BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – It would be a stretch to say that the Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team has gone from the hunters to the hunted, in one short ten-game stretch. But at least now the Falcons have their own season.
Sure Cedar Crest still hasn’t really won any sort of championship – yet?. But it was the type of run that the success-hungry Falcon faithful have been pining for for decades.
Sitting at 5-7 and coming off a 50-point loss to McCaskey, 2012-13 looked like just another disappointing season to Cedar Crest followers. But it was at that point that the Falcons reeled off eight straight wins to qualify for the District Three Class AAAA tournament, and then followed that up with two tough-as-nail triumphs in the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs.
The Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team had arrived, finally – sort of.
“It was a fun ride,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith, now in his fourth season of heading the program. “The thing I remember was the adversity that we faced, and how the kids fought through it. The kids turned it around and won eight straight. The kids didn’t necessarily believe in themselves, but they got a couple of wins and we were playing as well as anyone down the stretch.
“I hope it wasn’t a defining moment,” Smith continued. “I hope it was a program changer. We knew we had the potential to be there. Those wins defined that group. The expectations are that every year we compete for the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs and get into districts.”
It should be interesting to see if the Falcons can take that next step, if they can make last season’s stretch run legitimate by following it up with more of the same. If not, the success they enjoyed will simply go down in history as an aberration.
But for the Falcons to get where they want to go, they’ll have to do it without leading men and graduated seniors Killian Klopp and Clay Penchard.
“We’ve redefined our goals,” said Smith. “Last year was last year. This year is this year. Our mindset is kind of like, ‘what have you done for me lately?’. We have our own expectations as a team, and they’re not necessarily the same as those outside of the program. In this locker room, there’s things we want to accomplish.
“We feel we’re a pretty deep team, and that the difference between one (the top player) and 16 isn’t much,” continued Smith. “We feel comfortable playing four guards, or we feel comfortable playing three bigs. And we have some interchangeable parts.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge Cedar Crest will face this season is striking last season’s balance between the perimeter and the paint. Or as one of the the Falcon assistant coaches so succinctly put it, the CC guards will have to step up to counteract all the attention that the Falcons’ best player, 6-6 senior center Andrew Eudy, will be shown.
“That’s pretty true,” said Smith. “As a coach, your game plan is to stop the other team’s best player. Andrew Eudy is our best player. I tell our guards that they’re going to take us where we need to be. Our guard play is going to make or break our season.
“No, we’re absolutely not going to sneak up on any one,” Smith added. “It’s a much different scenario. We haven’t won anything in basketball for a long time. This year we’ve got the bullseye. We’re going to be one of the best teams in the Lancaster-Lebanon League and we’re not going to sneak up on anyone.”
While Klopp and Penchard were integral parts of the Falcons’ success last season, they weren’t the only ones. Eudy plays bigger than his 6-6 frame and really came into his own last season when increased confidence translated into better decision making.
Evan Horn, a 6-0 sophomore guard, is athletic and heady beyond his years. And Tommy Black, a 6-1 senior forward, gives Cedar Crest even more hustle and strength on the inside.
“These kids are competitors,” said Smith. “I can sleep easy at night knowing we’re not going to go anywhere and get blown out. Because we’re competitors, we’re not going to be in every game. I’m excited about that.
“We need to protect the basketball,” added Smith. “We’ve got players who are trying to win the game in one possession. But we want the game to come to them. When we force things, we look really bad. Attention to detail is something we’re working on.”
In 5-8 senior Seth Daubert, 6-0 senior Zach Gristick, 5-10 junior Josh Bucher and 5-9 junior Dom Garloff, the Falcons have some talent playing the guard position. To exactly what level they can play it will determine how far Cedar Crest will go this season.
Andrew Eberhart, a 6-6 junior forward, and Nick Miller, a 6-0 junior forward, are proof that the Falcons are talented and deep.
“Going into training camp we have some thoughts on what we want to get accomplished,” said Smith. “Day-to-day, we have different focuses, based on prior practices. One thing we’ve talked about was going game-to-game. If we start listening to about how good we’re supposed to be, we’re going to lose games. If we go game-by-game, things will take care of itself.”
Cedar Crest will tip off its season on Friday, December 6, against Central Dauphin East.
“If we had to tip it up today, I think our guys are prepared,” said Smith. “But I like the fact we’ve got a couple more days to get ready. We haven’t beaten C.D. East in three years. We’d really like to come out of this weekend 2-0.”