to claim the final spot in the PIAA tournament, but for the Lady Chargers, last week closed the books on an eventful season which included an 11-1 CCAC conference record, an appearance in the CCAC championship contest, and a District III playoff run.