Michael Bullock (@thebullp_n)
HERSHEY — Once Keonte Lucas drifts off to sleep — and he should be mighty weary — it’s entirely possible the determined 5-11 senior guard may hear the instructions deep in his slumber that he and his teammates heard over and over again quite a bit earlier.
And those timely words of encouragement — “Just keep fighting. Just keep fighting. Just keep fighting.” — might even cause Lucas to suddenly jump up in bed.
Grinning, of course.
Lucas’ daring drive and banked finish with 14 or so seconds remaining lifted Milton Hershey to a 72-71 victory over Trinity in a Mid-Penn Capital Division thriller that had those parked in the Spartan Center Tuesday night making all sorts of noise.
Those watching the proceedings on a local television broadcast also may have been cranking out plenty of racket — the type fully dependent on one’s rooting interest.
Trinity still had a chance to pull out the victory, but Sean Good and Marcus Hall were unable to convert at the other end as Mark Zerbe’s Spartans held on to a victory that popped them into sole possession of the Capital Division lead.
And while it was their only lead of the night against the Shamrocks, the second-ranked Class 3A squad in City of Basketball Love’s latest set of state rankings, Milton Hershey did capture the Capital Division championship a season ago.
Hence, the pile of Spartans that formed quickly at midcourt.
Chris Sampson, a 6-7 handful who was a problem all night along the baseline, paced the Spartans with 26 points. Milton Hershey (7-2), which logged its fifth straight victory, also picked up 21 points from DonYae Baylor-Carroll and 14 from Jarin Lyons.
The springy 6-1 Lyons, who just happens to live in the same spacious house as Lucas, grabbed a team-high eight boards and redirected four Trinity shots.
Timmy Edwards popped a double-double (21 points/11 rebounds) — the 6-4 Edwards netted 16 points after the break — but could not prevent Trinity (10-1) from suffering its first loss. Larry Kostelac Jr.’s Shamrocks, who won their first 10 games by 14 points or more, also picked up 20 points from Austin Gilbertson and 12 each from Good and Hall.
“I just thought at times we did some silly things with the basketball,” admitted Kostelac, whose ‘Rocks committed an uncharacteristic 19 turnovers. “And that’s what it comes down to. You’re playing against good people, you’re playing them in a live environment.
“There were times when I thought we played very well and other times I thought we were very poor. At the end of the day, we just didn’t make enough plays and they did.”
Yet even as Trinity raced to leads as large as 13 points before halftime, Zerbe continued to prod and prod his players not to run up a white flag and call it a night.
“Just keep fighting and stay poised,” Lucas said, recalling the message throughout. “Basketball’s a long game. It’s four quarters, not one or two quarters. And what we did was fight until the fourth quarter and to the last second of the game.”
A 9-2 spurt just before the break — Sampson had the last four — proved encouraging as Milton Hershey trailed by just six (34-28) as they bounced to the lockers.
Trinity came out determined to leave the Spartans in their exhaust, building a 12-point lead (52-40) with three minutes left in the third when Gilbertson canned a trey. Seven Sampson points, though, had Milton Hershey within eight (56-48) after three.
“Sampson had a big game,” Kostelac said. “He’s a very good player, but it’s just one of those deals. I thought our kids played hard, so did their guys.”
“Chris is a phenomenal player,” Lucas added. “We didn’t have him last year, but we’re happy to have him this year. Games like this, I’m not sure we would have won without him. I know he wants to play basketball at the next level and he knows the center on their team [Good] has a couple basketball offers. This was like a radar game for him.”
“For him to come back and play with such conviction after missing last year [while ineligible] is so refreshing to see,” Zerbe gushed. “I’m so proud of him.”
What also changed was the slippery Baylor-Carroll quickly got hot, really hot.
Collecting 13 points in crunch time, the 5-8 junior buried the last of his three treys with just under two minutes to go, pulling the Spartans into a 68-all tie.
Edwards drained the front end of a two-shot look to push Kostelac’s Shamrocks back in front and Hall handed Trinity a three-point lead with a finish off the last of Gilbertson’s seven dimes. That would be it, however, for the West Shore crew.
Baylor-Carroll’s soft floater pulled the Spartans within one and, after Mike Scarpelli misfired on the front end of a one-and-one, Lyons latched on to the carom and the ball eventually wound up in Lucas’ trusty mitts with the clock rolling.
We’ll let him describe the game-winning effort, a nifty sequence he may replay over and over and over again during some 3:30 a.m. dream.
“When Jarin got the ball, I knew he was going to look for one of the guards and it was me who gravitated to the ball,” said Lucas, who is sifting through some offers to play football at the next level. “I knew [DonYae] would have wanted the ball because he got hot towards the end of the game, so I looked for him and he wasn’t there.
“So, I felt like the whole entire game and the fate of the game fell on my shoulders,” Lucas continued. “I went down, made a slight hesitation going into the lane, crossed back over and finished back on the right side.”
Sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Yet when Gilbertson sent the ball over the top to the 6-10 Good, all Milton Hershey players and coaches could think about was the closing seconds of last month’s loss at home to neighboring Palmyra, a game decided on a finish at the hoop.
“We were just hoping we’d play good defense,” Lucas continued. “That we didn’t bail them out with any dumb fouls or anything like that.”
On this night, though, there would not be a repeat.
“I was just happy with the way we battled,” Zerbe said. “The fact that we won is great. Trinity’s such a good team, they’re so talented, they’re deep, they’ve got great shooters, they’re well-coached, so we knew it was gonna be a dogfight.”
“It was a great game,” Kostelac admitted. “It’s unfortunate, but we certainly had our chances. I know we missed three foul shots down the stretch and we had a chance to come up with a big rebound and we wound up losing it.
“You just can’t do those things in a tight game.”
Milton Hershey would be the ones bouncing about and celebrating, not the guys slowly walking out of the building last month with the bowed heads and the sullen looks.
And Tuesday night’s success was one of those wins that could provide the Spartans with all sorts of positive waves as they continue to move forward.
“Last year was such a special year, but I think it was the speed and the depth,” Zerbe recalled. “This year we still have the speed, but we’re still working on the depth and the distributed scoring from a multitude of different guys.
“Again, when you go up against an undefeated team and you’re battling for first place, some things have to go right for you to win.”
That’s why you just keep fighting.