The 2017-18 season never looked like it was going to be easy for Carlisle.
Not to keep beating the same drum, but it was a tough act to follow after consecutive deep PIAA playoff runs to the quarterfinals in 2016 and the semis last year.
And at 11-10 with a game to play — Friday at home against Waynesboro — this season has played out fairly close to some expectations.
Coach Andre Anderson, always expecting greatness, didn’t necessarily envision this, though. But he knew there were plenty of challenges to overcome this season.
“It’s been up and down,” he said in a phone call Wednesday evening. “I’m not gonna say we expected that. There was gonna be a lot more behind the scenes that needed to happen.”
Leaders needed to emerge, seniors needed to take more ownership and the team needed to be humble, the way Anderson described it.
The Thundering Herd are virtual locks for the District 3 Class 6A playoffs, currently No. 10 with a 0.04 lead over No. 13 Cumberland Valley (12 teams make the field). The best they can improve to is No. 9, flip-flopping with Dallastown.
That makes it six straight playoff appearances for the Herd. No small feat, especially playing in the brutal Mid-Penn Commonwealth.
The big-school division of the MPC is sending three schools to the District 3 playoffs (with CV a likely narrow miss) and State College (District 6) has been the unquestioned best team in the entire conference. The Little Lions will make a lengthy playoff run in all likelihood.
The Herd have done just enough — sweeping the Eagles, splitting with 6A third seed Chambersburg, among other wins — to make the postseason. And Anderson firmly believes the playoffs are always up for grabs.
“When you get into this point in time, there’s a lot of things that factor into the mix,” he said. “These guys can go out there and beat anybody. … They don’t want to be eliminated.”
For all of Carlisle’s flaws — early this season especially it struggled to play as one, Ki Barnes has struggled with consistency, the Barnes cousins have missed games because of health — one thing it does have that many teams don’t at this time of year is several war-hardened starters.
Ki and Gavyn Barnes either started or were vital rotation players in the past two playoff runs. Center Joe Mastrangelo exploded onto the scene in the PIAA tournament last year as a key reserve big.
There’s no guarantee that experience means another long playoff run; Carlisle has an uphill battle against a field sporting Reading (defending PIAA champion), Hempfield, Chambersburg and Harrisburg. But it can’t hurt.
There are some positive signs elsewhere on the roster. Guard Howie Rankine has been white hot the past six games, averaging 15.2 points per game. That’s bumped his average for the season to 10.8 ppg. He’s one of three players with 20-plus 3-pointers (25).
Anderson said it’s been confidence and a willingness to unleash when he’s open.
“He’s a confident kid and once he gets it going, he’s a streaky shooter,” the coach said. “He’s really stepped up on the offense end, and I think he’s bought into some of our challenges on the defensive end.”
Anderson also singled out Quentin Myers (3.7 ppg), Trystin Sulich (1.3), Kurtis Ravenel (2.2) and Hunter Hargraves (2.2) as others who have stepped up. Sulich has been a physical presence off the bench. And Hargraves was big in the recent matchup with CV. Anderson called him “the unsung hero” who doesn’t make mistakes and hits shots when he’s open.
On Myers, who has 20 treys, Anderson said: “He’s had some huge games for us. I can’t list on one hand how many timely 3s he’s had.”
And Anderson said the team is healthy. Gavyn missed a game with the flu, and the coaching staff got hit by it. But that’s been the extent of the damage outside a missed game or two here and there.
Upcoming games to watch
It’s a desolate stretch for the next two weeks until the district playoffs begin. No local teams made the Mid-Penn championships.
The two best games are Waynesboro-Carlisle on Friday and Trinity at Boiling Springs on Tuesday.
The Herd need a win for playoff seeding mostly. And Shamrocks-Bubblers pits a pair of playoff-bound teams against one another in a game to break up the week-long dry spell. Plus, it’s two of the conference’s longest-tenured and winningest active coaches: Larry Kostelac Jr. vs. Pat Dieter.
Leaders and notes
Top scorers: Ryan McGill (Northern), 402 points, 19.1 ppg; Carter Van Scyoc (Shippensburg), 389, 18.5; Dylan LaNoue (Boiling Springs), 337, 17.7; Gerald Jarmon III (Cedar Cliff), 334, 15.9; Jake Perry (Camp Hill), 316, 15.8; Braden Fries (East Pennsboro), 316, 14.4.
Top 3-point shooters: Ryan McGill, 42; Christopher Hartley (Nor), 39; Peyton Bechtold (Big Spring), 36; Trevor Moyer (BiS), Carson Myers (BoS) and Tyler Gelnett (Mechanicsburg), 35.
Most points in a game: Ryan McGill, 36 vs. Milton Hershey; Carter Van Scyoc, 34 vs. Muhlenberg; Braden Fries, 32 vs. Milton Hershey; Ki Barnes (Carlisle), 31 vs. South Western; Angel DeJesus (Red Land), 31 vs. Spring Grove.
Notable local District 3 power rankings, Class 6A: No. 10 Carlisle (11-10), No. 11 Cedar Cliff (13-8), No. 13 Cumberland Valley (9-13).
Class 5A: No. 12 Shippensburg (14-7), No. 17 Northern (10-11).
Class 4A: No. 5 Boiling Springs (12-8).
Class 3A: No. 3 Trinity (13-5), No. 6 Camp Hill (11-10).