Photos and additional insight for this article were provided by Carter Kubica, a Northern Lebanon Sophomore
During most of the eighties into the early nineties, the Lebanon County Senior Basketball Game was an annual tradition. It is believed that Doug Bohannon, the now retired ELCO Athletic Director, played in the first edition, while current ELCO Boys Basketball Head Coach Brad Conners played in the final edition in 1994. While the game had not been played since Ace of Base was topping the charts, Coach Conners was back on the sidelines at Northern Lebanon High School on Saturday to coach the East Team in the revival of the tradition. Serving as a referee in the game was Doug Bohannon. This was a full circle moment after twenty-nine years, as the game was brought back to showcase the talents of our local high school basketball players one final time.
The 2023 game attracted fourteen Lebanon County seniors representing each of the seven high schools. Representing the East were: Cedar Crest – J’Veon Reyes-Vega; ELCO – Dominic Thornton, Aiden Fritsch, Cody Wentzel, Eddie Rodriguez Lopez; Lebanon – Emanuel Mason, Antonio Scaramuzzino; Northern Lebanon – Collin Wall. They were coached by Brad Conners of ELCO. The West Team was comprised of: Annville-Cleona – Ali Konneh, Dylan Clements, Gavin Keller, Sam Slabach, Connor Horning; New Covenant – Ben Hartman; Palmyra – Eli Becker. They were coached by Matt Kantner, the New Covenant Head Coach.
As most of these players have never played together before, especially in this format, the game got off to a slow start as they tried to feel each other out. However, it was clear from the get-go that this was not going to be a game of easy baskets or lack of hustle. Even early on, the players raced towards loose balls. At the end of the first quarter, the West led 15-13 with Eli Becker and Ben Hartman scoring a combine 10 points. The East had a more balanced scoring attack with J’Veon Reyes-Vega scoring 5.
When the teams retook the court to start the second quarter, they continued showcasing their abilities. Becker showcased the determination that made him Palmyra’s #1 threat throughout the regular season, especially when late in the quarter he missed a three-pointer, crashed to grab his own rebound, and put it back in for two. He would score seven in the quarter. For the half, Becker would have 13 rebounds to go with 13 points. Hartman added 6 points (10 at the half) to help the West build a 35-26 lead. The East were led by Emanuel Mason in the quarter, as he scored 7. At the half, Mason and Reyes Vega shared the East scoring lead with 9.
The scoring pace in the second half increased steadily as the game progress. As the teams came back after the half, the defensive efforts did continue, but the offensive efforts exploded. In the first quarter, the teams combined for 28 points. In the third quarter, they would combine for 46. Much of the quarter was dominated by the effort of Becker, who scored 14 points in a variety of ways including a fadeaway mid-range jumper that he used a couple of time in the contest. As good as the West looked, the East responded in kind to keep pace. Among those efforts to keep it close was a play by Reyes-Vega with just over three minutes left in the period where he showed off his ball handling skills, cutting into the lane to split the defenders and finished the scoring play with an underhanded, scoop layup. However, the West was still leading by 12 with the clock about to expire when Dominic Thornton drilled a buzzer beating three-pointer, his third trey of the day. The West was leading 58-49 going into the final quarter.
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Riding the momentum of the end of the third, the East was able to cut the deficit to 5 points just two minutes into the quarter. With 5:05 remaining, Eddie Rodriguez Lopez completed a steal and score sequence that cut the West’s lead to just 3. Ninety seconds later, the West responded with an impressive play of its own when Becker hit a long outlet pass to Hartman who converted on a layup to make the game 67-61. Hartman called for an “and one”, partially as a joke that brought delight to those in attendance (a reminder that it was a friendly, but highly competitive game), but the refs did not think the contact warranted a whistle. The West held the 6 point advantage until just before the one minute mark when Cody Wentzel hit his second shot of the quarter, this time a clutch three-pointer to bring the game back within 3 points, 75-72.
The tight game led to something that is not standard in a showcase game as Coach Conners employed a press to give his East squad a chance to win. This led to a foul on the West’s Hartman who would convert on the front end of a one-and-one to stretch it back to a 4 point game. With :28 left, the East attempted a shot, but it was Becker with a huge block (his third of the day). The East retained the possession, eventually landing in the hands of Thornton who hit a three-pointer from the corner with :14 remaining. The East called a timeout to strategize, although Coach Conners did not plan to use a whiteboard in the game and did not have one with him. Either way, the verbal cues worked and the East forced a turnover with just 4.9 ticks remaining. The final shot for the East came from Reyes-Vega who, while facing heavy pressure from Becker, could not get a clean look and the shot did not connect. The West held on for a 76-75 victory.
On the day, it was Eli Becker who had the most impressive outing among the group of talented played. He ended with 33 points, 23 rebounds, and 3 blocks. He was aided in leading the West by Ben Hartman who ended the day with 22 points and was seemingly close to achieving a triple-double. Emanuel Mason led the East with 22 points, 17 of which came in the second half.
An additional fun event that occurred was the three-point contest at halftime. The challenge was to hit as many threes as possible in 45 seconds. In the preliminary round, there were a total of eight players that took part. The top four were: Thornton – 9; Reyes-Vega – 10; Becker – 12; Mason – 13. Mason and Becker advanced to face one another in the finals. As they were on opposite sides of the court, the only thing that the other player knew was the number of made shots being called out by the opposing team. Mason set up shop beyond the top of the key and successfully drilled a wildly impressive 19 shots to win the contest.
This game, which hopes to be made an annual tradition again, was made possible through the efforts of Annville-Cleona Athletic Director Tommy Long working with the Lebanon County coaches. Conners and Kantner volunteered to coach in the game and Northern Lebanon’s Chris George took care of many of the management elements of the game. Annville’s Jason Coletti, Lebanon’s Kris Uffner, and Palmyra’s Pete Conrad were in attendance at the game. The game had a big game feel with PA announcer Phil Shirk bringing his enthusiasm to go with every made bucket. With widespread support, the plan is to expand this tradition to include the senior girls in a double-header.
All money collected as admission was donated to Thon as part of the effort to raise money to support Four Diamonds.
26 – Mason (Lebanon)
13 – Reyes-Vega (Cedar Crest)
12 – Thornton (ELCO)
9 – Scaramuzzino (Lebanon)
8 – Rodriguez Lopez (ELCO)
5 – Wentzel (ELCO)
2 – Wall (Northern Lebanon)
33 – Becker (Palmyra)
22 – Hartman (New Covenant)
7 – Slabach (Annville-Cleona)
7 – Konneh (Annville-Cleona)
3 – Keller (Annville-Cleona)
2 – Clements (Annville-Cleona)
2 – Horning (Annville-Cleona)
To watch the full recording of the game, click here.
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