BOYS' BASKETBALL: Nativity's twin towers prepare for final game together

Chuck Curley, Republican & Herald, Pottsville, Pa.
·5 min read


Other than the fact both stand 6-foot-6, Nativity's Kegan Hertz and Marquis Ratcliff don't resemble each other at all.

On the basketball court, though, Hertz — the senior forward from Schuylkill Haven — and Ratcliff — the junior forward from Shenandoah — have been nearly mirror images of each other for the past two years.

"Any time you've got guys that not only are built like basketball players, but that want to get better and play and play all year long and do all the travel we do all year, it's a whole picture," Nativity head coach Mike Walborn said of his two 1,000-point career scorers.

Together, Hertz and Ratcliff have taken the Hilltoppers to unprecedented heights.

In 2020, the pair combined for 860 of the team's 1,577 points (54.5%) as Nativity advanced to the PIAA Class A quarterfinals before the season was stopped because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This season, they have teamed for 881 of the Hilltoppers' 1,684 points (52.3%) as Nativity has advanced to today's PIAA Class A championship game at 2:30 p.m. at the Giant Center in Hershey. Without a doubt, they will be a focus of their opponents, District 5 champion Berlin Brothersvalley, a once-beaten squad this season that has won 55 of its last 57 games.

The Mountaineers will learn that stopping Hertz or Ratcliff will not have an effect on the other. The pair's skill sets — shooting, dribbling, rebounding, passing — are nearly identical. Both can perform like guards, forwards or centers depending upon the situation.

"I have to give it to my coach because he doesn't really believe in, like, set positions," Ratcliff said before the team practiced Tuesday. "So he allowed me to peg in to do whatever. We're both skilled enough to play all around."

In Tuesday's PIAA semifinal against La Academia Charter, those all-around skills were on full display. Each brought the ball up the court to set up Nativity's half-court offense. Each player had 10 rebounds. Each had a 3-pointer among his scoring total.

"It allows me to play guard and to play big," Hertz said about Ratcliff's presence. "That is a huge impact on this team and while facing other teams. Not many teams have what we have."

That includes the friendship between Nativity's twin towers, developed both at Nativity and elsewhere.

Hertz played his freshman season at Schuylkill Haven, but then transferred to Lawton's Hill.

"I really wanted to study biology in college, and they didn't have a strong course at Haven, so I moved here to pursue that. I'm taking AP (advanced placement) biology for my senior class," Hertz said.

Ratcliff followed his brother Marcellus to Nativity.

"We figured that we needed a better education and that we weren't getting that at Shenandoah, so we decided to come here," Marquis said of his family's decision.

Hertz's and Ratcliff's ties extend elsewhere.

"Just one good summer of playing AAU together, and we kind of just like became good friends and started hanging out a lot more. We just built a chemistry over the years," Ratcliff said of the pair's time with Court Kings, a locally-based squad.

Hertz said, "The first couple of weeks we started playing together, we learned how each other played. We're both similar players, so we know when to look for each other."

Of course, there are differences. Hertz has scored 36 treys over the past two seasons to Ratcliff's 22, but there are other players to make up that gap, and they do. In addition to their similar skills, Hertz and Ratcliff share their own experience with a veteran Hilltopper squad that has endured adversity. That includes Monday's third quarter, when Nativity lost a nine-point lead to trail by five entering the final period.

"They've all learned to trust themselves and trust each other more, to not get down when somebody does something (wrong), either themselves or a teammate," Walborn said of the improvement in this year's Hilltoppers. " ... That wouldn't have happened always in the past. It just wouldn't. They would have lost it. Playing so many games together, I think in the last three years they're up to over 280, 290 games as a group, that's a lot of games. It helps."

It added up to confidence that both Hertz and Ratcliff said they felt from the start of the current season.

"I knew from the beginning of the season because last year we got cut short," Hertz said, "and I knew we were going to come back better this year. Experience, and we just got stronger from having mistakes. We could keep our head up and keep moving forward."

It's the kind of message emblematic of a team's captain.

"He's just grown tremendously in the past seven, eight months," Walborn said of Hertz. "I just said he's captain. I know that he loves the game and that he wants to continue at the next level, whatever that turns out to be. He needed to understand that, as a senior, he has to step up and take care of it. He wouldn't have asked, so I just put him in it, and he's done really well."

That role essentially ends with the conclusion of today's game, the last time Hertz and Ratcliff will share the court as Nativity's twin towers.

"It's definitely going to be a sad time, but I feel like it's time for him to take over and it's time for me to move on at this point," said Hertz, who has received interest from collegiate coaches.

Ratcliff said, "I'm really going to miss him. He's like a brother to me. We've played a lot of games together and we've grown together."

They hope to go out winners on the state's biggest stage.

"I'm just happy it's in this format (the PIAA Tournament) and they got to Hershey to play together," Walborn said. "It's obviously going to be bittersweet for me, but there's not a better situation to be their last game. There isn't."

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