Zephs get by Bangor
It may have been snowing outside, but inside Pleasant Valley's gymnasium last Saturday it was raining buckets as the Whitehall boys basketball team sprung for 50 points, advancing to the semifinals of the district championship.
In a game where the Zephs defense was once again the story, rainmakers Brett Radocha and Jake Meyers combined for 35 points to help Whitehall defeat second-seeded Bangor Area High School 50-41 to set up another division match-up when they faced Nazareth in the District 11 4A semifinals Wednesday.
The first half went back and forth as Radocha helped the Zephs bolt out to an early lead, scoring six of his game-high 21 points in the opening quarter.
That lead didn't survive the second period as Reece Jones hit a pair of threes to knot the score at 20.
They extended that lead when Anthony Schiavone drilled another one from beyond the arc, giving Bangor a 23-20 lead at the break.
Enter swingman Meyers.
The senior took over the third period with his perimeter shooting. After a basket by Shavaughn Morris to open the scoring in the third, the Zephs went on a 9-0 run with Meyers smack dab in the middle of the barrage.
He finished the quarter with 11 points. Six of those came from beyond the arc, while another was earned at the charity stripe after being hacked on a three-point attempt. His other basket was a lay-up that gave the Zephs the lead at 28-26.
That laid the groundwork for the eventual win as the Slaters didn't score another field goal in the quarter.
"We had a really good third quarter," said Jones. "That third quarter was good to us."
Indeed it was as they outscored the Slaters 16-6 in that frame.
Jones said that they rode Meyers' hot hand in that pivotal quarter. They also drew up an inbounds play for Meyers this week in practice which they successfully implemented in the third.
"He got a good look and he didn't miss it," said Jones. "That was a big bucket for us because it gave us a little space."
The Zephs continued to keep Bangor at bay with their defense in the final quarter, only allowing two field goals during that span. While they were keeping Bangor under wraps offensively, Nick Hassler's and Logan McGinley's field goals helped extend the Zephyrs lead with just under three minutes remaining.
Hassler finished the game with six points, going 4-4 from the line, while McGinley added four.
Jones said the win underscored their defensive effort once again, building on the momentum that began with the Northampton win. In both games, the Zephs have only allowed a handful of field goals. Against the Slaters that total was five.
"The defense has been really, really solid," Jones said.
Another factor was their ability to rebound the ball. Both Radocha and Saquon Barkley played big roles inside, helping the Zephs to keep the Slaters from earning multiple possessions. Jones also said that Meyers and Chad Rex played integral roles on the boards as well, with Rex grabbing a number of backside rebounds.
"He [Rex] did a good job of getting defensive boards for us," said Jones.
The one negative takeaway was the number of times that Bangor got to the line, said Jones. The Slaters arrived at the charity stripe 27 times.
"We weren't happy with the number of foul shots they took," said Jones. "We normally give up 10 or less. We don't expect to have that problem again."
Saturday's total of 50 for the three Zephs was in sharp contrast to their opening game against Northampton Area High School. In that game both teams combined for just 50 points, with the Zephs defeating their division rivals 29-21 for a chance to meet the Slaters.
Having suffered two losses to the K-Kids during the season, Jones decided to add a new wrinkle to their match-up zone defense. He said they earnestly worked on it for two days leading up to last Wednesday's game, successfully implementing it which effectively handcuffed Northampton's two leading scorers.
Their triangle and two defense did exactly what Jones was hoping it would do, limiting both Aidan Ellwood and Garrett Oplinger to just five points apiece.
In their previous two meetings, that pair of Eastern Pennsylvania Conference All-Stars combined for 47 points.
"We wanted to pull out something no one has seen," said Jones. "The kids really executed it well. To be able to do what they did was pretty special."
Offensively, the Zephs relied on Radocha to shoulder the load. The senior center was more than capable of handling the task, knocking down 12 of his 14 points in the second half.
"He's the guy we rely on," said Jones. "We wanted to focus on getting the ball to him and we did."
Jones said they executed their offense as planned, sticking to a deliberate style that would maximize their possessions. That strategy worked as they kept the Kids from running and gunning as they took time off the clock each trip down the floor.
The Zephs were also aided offensively by Mikey Esquilin who finished with four points, while Gianni Sinatore and Meyers each added three.
But once again it was their defense that told the story. They limited the Kids to just six field goals the entire game, and only gave up two points the entire fourth quarter.
"That speaks volumes about what the kids are doing on the defensive end," said Jones.
While this win earned them a berth in the quarterfinals, it also came at a price. Freshman sensation Esquilin broke his hand, ending his outstanding debut season for the Zephs.