Third time was a charm?

Devils', Rockets' fourth meeting has classic Hollywood implications

Devils', Rockets' fourth meeting has classic Hollywood implications

March 20, 2007|by DAN KAUFFMAN

To say that this story is good enough to be a movie script is an insult - to the story.

No script could possibly be good enough to fully capture what's become reality.

Mid-Penn Capital rivals James Buchanan (26-4) and Greencastle-Antrim (19-11) have turned a PIAA Class AAA state semifinal into an all-Franklin County affair, stirring the imaginations of thousands of students and fans and making tonight's game at 8 at Shippensburg University's Heiges Field House a must-see event.

"The communities are just so behind these two teams right now, and I think that's great for these two teams," Blue Devils coach Garon Gembe said. "To be able to get to the semifinals, certainly in a sense there's not going to be a loser on Tuesday night. You don't get this far and become a loser or fail, so both teams are winners."

"I think it's amazing, and a real testament to both teams for sure," Rockets coach Larry Strawoet said. "You have two quality teams representing this area pretty well."


Pretty well? That's an understatement.

Both teams have made dazzling runs through the first three rounds, knocking off more highly regarded teams to reach the semifinals.

James Buchanan shocked fourth-ranked Communications Tech on Shane Rife's buzzer-beating layup in the first round.

Greencastle knocked off third-ranked Franklin Learning Center in the first round, then topped itself by stunning top-ranked West York in the quarterfinals Saturday.

Surprises will be few and far between tonight.

The Rockets and Blue Devils have played three times this season, with James Buchanan winning two of the three. The combined score: Greencastle 172, JB 169.

"I think the two teams are really, really even," Gembe said. "Obviously, they've won two of the three games, but if you look at the point differential, we have a small edge. Both teams are extremely evenly matched and it really comes down to whoever executes better, and it could be either team."

"It's been back and forth for two years," Rockets senior Brandon Bryan said. "You never know what you're going to get. You just have to play hard."

Greencastle is led by the tandem of junior forward Dameatric Scott (15.1 points, 7.5 rebounds in regular season) and senior guard Jaren Gembe (17.1 points, 4.2 assists). Scott gives the Blue Devils an athletic inside-out threat, while Gembe is a dangerous shooter and slasher, who is also able to set up teammates.

"Jaren, obviously we expect a lot out of him everywhere around," Garon Gembe said. "He needs to be a great defender, handle the ball well and he needs to score."

James Buchanan counters with a top-notch 1-2 punch of its own in senior center Shane Rife and Bryan at the shooting guard spot. Rife averaged 19.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in the regular season, getting the job done thanks to good footwork in the post. Bryan averages 18.6 points and is deadly both behind the 3-point arc (44.7 percent) and from mid-range (51.2 percent inside the arc). He also shoots 80 percent from the free-throw line.

"It's a little like 'Hoosiers,'" Strawoet said of JB's playoff run. "Brandon Bryan is Jimmy Chitwood. He has dedicated his life to the game of basketball."

But if Garon Gembe is right, tonight's game could come down to the role-players - and both teams have several who can make a major impact.

The rest of the Rockets' starting five includes senior guards Dion Lehman (12.2 points, 4.3 assists) and Evan Angle (5.7 points, 5.3 rebounds) and sophomore swingman Josh McCauley (4.2 point, 4.8 rebounds). Lehman is lightning quick on his drives to the basket, Angle is a hard-nosed defensive stopper and McCauley provides added size and athleticism.

"I think our focus going into this game is their whole team," Garon Gembe said. "We got hurt a little bit the last time we played them by just concentrating on their big three, and guys like Angle and McCauley have had great games against us. We have to focus a little more on those guys and try to do a great job on everybody."

Greencastle fills out its starting lineup with junior guard Jordan Gembe (11.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 35.5 percent from 3-point range), senior forward Treavor Gelsinger (5.8 points, 4.7 rebounds) and senior guard Ty Thrush (6.7 points). Gelsinger in particular is a tough defender and a glue guy who does the little things, such as setting screens, to make the Blue Devils go.

"Treavor always gets the other team's best player on defense," Garon Gembe said. "His matchups have been so difficult, but he's done such a great job, and we need him to to that. He brings lot of energy on the offensive boards."

Speaking of energy, there's sure to be plenty of it in Heiges Field House tonight. There always is for a Greencastle-James Buchanan matchup - but this one means so much more.

"It's going to be nuts. I'm looking forward to it," Bryan said. "I've dreamed about it, and the dream's coming true."

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