BASKETBALL

Susquehannock boys top Northeastern in meeting of new-look squads

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch

It’s never easy to replace a star high school basketball player. While in many sports a position can be filled and the program can move forward without much change, teams on the hardwood are often forced to revamp their entire style of play. It can take several players to replace the production, and it may require a full team effort to compensate for one absence.

The Susquehannock and Northeastern boys’ teams entered Tuesday’s matchup in Manchester featuring a similar quandary. The visiting Warriors were coming off a state playoff appearance in 2021-22 — their first since 2006 — but were still adjusting to life without all-time leading scorer Jalen Franklin. The Bobcats, who earned a second-place finish in York-Adams Division I last season, no longer have D-I Player of the Year Karron Mallory on the floor and are still developing an identity.

This cocktail of curiosity manifested in an unsuspecting thriller on Tuesday evening. Susquehannock roared ahead in the first half and took a 14-point lead into the final frame, only for Northeastern to engineer a 13-0 run and make it a one-point game. The teams traded missed opportunities late, with the Warriors escaping as 54-52 victors despite no fourth-quarter field goals and only five points.

“That’s high school basketball,” first-year Susquehannock coach Seth Leonard said after the game. “There’s gonna be a whole bunch of craziness. Maybe it prepares us for the postseason, but that game was nuts.”

Susquehannock's Josh Franklin (24) dribbles against West York during their boys basketball game in Glen Rock on Friday, Oct. 16, 2022.

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The final seconds were particularly frantic. After Susquehannock’s Chase Robert made two free throws to put his team up 53-50 with 31.1 seconds remaining. Northeastern struggled to create an open 3-point look, and Isaiha Beatty’s layup with 1.5 seconds left only made it a one-point game. Robert was fouled on the inbounds pass, with no time running off, and made the first free throw before missing the second. It got crazier.

Bobcats senior Chase Kloster could only get off a desperation heave but was fouled on the shot, giving him three free throws in a two-point game. However, after the first attempt rimmed out and the second fell short, he was forced to intentionally miss the third, and Northeastern couldn’t corral the final rebound.

“I turned my back during those foul shots,” Leonard said. “I didn’t even want to watch. I had to do a little hocus pocus.”

Susquehannock improved to 7-2 this season, while Northeastern fell to 4-7.

Northeastern's Chase Kloster takes the ball to the basket during YAIAA boys' semifinal action against West York at York County School of Technology in York Township, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Kloster, a 6-foot-5 forward who’s become the Bobcats’ frontman this season, still led all scorers with 24 points, including 15 in the second half as Northeastern rallied from a double-digit deficit. Evan Jennings added 13 points and six other players combined for the remaining 15 as the team continues to search for consistent contributors.

“We’re still trying to figure out who our varsity players are,” Bobcats head coach Jon Eyster said. “We’re not getting consistency from people, and I think we’ve probably started eight or nine different lineups in 11 games. That’s kind of been the story for us — we’re inconsistent, we go through scoring droughts, so that’s what happens. You lose some close games when you’re gonna be inconsistent like that.”

Robert led Susquehannock with 16 points, while Josh Franklin — Jalen’s younger brother — added 15. The younger Franklin leads the York-Adams League in scoring at 19.7 points per game, and the 6-foot-4 bruiser is doing it with a mix of physicality and finesse. Robert is second on the squad with 8.4 points per game, while Abass Ndiaye and Joey Smith are each averaging 6.6. Those two added 10 and nine points, respectively, off the bench Tuesday.

Susquehannock's Chase Robert (25) against West York's Jacob Knisley (42) during their boys basketball game in Glen Rock on Friday, Oct. 16, 2022.

While the Warriors’ overall record is impressive, Leonard’s team is just 1-2 in York-Adams Division II entering Friday’s game at Dover. They’ve been on both sides of close games all season thus far. There’s another level to reach, and the coach believes that starts with veterans inspiring confidence.

“We always talk about championship habits,” Leonard said. “If we want to be playing  championship ball at the end of the year, we’re going to see games like this where the guys have to come into the huddle on the foul line and say, ‘Get the rebound.’ The guys gotta say, ‘We need one more stop.’ I can lead them and I can help them, but we’re not going to be good until they start coaching and challenging each other.”

Northeastern’s unpredictable campaign has yielded its bright spots but been defined by near misses. The Bobcats led by 16 points against Lampeter-Strasburg in their season opener before losing by one. They’ve fallen by one against J.P. McCaskey and five against D-I foe Spring Grove. Eyster played a 10-man rotation Tuesday, which points to the pieces at his disposal. Only time will tell, though, if those pieces can complete a puzzle as the season continues.

“A lot of times, our problems are between our ears,” Eyster said. “We’re trying to make do and survive, win a couple games and hopefully figure things out. I think we had a pretty good second half — they’re not a bad team, they’ve got plenty of experience, they’ve won some big games — and it was a good game. We just lost by two.”

Northeastern has another game Wednesday at Cumberland Valley, which enters with a 9-0 record. The Bobcats then host Red Lion in a Division I contest Friday.