nLancaster Catholic outslugs Lancaster Mennonite to clinch fifth straight L-L Section Four boys' title. BY ED GRUVER, Sports Writer
Moments before Tuesday night's L-L Section Four boys' basketball title game, a member of the Crusader Crazies -- Lancaster Catholic's student cheering section -- stood from his courtside seat and held aloft the kind of championship belt boxers wear into the ring.
Fitting, since what followed over the next 90 minutes was akin to Ali-Frazier.
Guard Erik Goldbach scored a game-high 23 points, forward Omar Lopez added 18 and Catholic's high-energy defense helped force 10 second-half turnovers as the Crusaders rallied from 14 down for a 51-49 win.
Fans stormed Catholic's court following the Crusaders' clinching of their fifth straight section title.
"This one will stand out," Crusaders coach Joe Klazas said. "It's been a rough year."
A rough year that was summed up by a rough four quarters of basketball.
"It was very, very intense and physical," said Lopez. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy, this was for the championship.
"It was going to be physical, and we had to take matters into our own hands."
Literally. Lopez ripped down a team-high nine rebounds, including the clincher with three seconds left.
Goldbach's two 3-pointers and 14 second-half points fueled a comeback that saw Catholic (13-3 L-L, 16-6 overall) fight back from a 37-23 third-quarter deficit and eventually take its first lead at 42-41 on Goldbach's layup with 5:35 left in the game.
Despite a superlative effort from star sophomore guard Julian Collazo, who registered a team-high 20 points, Mennonite (11-5, 15-7) never reclaimed the lead.
"I thought through the first four minutes of the third quarter things were going well," Blazers boss Geoff Groff said. "Then we started missing shots and they started making shots.
"They're a good team. There's a reason they win section (titles)."
For much of the first half and into the third quarter, it appeared Mennonite would force a one-game playoff to decide the section.
Collazo and forwards Zach Lehman and Jon Snader had hot hands early, combining for all of Mennonite's points as the Blazers stormed to a 20-12 first-quarter lead.
The Blazers' advantage at the break stood at 27-19, the upstart having staggered the champ by forcing eight first-half turnovers.
"At halftime, we had to remind them to value every possession," Klazas said, and Catholic did.
The Crusaders committed only one turnover in the third and just five over the final 16 minutes.
Catholic's defense, meanwhile, was picking up the pace. Trapping and double-teaming, the Crusaders forced six turnovers in the third -- Mennonite had committed just four the entire first half -- and 10 in the second half.
"Give them credit," Groff said. "They picked up their intensity and we got out of attack mode. They did a good job of keeping a lot of pressure on the ball."
Still, the Blazers battled. Consecutive jumpers by Collazo midway through the fourth tied the game at 45.
"You can't give their coach and their players enough credit," Goldbach said. "They hustled their butts off."
Free throws by Goldbach, Randolph Speller and Evan Purvis allowed Catholic to maintain its slim lead despite another clutch bucket by Collazo.
Mennonite trailed 50-47 when Darris Bair drained two free throws with 5.4 seconds left to bring the Blazers to within a point. Forced to foul, Mennonite sent Speller to the line, and the freshman guard hit his first attempt but missed the second.
Lopez leapt high for the rebound, and in the process, hauled in both the ball and another title for Catholic.
"We've been down by 14 points four times this year and we won," Goldbach said. "That sums up our team. We're fighters."
Tuesday night, they needed to be.
"It was very, very intense and physical. We knew it wasn't going to be easy, this was for the championship. It was going to be physical, and we had to take matters into our own hands."