Dragons top Eagles in front of capacity crowd
Saturday night’s highly anticipated game between the Warren Dragons and Youngsville Eagles had plenty of hype surrounding it.
The young men on the court, if possible, exceeded the expectations.
An 8-0 fourth-quarter run by the Dragons propelled them to a 68-53 win that was closer than the final score would indicate.
“It was so fun,” said Warren senior Tom Bablak, who scored a game-high 16 points for the Dragons. “This was the biggest game we’ve had here in so long. The playoff games weren’t even this packed. This was just a great experience.”
Indeed, this wasn’t just a game, it was an event. Joseph A. Massa Gymnasium was filled to capacity by halftime of the junior varsity contest.
The Class 2A Eagles scheduled aggressively this season, and it’s paid off to the tune of a 14-5 record. They wanted this game against their Class 4A counterparts nine miles to the east.
“The community here supporting us was great,” said Youngsville coach Jesse DeLoof. “When we had that lead in the first half, you would have thought we were in Youngsville.”
To DeLoof’s point, the game itself had great pace right from the opening tip.
Bablak and Drew Swanson hit back-to-back 3’s to give the Dragons (11-7) an early 10-4 advantage.
But Youngsville’s Gage Hendrickson took over.
He hit a pair of first-quarter triples himself, the second of which gave the Eagles a 12-10 lead.
Ben Berdine, Warren’s leading-scorer, picked up his second foul in the first quarter and Hendrickson, along with guards Joe Mack and Ethan Kesterholt took full advantage.
Austin Peterson’s offensive putback put the Eagles up two early in the second quarter, and back-to-back buckets by Mack and Kesterholt gave Youngsville its biggest lead of the game, 32-26 midway through the second.
“We didn’t do a good job defensively against their guards,” said Warren coach Jeff Berdine. “Mack and Kesterholt played very well in the first half and were much more aggressive offensively than I think my kids were expecting. And they took advantage of it.”
Tyler Gustafson and Mitch Grosch each hit 3’s in the second quarter to keep Warren within striking distance, as Mack and Kesterholt continued to do a great job distributing to Hendrickson and getting their shots when the defense dictated.
“We know Gage is a handful, and our goal was to limit him early,” Berdine said. “That didn’t work too well.”
Hendrickson also credited his guards and noted how they fed off the crowd.
“It was pretty awesome,” he said. “We’ve been playing a lot of games like this, but I think this was the most people at a game. Our guards feed off the energy. When they get a bucket and here the crowd, it makes them want to keep going.”
To Warren’s credit, they didn’t panic when the Eagles got their lead.
Instead, they, or rather Bablak, closed the half on a 7-0 run to take a 35-34 advantage into halftime, capped by a 3 in the corner with nine seconds left.
“That was killer,” DeLoof said. “That really hurt us.”
Warren didn’t relinquish the lead after that, as Ryan Rafalski hit a 3 to open the second half, but still, it was back-and-forth for most of the third quarter.
After sitting most of the first half, Berdine got going, scoring nine of his 15 points in the third. His layup with three minutes left in the third gave Warren a 6-point lead, but Brady Olewine countered with a step-back jumper.
A steal and layup by Ryan Arnold gave Warren an 8-point lead, but, Hendrickson hit a free throw at the end of the quarter and converted an old-school 3-point play after a Bablak jumper to make it 56-50.
“I tried to be aggressive right off the bat and was able to make some shots,” he said.
That’s when Warren went on its game-deciding run, however.
Berdine had a putback and jumper and Payton Barnes connected on a triple to make it 64-50.
“Once we got to the fourth quarter and we had our lead, we knew worst comes to worst we pound the ball into the ground, which we’ve done in past games,” Bablak said. “We were able to get control in the fourth quarter.”
Hendrickson led all scorers with 24 points, while Peterson added nine for Youngsville.
Bablak had 16 points to lead a balanced Warren effort, while Berdine finished with 15 and Grosch 11.
“I think we showed that we can compete and play against quality bigger schools,” DeLoof said. “The kids were looking forward to it. The kids didn’t flinch. They played hard the whole game and expected to win. You could tell that. The program has taken strides because of the kids and the work they’ve put in.”
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Both teams have aspirations of deep playoff runs in their respective classifications. “Warren played hard,” DeLoof said. “They are a good team and are going to continue to win games.
Added Bablak: “We’re aware and know they’ve been playing good. We scrimmaged them last year and in the summer, we had close games. So we knew it was an even matchup going in.”
Youngsville was without third-leading scorer Timber Bower, who was out with an injury. He is expected back for the Eagles’ playoff push.
Some Warren fans were seeing Hendrickson play for the first time. The senior, who is closing in on 1,000 career points, didn’t disappoint.
“Anyone who knows hoops should know Gage,” DeLoof said. “He’s one of the best players in the county, he’s one of the best players in the region, he’s one of the best players around. He’s a competitor. He plays better against good teams. He just does everything right. He’s a great teammate, he’s the kind of kid you root for. He’s texting me in the summer to get shots up. And it translates. He’s going to do nothing but great things in whatever he does.”
Both teams have had very good seasons to this point. And while they like where they’re at, they know they can get better.
“We like where we’re at, but we wish we were first in the region,” said Hendrickson, whose team is locked into second-place in Region 3 behind only Cambridge Springs.
Added Bablak: ” We lost at home to General McLane and lost a tough game against Harbor Creek, but I like where we’re at. I think our team chemistry just keeps getting better.”
For Warren, Bablak had six rebounds and six assists, Barnes five rebounds and six assists and Berdine seven rebounds. For Youngsville, Hendrickson had nine rebounds and Kesterholt and Mack four assists.
Parks Ordiway led a balanced Warren effort with 15, while JT Blum added 14 and Justice Greene 12 in a 64-51 Warren win. Dominic Dell had a monster game for the Eagles, pouring in a game-high 26 points, while Xavier Mowrey added 13.
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Kesterholt 3-0-0-6, Mack 3-0-2-6, Hendrickson 9-3-6-24, Peterson 3-3-4-9, Olewine 2-0-0-4, Dell 2-0-0-4, Procter 0-0-0-0, Totals 22-6-12-53
Berdine 7-1-1-15, Bablak 6-2-4-16, Grosch 4-2-2-11, Swanson 2-1-2-6, Barnes 1-0-0-3, Rafalski 2-1-2-7, Arnold 1-0-0-2, Gustafson 3-0-0-7, Vazquez 0-0-0-0, Blum 0-1-2-1, Totals 26-8-13-68
Youngsville 16 18 13 6 – 53
Warren 15 20 19 14 – 68
Three-point FGs: Youngsville (3) – Hendrickson 3; Warren (8) – Bablak 2, Rafalski 2, Grosch, Gustafson, Swanson, Barnes
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Dell 10-6-8-26, Mowrey 4-4-8-13, K. Hendrickson 0-1-2-1, Mesel 1-0-0-2, Myers 1-0-0-2, Hill 3-0-0-7, Totals 19-11-18-51
Ordiway 6-0-0-15, Borger 1-1-2-3, Blum 6-2-2-14, Blair 3-1-1-8, Greene 5-2-4-12, White 1-0-2-2, Rich 1-0-0-3, Lyon 0-0-0-0, McMeans 0-0-0-0, Vega 2-1-2-5, Arford 1-0-2-2, Darling 0-0-0-0, Totals 26-7-15-64
Youngsville 6 11 18 16 – 51
Warren 24 13 16 11 -64
Three-point FGs: Youngsville (2) – Mowrey, Hill; Warren (5) – Ordiway 3, Rich, Blair