BY JEFF FALK
No outlandish claims here about this being the most successful Lebanon County scholastic basketball season ever. Only because that still needs to be determined.
While records and historical data about such things are always sketchy – and hard to prove – the locale has experienced one of the best high school basketball regular seasons in recent memory. That certainly bodes well for the chances of an outstanding postseason for County hopefuls.
And ultimately that’s how 2013-14 will be remembered.
For nine local clubs, the path to playoff glory begins in earnest over the next week, in the form of the District Three postseason. While Lebanon County may not be home to any eventual state champions, there are four or five local clubs which possess the ability to qualify for the PIAA tournament.
The local team with the most playoff intrigue swirling around it is the Cedar Crest boys. The Falcons have won 33 of their last 40 outings dating back to last season, captured their first Lancaster-Lebanon Section One crown in 38 seasons and have advanced to two straight league title tilts.
But what everyone wants to know is how that success will translate to the postseason. It certainly has set up the Falcons for an extended playoff run.
Consider this: If the third-seeded Falcons can survive their District Three Class AAAA opening round game played at home on Wednesday at 7 p.m., they will assure themselves of at least three more postseason games. A win in any of those three would guarantee Crest its first state playoff berth in quite some time.
On Monday at home, Lebanon High will play Waynesboro at 7 p.m. in a play-in game to the District Three Class AAAA event. If the Cedars would advance in districts, they would face rugged 21-2 Central York in the quarterfinals.
A tall task for the L-L Section Two champions, but given the toughness they have developed in combat down the stretch, it would be silly to count them out.
Speaking of long roads to hoe, the Northern Lebanon boys are faced with the daunting task of traveling to fifth-seeded Susquehanna Township on Tuesday for their District Three Class AAA opener.
A loss would distinguish the Vikings as one of Lebanon County’s best ever to never win anything. But because seven District Three clubs advance in AAA, a win would put Northern Lebanon in great shape for the PIAA postseason.
If it’s February, it must be Lebanon Catholic boys’ basketball time. The Beavers have been spying the District Three Class A since the opening day of practice three months ago, and for good reason.
The 14-7 and top-seeded Beavers are Lebanon County’s best shot at district gold. And for Catholic to qualify for play in March, all it must do is win its District Three opener, at home, on Feb. 21.
On the girls’ side, the Cedar Crest Falcons have gone from five wins to nine wins to 20, a truly amazing achievement. And the Falcons have accomplished that against top-notch competition, a fact that will serve it well in the District Three Class AAAA tournament.
Cedar Crest, the Lancaster-Lebanon Section One runner-up, will open district play on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against familiar foe Hempfield, which the Falcons went 1-1 against during the regular year. Win that and the Falcons will get three chances to punch their PIAA ticket.
Rival Lebanon High will face a similar scenario when it faces a Cocalico club it beat twice during the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Two, at home on Tuesday at 7 p.m.. By reaching their full potential, the Cedars ran off a streak of 16 wins in 17 outings at the end of the year.
What exactly that will mean in the postseason is still a point of conjecture.
The good news is that the Palmyra girls went 19-3 during the regular season and earned the second seed in a District Three Class AAA tournament that sends six representatives on to states. The bad news is that the Cougars at times did not look like their invincible selves down the stretch.
But for the last two weeks, head coach Ron Berman has gotten what he has craved all winter long – practice time in the gym with his troops. Should be interesting to see on Wednesday at home if the Cougars come out re-focused in a new direction.
Since opening the season 9-3, the Elco girls’ basketball team has gone 4-6 and missed out on the Lancaster-Lebanon League postseason. The Raiders will look to turn those fortunes around on Wednesday when they travel to Fleetwood for a first-round game in the Class AAA playoffs.
At 12-11, the Annville-Cleona girls have experienced a bit of roller coaster season, some of which has been caused by injuries. To advance through the District Three Class AA bracket and reach the PIAA playoffs, the Little Dutchmen will have to win twice, including at third-seeded Oley Valley in their opener on Feb, 21.
And while this season has been a banner one for Lebanon County as a whole, it was not for the Lebanon Catholic girls specifically. The most successful basketball program locally missed out on a berth in the 12-team Class A field by a single spot, a single win.
Amazingly, this season was the first in head coach Patti Hower’s 37 years at the helm that the Beavers did not qualify for districts.