BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – There was blood in the water early. And it didn’t take long for the shark, the ultimate predator that’s always on the look out for an opponent’s weaknesses, to take notice.
On Saturday afternoon in front of a 3,000-plus audience at Giant Center, in the quarterfinal round of the District Three Class AAAA postseason, the opportunistic Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team devoured Harrisburg High 76-49 in a feeding frenzy of three-point bombs, selfless offense and stingy defense. While it may be true that high school basketball games can’t be decided in a first quarter, or even in a first half, the prepared and focused alpha-dog Falcons came as close as any team possibly could to doing just that.
Except for one minor glitch early in the second period, Cedar Crest, which led 18-6 at the end of eight minutes of action and 34-13 at the break, played hard, fast and as well as it had all season, until the outcome was ultimately decided. While exactly when that happened was a matter of conjecture, realistically it probably occurred in the middle of the third period.
While the now 25-2 Falcons had qualified for the state tournament a playoff win prior, what seems to be motivating Cedar Crest now is the memory of a fourth-quarter collapse in last season’s District Three final, against York High. The top-seeded Falcons will look to take the next step towards that redemption in Tuesday night’s 8 p.m. semifinal, back at Giant Center, against fifth-seeded Reading, which took care of McCaskey 56-50.
Cedar Crest has won seven straight games, six of which have been playoff contests, and is now a combined 62-10 in its last 72 games over the past three seasons.
Harrisburg, the eighth seed, fell to 18-8 on the year.
“I think that might have been our most complete game, from start to finish,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith. “The thing we’ve been struggling with is teams that sag off of us and play zone. But they (the Cougars) opened in a zone and I thought we did a really good job of attacking it.
“The next goal is to win a district championship,” continued Smith. “We talked about the legacy of Harrisburg in the District Three basketball playoffs. What better way to experience that than to play Harrisburg at Giant Center.”
“Today, the people who came to Giant Center wanted to see what the number-one team in District Three looked like,” said senior sniper Josh Bucher, who stroked six three-pointers. “We made a statement. To beat a city school like Harrisburg says we’re ready to take on anyone.”
The Falcons spread out the Cougars’ zone, moved the ball quickly on the perimeter of it and shot the ball well. But the Falcons’ man-to-man defense, which held Harrisburg scoreless for the opening 4:55 of the contest, and their 10-0 start were just as effective at getting Harrisburg out of its zone.
Cedar Crest never trailed, after Bucher nailed a pair of treys, Nick Miller scored on a lay-in and Andrew Eberhart took a rebound coast-to-coast to account for the game’s first ten points. Then when Evan Horn got into the act with five points, Bucher connected on a pull-up and Eberhart sank a free throw, the Falcon lead reached 18-4.
“It was huge,” said Smith of the importance of the start to the outcome. “We got defensive stops. Any time you can start the game 10-0 it’s a huge advantage. Our kids dug in on the defensive end.
“We played tough in the first quarter,” continued Smith. “We talked about help off other players. We got some things in transition. Then we went little and that gave them (the Cougars) fits.”
“I had an idea they (the Cougars) were going to run a 2-3 zone,” said Bucher. “Their 2-3 zone was spread out. I think their coach was scratching his head because he knew he had to go man-to-man. And when he did, we match up really well with anyone, man-to-man.”
The Falcons’ only glitch all afternoon came early in the second stanza, when it went without a point for the first three minutes and the Cougars pulled to within 18-9. But Horn broke the spell with a charity toss, Bucher followed with another trey and Horn got to ‘the cup’ to push the Falcon advantage to 24-9.
The last eight points of the first half also belonged to Cedar Crest, in the form of four Miller free throws, two charity tosses by Marq Kintzer and an athletic offensive rebound from Soren Frost that beat the second-period horn.
“The only thing that changes is that we try to dictate pace,” said Smith of the Falcons’ double-digit lead. “We want to play at our tempo. That’s the game plan.
“I thought we were able to match their runs,” Smith added. “I’m never comfortable. Just ask my coaching staff. I felt pretty comfortable coming in at halftime. At that point, the game is built for us. But any time you have a team as explosive as Harrisburg, you can never be comfortable.”
“I think the bigger the stage, the better we play,” said Bucher. “We’re used to it. We went undefeated at home this year, but we kind of look at Giant Center as our second home. We’ve only lost once here (in last season’s district final), and Coach said, ‘Let’s keep it that way’.”
Bucher recorded a game-high 22 points, while Miller registered 13 points and Horn contributed a dozen. The Falcons outscored the Cougars 27-3 from three-point land.
The combined defensive efforts of Frost and Horn limited Harrisburg star Jahaad Proctor to 16 points.
“I think big players come up big in big games,” said Smith of Bucher. “They left him open and he knocked them down.We shot the ball very well, probably the best we shot it all year.”
“Horn started on him (Proctor) and then we put Soren on him to give Evan a breather, because he does so much for us on the offensive end,” added Smith. “We sort of let them decide. Our game plan was to make him earn everything he got.”
“They get the challenge of guarding the best player all the time,” said Bucher of Horn and Frost. “I’m so proud of them. To hold him (Proctor) to 16 points, it was a huge factor in the game. He’s a very good player.
“We went to LVC last night for depth perception,” Bucher added. “It’s (shooting) a little different here and at LVC than it is at our gym.”
The Cedar Crest onslaught poured over into the third period, as Miller drained a three-pointer, Eberhart laid in a nice dish and Bucher canned another trey to make it a 42-15 lead. The Falcons also netted the first eight points of the final quarter, courtesy of back-to-back three-pointers from Bucher and Horn’s jam of a steal, extending their bulge to 61-26.
“It’s just great,” said Smith of the backing his club has been receiving. “The community support has been awesome. But I’m not sure we’re necessarily playing for the community. But they are supporting us. It’s great to see.”
“We played them at a tournament in Allentown over the summer,” said Bucher of the impending date with Reading. “They’re a great basketball team. I think if we come to play and make our shots, we’ll be OK.”
|Frank Wilson Jr.||6||6||6||1||19||1|
|6:30 PM||W 62-44|
|5:00 PM||W 70-60|
|7:30 PM||W 50-48|
|7:30 PM||W 65-27|
|7:30 PM||W 68-53|
|7:30 PM||W 74-45|
|7:30 PM||W 57-48|
|7:30 PM||W 46-43|
|7:30 PM||W 80-61|
|7:30 PM||W 53-42|
|7:30 PM||W 58-56|
|7:30 PM||W 55-33|
|7:30 PM||W 45-44|
|7:30 PM||W 66-23|
|7:30 PM||W 67-52|
|7:30 PM||W 59-42|
|7:30 PM||L 54-58|
|7:30 PM||W 58-54|
|7:30 PM||W 52-38|
|7:30 PM||L 57-60|
|7:30 PM||W 72-43|
|8:00 PM||W 68-46|
|7:00 PM||W 56-33|
|7:00 PM||W 45-40|
|7:00 PM||W 70-66|
|8:00 PM||W 52-38|
|1:00 PM||W 76-49|