Anthony Dabbundo (@AnthonyDabbundo)
Entering this season, Conestoga knew the one thing that would determine its level of success.
And through three games, head coach Mike Troy and the Pioneers have to be pleased.
“As a team this year, we knew we were going to be led by our defense,” Troy said. “Tonight was about as good as you could ask for.”
The Pioneers have started the 2016-2017 campaign allowing just 37.3 points per game, including their best performance yet in a dominant 48-25 win over Ridley.
After back-to-back wins over Neshaminy and Radnor, this defense has yet to allow 50 points in a game, and the 2015-16 Central League runners-up have now posted two league wins by an average of 20.5 points.
“The Central League is always a war,” Troy said. “The more wins you can get the better, and to get off to a 2-0 start puts our good foot forward.”
The Raiders offense was completely shut down by the physical Pioneer defense, as Ridley was held to just two points in the first quarter, and four points in the first half.
Everything Ridley (1-2) tried to run offensively, it seemed the Pioneers were one step ahead and one step faster. The Raiders offense had five turnovers in the opening quarter, mostly a result of tenacious Pioneer defense.
“From the start we had a lot of energy, guys were diving on the floor, boxing out well,” senior wing Charlie Martin said. “To hold them to four in the first half was the best we could ask for.”
The Raiders shot just 1-of-19 (5.2 percent) from the field in the opening half, and with Pioneer center Angus Mayock bringing in 11 rebounds, there was no room for second chances for the sputtering Ridley offense.
Mayock did not have his best night offensively, scoring only four points on 1-of-6 shooting, but the 6-5 senior seemed to grab every rebound in the first half to prevent second chance opportunities.
“We didn’t have an answer because they took everything we tried to run away,” Ridley head coach Mike Snyder said.
No matter how many timeouts Snyder called, there was no rescuing his team from the swarming defense at the other end of the court.
“I tried to use the timeouts to refocus the team, but Conestoga absolutely smothered us tonight,” Snyder said.
The third quarter did not go much better for the defending Central League champions, with Conestoga (3-0) holding them to just five points on 2-of-10 shooting. The Pioneer offense finally awoke in the third, thanks to big quarters from two of their senior leaders, Charlie Martin and Scott Shapiro.
Shapiro scored seven of his 10 points in the third quarter, with Martin adding 8 of his game-high 15 himself to extend the Pioneer lead from 19-4 at half to 37-9, effectively ending any comeback chance the Raiders were hoping to produce.
Ridley finally had some shots fall in the fourth quarter, with Damir Fleming scoring seven of his team-high 12 points in the final eight minutes. After scoring 62 in last year’s league championship, the defending champions were held to less than half of that Friday.
And after losing to Ridley four times last season, there was certainly an element of revenge on the Pioneers’ minds.
“We knew we had lost to them twice in the regular season, once in the Central League championship, and once in districts so we had to come out and get some revenge,” Martin said. “We did exactly what we wanted to.”
Even though the jerseys and teams are the same, the players were very different this time around.
The Raiders have found it difficult replacing three key seniors from last year, with Brett Foster (East Stroudsburg), Ryan Bollinger (PSU-Harrisburg), and Julian Wing (DeSales) all having moved on to play collegiate basketball.
“When you lose three players who combined to average 45 points a game, that’s a big loss,” Snyder said. “We haven’t been able to replace that yet this early in the season.”
While Ridley is in a rebuilding year following a run to the state playoffs, Conestoga has already posted three impressive wins. The Pioneers defense and tenacity will make them a tough matchup for any Central League or District 1 team.
For Martin and a team full of seniors, the job is just getting underway. Plenty of work is to be done if the Pioneers will be raising a league title come February.
“We’re just getting started,” Martin said. “It gives us great momentum headed into Lower Merion on Tuesday, we know that’s a big game and we have to be ready to bring it again.”