Cumberland Times-News

Columns

March 9, 2014

There’s no place like home, or Hagerstown

It took 40 minutes and was an uphill struggle, but in the end Allegany turned what had been a house of horrors into one full of high fives and joyful celebration.

It was a far cry from the scene here at Hagerstown Community College nearly a year ago to the day — March 9, 2013 — when the top-seeded Campers were beaten handily by Brunswick, 73-48, in the West Region boys basketball championship game.

Allegany coach Tedd Eirich had few answers that afternoon. But the Campers had plenty of answers a year later, when pushed to the limit by Manchester Valley with a trip to the state tournament hanging in the balance. The 63-62 double-overtime win will be remembered for a long time at Campobello.

Don’t think the Campers had forgotten about the drubbing of a year ago, especially when getting behind early by double figures, or when pushed to a second overtime by a buzzer-beating three-point shot. Allegany’s first lead came with 7:10 left in the fourth quarter, and the largest lead for a team whose average victory margin was 32 points, was 42-38 a minute later.

Maybe it was the arena, or Jim Brown Court. Something there doesn’t seem to sit well with the Campers. Eirich didn’t think they should have even been there in the first place.

“The Maryland playoff system is broken. We all know that. We’re the No. 1 seed both years, and for two years in a row we have to come down here for the championship game,’’ he said. “Doesn’t seem right. But, it is what it is.”

The Campers led for just 3:16 of the 40-minute Instant Classic: 90 seconds in the fourth quarter, 65 seconds in the first overtime, and 41 seconds in the second overtime.

“I started to think it may be jinxed,’’ said senior Trenton Eirich of the HCC court. “We couldn’t make any shots early, and then some rolled around and went in and out. I thought about last year a few times, but knew we couldn’t think negative. We didn’t want to end the year like we did last year.”

Allegany had only seven rebounds in the first half — Manchester Valley’s Zach Heron had eight himself — and shot 12 for 32 from the field the first three quarters.

But too many people refused to allow a repeat of 2013, and after four ties in the third quarter, Bryce Nightengale scored along the baseline to give Allegany its first lead, 40-38, with 7:10 left in regulation.

A senior, Nightengale did just about everything again for the Campers. He had 12 points in the second half, a big three-point play to get Allegany to within one at 49-48 with 1:24 to go, a blocked shot in the final seconds of regulation, and a three-point shot that gave Allegany a 53-52 lead with 3:05 left in the first overtime.

He finished with 19 points, six blocked shots, five rebounds, three assists, a touchdown, two triples and four RBIs. Okay, scratch the touchdown, triples and RBIs. But you get the picture.

“What hasn’t he done in the playoffs, except maybe bring out the water for us?” Eirich asked afterward. Nightengale is averaged 17 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in the three playoff games.

“I just tried to keep calm and keep doing the things I’ve been doing well all year,” said Nightengale, who’s a bit of a high school rarity in that he appears to enjoy playing defense more than offense. “I love playing defense. It’s defense that gets the offense started.”

Nightengale and Colton Sivic were helpless but not hopeless later, as they both watched from the bench after fouling out, Sivic with 1:01 left in regulation and Nightengale with two minutes left in the first overtime.

“It felt like the worst pain in my life,” Nightengale said of having to watch the nail-biting overtimes like one of the paying fans. “I felt bad that I couldn’t be out there with the team. Luckily they pulled it off.”

Lucky, yes. No one gets this far without a little luck, and the Campers got some just in the nick of time. Up 49-45, Manchester Valley made only 2 of 7 free throws in the final 2:14 of regulation. The Mavs also missed four in a row in the final minute of the first overtime, and three of four in the final 42 seconds of the second overtime.

In fact, Manchester Valley made only nine of its last 21 attempts from the line.

Sivic had eight of his nine rebounds in the second half, and Allegany’s improved play on the boards was a big cog in the comeback.

“Coach told us at halftime that we had to play the second half like it was our last. It had to be our best,’’ said Sivic, a 6-2 senior who battled the 6-5 Heron all afternoon. “I was kind of nervous in the first half, but in the second half we knew we had to rebound more and go to the basket stronger.

“It felt really bad to have to watch the overtimes. I stayed behind the team, and tried to be a coach, keep the guys pumped up and help the ones who were playing. But it was really hard. Last year was a big letdown and it was depressing to lose. We didn’t want that to happen again.”

Darquel Jessie played all 40 minutes, and in addition leading all scorers with 21 points, had six rebounds and played solid defense, especially when called upon to try to keep Austin Cannon, Manchester Valley’s strong, slick point guard, under control.

“I felt some pressure when the seniors were fouling out,’’ the 6-3 junior said. “I knew Trenton (Eirich) and I were the only starters out there and that we had to keep everyone on track.

“We had to keep their big kids off the glass and slow down their penetration. I was worried, but knew we had to stick with it and knew we had to fight back and win. I was pretty exhausted at the end.”

The end was quite a sight to see. Jessie, and Eirich, who also played all 40 minutes, and Darick Kerns, a 6-6 sophomore who has given the team quality minutes off the bench all year. And sophomore guard Carson Imes. And sophomore Jason Copman.

“In the fourth quarter we had Carson, Jason and Darick in there,’’ Trenton Eirich said. “That’s three sophomores who played really a whole quarter and a half, and they played great. I give them lots of credit for this win. It was great to see.”

Only a week or two ago, Imes and Copman were playing in their final jayvee game. Now they were on the court, in the second overtime of a region championship game with a trip to the state tournament on the line.

“I didn’t expect to play at all, but when I saw our big men in foul trouble I thought I might,’’ said the 6-3 Copman. “I just had to step up and help out as much as I could.”

Copman was the next man up when Nightengale fouled out early in the first overtime. He played the rest of the way and had six big rebounds, with four in the second overtime, and three coming on the offensive end. His final rebound, after a missed free throw, started the game-winning drive by Eirich.

He didn’t seem nervous.

“I think I’m pretty good at keeping my composure, and the team needed me. I couldn’t be nervous,’’ Copman said. “But after we got the lead I got a little nervous. We still had to play good defense. We didn’t want it to end like the first overtime did,” he said, referring to the buzzer-beater that Jake Winner hit for the Mavericks.

The next stop now for the Campers is the Comcast Center. But, after Saturday, there’s no doubt they have a much better feeling about Hagerstown Community College.

Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at mmathews@times-news.com.

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