Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
ERDENHEIM — At the plate or the free throw line, throwing against a full count or with the ball in his hands and time running out, pressure doesn't seem to faze Nathan Lapp.
The Dock Mennonite junior, a two-sport standout in basketball and baseball for the Pioneers, also doesn't know anything other than playing at top gear, both because he can't help it but also because it's how he brings everyone along with him.
Nathan Lapp (above) and Dock Mennonite remain unbeaten in BAL play. (Photo: Andrew Robinson/CoBL)
Lapp's aversion to pressure was on display Tuesday where he scored 28 points, including a third quarter buzzer-beater and a perfect showing at the foul line, as the Pioneers topped Phil-Mont Christian Academy 66-54 in a clash between two of the Bicentennial Athletic League's top squads.
What's concerning, at least for Dock's opponents, is that they have to deal with this guy next year too.
"That's just how I play, man, from start to finish, I'm going to have a lot of energy," Lapp said. "My energy feeds my team, I think when my teammates see my energy, they react and it makes us play better. I go 100 percent on every play and I play to win, so by doing that, I know I can't do anything except play my hardest."
How calm was Lapp in pressure situations on Tuesday? Sure, the 11-of-11 showing at the foul line could probably answer that, but instead, look no further than the end of the third quarter.
Dock (13-3, 9-0 BAL) had held for the last shot, but things were starting to unravel for the Pioneers when Lane Bergey found Lapp with about three seconds on the clock. With the Phil-Mont fans trying to speed him up with their accelerated countdown, two tall Falcons defenders converging on him and his own bench trying to get him the accurate time, Lapp zoned it all out.
Catching and faking a shot, Lapp took one dribble to his left, set his feet several paces behind the line and fired just ahead of the buzzer, catching all net at the horn.
"The thing is, I didn't know how much time was left," Lapp said. "I knew it was less than five seconds. When I got the ball, I caught it and up-faked because I knew the kid was going to jump and I had enough time to get to a spot and chucked it up then it went in."
Pioneers coach Mike Fergus has had a lot of success with baseball-basketball standouts in his time at Dock but there's something different between Lapp and those who preceded him. It's also fitting, because Fergus loves to make baseball analogies
"The best thing is the energy. As a coach, you want guys that have that energy and it's not something you can put in a kid, he either has it or he doesn't," Fergus said. "A lot of times, those guys who play both sports are also pretty smart.
"I have to watch him play more baseball because baseball dudes are usually more laid-back, relaxed but he's just so tightly wound. It's great, I wish I had five, no 20, like him."
For the moment, the Sellersville resident is leaning a little more toward baseball, although basketball isn't very far behind. Lapp, a right-handed pitcher and middle infielder who primarily plays shortstop when not on the mound, currently has a baseball offer from Stony Brook and has talked with coaches from Delaware, St. Joe's and PSAC powerhouse Millersville, a program with national cache at the Division II level.
Lapp, who of course also bats lead-off and loves stealing bases, hasn't gotten much traction on the basketball side but he also doesn't play AAU in the summer, instead playing travel baseball for the PA Shockers program based out of Quakertown. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound junior hasn't ruled out playing both sports at the next level though but knows that's a tough decision he can put off for a little while.
"I don't have an answer, I love both sports and I'm glad that right now, I don't have to choose," Lapp said. "It's obviously something to think about, right now I have a few baseball offers but nothing for basketball, so hopefully that will change in the next few years."
Lapp attributed a lot of his individual success this season to his growth off the ball. An outstanding athlete, he often leads the Pioneers in steals and rebounds, which let him turn that base-running speed into fastbreak layups, but this winter, he's started to use that as a weapon cutting off the ball when teams man-mark him as Phil-Mont did at times on Tuesday.
A major part of Dock's success this season is the fact it hasn't solely had to be the Lapp show. Just like he depends on fielders when he's pitching, or the batters behind him to drive him in when he gets on base, Lapp relies on his basketball teammates to have his individual success.
Most nights, he has a high-scoring partner in senior guard Tomir Johnson who complements Lapp's hard-charging style with outside shooting. Johnson was off from the field Tuesday but the rest of the Pioneers jumped in whether it was Lane Bergey's 10 first half points or Hoyt Bultje's work on the glass.
"We feed off each other," Lapp, who added seven rebounds, two assists, five steals and drew a charge on Tuesday, said. "If one guy's hot, we go to him. If someone's cold, they get involved in other ways and we run the offense through which guy is hot."
Lapp may be no stranger to pressure moments, but if pushed to make a decision, he'd most likely take the free throw line in a close game over trying to hit out of a two-strike count.
"Depending on the pitcher, it's probably hitting with two strikes," Lapp said. "I've been a good free throw shooter most of my life because I feel that I've been a good shooter most of my life. Being able to make threes and free throws, having that confidence to take over in the fourth quarter and step up to the line and make shots is what helps you in the long run."
When Fergus mentioned Lapp's current run of making 39-of-40 free throws, the longtime coach winced and commented he probably just jinxed his high-scoring junior. Lapp, standing just a few steps away, just smiled and replied "don't worry, I already knocked on wood."
Fergus' grimace quickly disappeared.
"I said to somebody tonight, 'he doesn't jinx,'" Fergus said. "This kid's like a machine."
DOCK MENNONITE 66, PHIL-MONT CHRISTIAN ACADEMY 54
Tuesday's battle between BAL contenders was a good one.
The visiting Pioneers started out a little too fast on offense and as a result, a little too slow on the scoreboard until a 9-0 first quarter run got them going. Good teams can take a shot and that's just what the host Falcons (9-2, 6-1) did as Glenn Dolton's group rallied back to within a point three separate times in the second quarter.
Holding a six-point lead, Fergus took a timeout late in the second quarter.
"I called a timeout with a minute left and just said this is an important part of the half," Fergus said. "We got a turnover and Lane (Bergey) got two steals and scored four points right before the buzzer that put us back up 10 and it felt like we were in control the rest of the half. That little stretch was really big."
Bergey had all 10 of his points in the first half while Hoyt Bultje finished the night with 12 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double. Lapp's buzzer-beating three to end the third maintained that 10-point lead, which Dock needed with Phil-Mont's Thom DeHeer heating up in the fourth quarter.
DeHeer had 14 of his 24 in the final frame and his assist to Daniel Olinger (15 points, eight rebounds, five assists) hacked the lead all the way down to six with four minutes left. Lapp and Tomir Johnson went back-to-back on scores to quell the run, a traditional three-point play by Lapp put Dock ahead 59-47 with 2:40 to play and the Pioneers would close the game out at the line from there.
With just one senior starting and big man MaRob Willis due back soon from injury, the Pioneers feel like they're not even at their best yet.
"We've really improved," Fergus said. "We're coming together and getting better. I thought a lot of guys played well tonight."
Dock Mennonite: 17 | 15 | 16 | 18 || 66
Phil-Mont Christian: 11 | 11 | 16 | 16 || 54
Dock Mennonite: Nathan Lapp 28, Hoyt Bultje 12, Lane Bergy 10, Tomir Johnson 7, Vaughn Martin 7, Tony Martin 2
Phil-Mont Christian: Thom DeHeer 24, Daniel Olinger 15, Jack Swider 8, Micai Lilliston 3, Ewan Chi 2, Kendall Bratten 2