Boys end season in state tourney
The good news is that the Northwestern Lehigh boys basketball team reached the state playoffs for the first time since 1998.
The bad news is that in states there are no second chances. A team that battled back all season long when it had those chances fell to Lancaster Catholic 63-46, ending the Tigers’ season and the long run of the five seniors who played together on the team.
In the game as in the season, Northwestern battled from behind, trailing by as many as 29 points at one point, only to cut it to 15 when Deven Bollinger was fouled while hitting a driving layup and then converted the foul shot with 3:43 left to play.
From that point, the two teams battled back-and-forth with the Crusaders able to hold off the Northwestern rally from going any further than the 15-point deficit.
“I told them I was proud of them,” said Northwestern head coach Billy Hallman about his talk to the team after the loss. “They didn’t quit tonight and they kept working and cut the lead down to 15 late in the game. That’s what this team has been all about all season. They just don’t quit and they can be proud of that.”
Devin Thomas put on a show with a game-high 21 points, including 10 in the Tigers’ fourth-quarter comeback. Fellow senior Sam Seyfried hit two three-pointers on his way to 16 points on the night. For Lancaster Catholic (17-10), Dwayne Caine scored 16 points, with Johnny Besecker picking up 13 and David Kamwanga 11 in the win.
Things got pretty bumpy early for Northwestern when Bollinger got into quick foul trouble, picking up two fouls in the first quarter and then adding a third in the second quarter. Even with Bollinger missing minutes while sitting on the bench, Northwestern continued to battle.
Every time that the Crusaders thought they were delivering a knockout punch, Northwestern kept cutting into the lead and finally tied the game on a nifty move by Thomas to drive around a Lancaster Catholic player under the basket and deposit his shot to make it an 11-11 game with 3:05 left in the first quarter.
The Crusaders worked their way back to a four-point lead, but the Tigers again prowled back to tie it on another Thomas shot from under the basket, making it 15-15.
“We were playing well early in the game even though we weren’t getting some shots to fall and they were really containing Sam [Yadush],” said Hallman. “We just kept working hard.”
Yadush was held to just two points on the night, but he was dishing out assists as the Crusaders focused on him.
With 3:19 left to play in the second quarter, while nine other players were at the other end of the court where Lancaster Catholic scored to go up by 10, Yadush was laying at the other end of the court clutching his ankle.
“We were already struggling to hold it together with Deven in foul trouble and when Sam went down, that really hurt us,” said Hallman. “We were OK defensively, but offensively, our energy changed completely.”
Yadush returned for the second half and in addition to struggling with a sore ankle, also had his wrist heavily taped.
The Crusaders put together a 17-0 run in the third quarter, with the only points Northwestern managed in the period coming with five second left when Seyfried hit a three-pointer.
The loss ended the season for Northwestern, but Hallman was satisfied with how his team played throughout the season.
“There were a number of times when everybody counted us out and we just kept coming back. We never lost hope for a second,” he said.
The five seniors, Seyfried, Yadush, Colten Hagadus, Thomas and Derek Holmes were the first group of players that fifth-year head coach Hallman had in the program all the way through high school, since last year’s group didn’t include any seniors.
Hallman has known this group since they played together as fourth graders.
“They’ve been a great group and they always worked hard and kept pushing each other,” he said. “I’ve had these juniors since they were in third grade.”
While the team will miss this year’s senior players, there’s still a good presence of young players who have played a number of varsity minutes.