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Blue Raiders fall short in overtime at Giant Center, but will play in state tourney

By Larry Etter, Press & Journal Staff
Posted 3/3/17

Tense, intense and dramatic.

Two determined basketball teams locked up in a showdown at Hershey’s Giant Center on Thursday night with the District III-4A championship up for grabs.

The …

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Blue Raiders fall short in overtime at Giant Center, but will play in state tourney

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Tense, intense and dramatic. Two determined basketball teams locked up in a showdown at Hershey’s Giant Center on Thursday night with the District III-4A championship up for grabs.
The Middletown Blue Raiders and the Lancaster Catholic Crusaders put on quite a show for the 2,000 plus fans on hand in a classic clash. The game was not decided until overtime, keeping all of those cheering spectators locked in their seats until the final buzzer.
Unfortunately, for the Middletown players, coaches and loyal fans, Lancaster Catholic came away the winner with an 86-78 decision.
But the season goes on. The Blue Raiders (20-5) are the No. 2 team out of District III and will play Saturday, March 11, vs. Danville Area High School (17-8 on the season, the No. 3 seed from District IV). The game will be played at Central Dauphin East High School at 8 p.m. If they win, they play the winner of Greater Johnstown-Schuylkill Valley on Wednesday, March 15.
The Middletown team had set a goal at the beginning of the season making it to the Giant Center. No previous Middletown team had made it to the spacious arena. Other teams had played in the old Hersheypark Arena, but many years had gone by since then.
This squad had earned the right after beating Eastern York and Berks Catholic, and the players were looking forward to the experience. The outcome Thursday just didn’t work out in the Blue Raiders’ favor. Yes, they were disappointed, which is understandable.
The Raiders grabbed an early lead and stayed out in front of their opponents for three full quarters of action and deep into the fourth before Lancaster Catholic rallied to tie the score. The Crusaders earned their first lead of the game at 61-60 with just 1:27 left in regulation and had a two-point edge with 40 seconds left. Ryan Hughes tied the game with 14 ticks on the clock and the Middletown defense turned away a late scoring chance by the Crusaders to send the game into the extra session.
But a strong finish by Lancaster Catholic proved to be the difference and the No. 2 seed Crusaders out of the Lancaster-Lebanon League snared the District III award, denying the Blue Raiders of adding the hardware to their trophy case.
After Chris Plummer won the game’s opening tipoff, Tre Leach scored on a short jumper to start the contest on the right foot for the Raiders. Following a miss by the Crusaders, Luke Mrakovich scored at 6:34 to make it a 4-0 game. Lancaster Catholic’s Jon Ware broke the ice for the Crusaders at 6:06 but Hughes gave the Raiders a 6-2 lead at 5:12. That was a good start to what turned out to be a low-scoring first half for both teams.
The Crusaders made just 3 of 12 shots from the floor in the first quarter while the Raiders went 5 for 9 and, with 1:41 left the Middletown side was hanging onto an 8-6 lead.
Following misses from both teams and with time winding down Mrakovich lit up the home side with a half-court buzzer beater that banked off the glass for a long three and the Raiders led 11-6.
In the second period, the shooting woes continued for the Crusaders, but the Blue Raiders fared no better and the teams combined for just 21 points in the frame. The Raiders earned a five-point lead, 16-11, on a putback by Plummer but could not build on it. A late drive by L.C.’s Ware made it a 21-17 game heading into the halftime break.
The real surprise came at the onset of the third quarter when both teams started scoring points at will. After a triple by Plummer pushed the Raiders up to a 29-21 lead with 5:42 left, the Crusaders ran off 5 straight points to close the gap. A trey by Hughes at 4:11 broke the string but Chad Wenger and Danny Bomgardner scored 5 more to make it a one-point game.
Mrakovich and Kyle Truesdale went back-to-back but the Raiders could not keep the Crusaders from scoring. The Raiders took a 40-37 lead into the fourth quarter following a drive by Leach with 2 seconds left.
The scoring really picked up in the fourth as the Blue Raiders netted 24 points and the Crusaders put up 27, thus creating the tie at the end of regulation.
If the game had a real turning point it came with five and a half minutes to play.
After Mrakovich’s putback gave the Raiders a somewhat comfortable 7-point lead and a chance to add to that lead following a Lancaster Catholic miss, the Middletown offense committed a pair of costly turnovers that led to a five-point swing for the Crusaders.
Instead of a potential 9- to 11-point lead, the gap narrowed to just two, 53-51, and set the stage for the rally by the Crusaders.
Leach made a 3-point play with a basket and foul shot at 4:27 as the Raiders went back up by 5 and made two more free throws following a Sean Landis bucket to keep the spread at five points with 4:15 left. But the Raiders would get just two more points on a pair of foul shots by Plummer during a pivotal three minute span that led to Lancaster Catholic’s 61-60 lead.
Plummer scored at 1:03 but Mark Cannon added his third triple of the period with 40 seconds left to push the Crusaders up by 64-62. Lancaster Catholic had a chance to put the game away but Wenger missed the front end of a one-and-one with 23 seconds left, leaving the door open for the Raiders to tie or win. It ended in a tie when Hughes drove the lane for a score with 14 seconds left. A late miss by a Lancaster Catholic player sent the game to overtime.
In the extra session the Crusaders, with a deeper bench, appeared to be fresher to start the 4-minute session against the tiring Middletown side. And it showed right away as Lancaster Catholic opened up the frame with a 7-1 run and a 71-65 lead in less than a minute. The Blue Raiders used what they had left in the tank and tried to rally, but their plans fell short.
Leach made two foul shots at 2:57 and Hughes added a goal off a Tyreer Mills assist at 2:20 to pull the Raiders to within three, 71-69. But the Crusaders went on a 7-0 run for a 78-69 lead with 1:16 left and locked up the win.
Mrakovich fired in a pair of long-range threes in the final minute, the second of which made it a five-point game, but it was not enough to complete the comeback.
In talking about the lead that slipped away late, Middletown coach Chris Sattele said, “That could be attributed to a combination of things,” citing the crucial turnovers and missed shots in the middle of the fourth quarter. “This was our first time here,” he said referring to the Giant Center. “Lancaster Catholic has been here before and it showed,” he added.
But he was proud of the effort of his players.
“I talked to them after the game and they are ready to get right back to work and get ready for states,” he said.
Mrakovich led the team with 22 points, Leach added a career-high 20 and Hughes and Plummer registered 17 each for the Blue Raiders.

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