Parkland Press

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PRESS PHOTO BY DON HERBParkland’s Jake Melady drives around a Harrisburg defender during Sunday’s HoopGroup Showcase. Copyright - Don Herb 2017_ PRESS PHOTO BY DON HERBParkland’s Jake Melady drives around a Harrisburg defender during Sunday’s HoopGroup Showcase. Copyright - Don Herb 2017_

Boys close in on playoff berth

Thursday, February 1, 2018 by CJ HEMERLY Special to the Press in Sports

After a change in defensive philosophy and in intensity, the Parkland boys basketball team came out of the halftime locker room a different team Tuesday night against Nazareth.

Needing two wins in its final four games of the regular season to qualify for the postseason, the task was looking even harder at halftime when the Trojans trailed by 17 points.

A spirited second half helped the Trojans beat Nazareth 68-59 Tuesday night at Parkland High School.

The win brought Parkland (10-9 overall, 7-6) one win away from a district tournament berth and closer to a spot in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference playoffs.

The Blue Eagles (9-10, 6-7) were also neck-and-neck with Parkland in the positioning battle for the postseason.

“This was a big win,” said Parkland senior guard Jake Bartholomew. “Coach [Stephens] stressed to us a lot about how important these last few games are. Nazareth is a good team and they are just as hungry for wins as we are, so we knew it was going to be tough. To get it done tonight gives us a lot of confidence heading to Whitehall on Friday.”

The Zephyrs (5-12, 2-9) beat the Trojans earlier in the season and won’t back down in a rivalry game. Parkland caps the season against Allen and Northampton remaining next week with EPC playoffs scheduled to begin next weekend.

Trailing 42-29 to the Blue Eagles heading into halftime, Parkland needed a spark on both offense and defense. Enter Bartholomew, Michael Ruisch, Logan Rindock and Jacob Melady.

Ruisch filled the stat sheet in Parkland’s third quarter comeback, scoring seven of his 11 points and grabbing six rebounds, dishing out two assists and coming up with a steal. Ruisch scored all 11 of his points in the second half and finished with 10 rebounds and five assists.

“Whether I’m scoring or not, there’s always something I want to be able to bring to the game,” said Ruisch. “Rebounding and assists, just making others better is what I try to do. We started off the second half doing that and it all came together.”

The two teams traded baskets to open up the game, and after a jumper by AC Kelly (eight points, four rebounds) that put the Trojans ahead 4-3, the Blue Eagles went on a 20-9 run to close out the quarter. It was more of the same from Nazareth in the second, as it grew its lead to 37-18 midway through the quarter, and led 42-29 at halftime.

The Blue Eagles were deadly from beyond the arc, connecting on eight three-pointers within the first 10 minutes of the game. Three different players hit at least two three’s in that span.

“Coach just stressed to us to get hands up and guard better,” Bartholomew said. “They have a lot of shooters and we had to do a better job of defending above the three-point line.”

Parkland opened the second half on a 16-4 run to close the deficit to 46-45 late in the third quarter. Nazareth built a four-point lead into the fourth quarter, and held onto the same advantage midway through.

Trailing 57-55, Rindock (12 points) drove to the basket and made a running floater while getting fouled to tie the score at 57-57. On the ensuing free-throw, Ruisch grabbed the rebound and put it back to give the Trojans the lead 59-57 with 2:03 left. It was Parkland’s first lead since the opening minute of the game.

Bartholomew (14 points), Melady (12) and Jared Kucharczuk (five) combined to go 7-of-8 from the free-throw line to seal the victory.

Nick Rappa added six points for Parkland.