BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – We’re at the top of the stretch and the Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team is in the midst of a furious rally to meet its preseason goals. Looks like the outcome might be decided by a photo finish.
On Saturday afternoon at the Falcon Cage, Cedar Crest stayed hot, with a 57-56 overtime decision over Central Dauphin. Klopp’s driving lay-up down the middle of the Rams’ lane – off a broken down set – with 13 seconds left proved to be the winning basket.
Down 56-55 and out of a timeout 12 seconds earlier, Klopp had found teammate, junior center Andrew Eudy, near the basket with a good look. But Eudy turned down the opportunity, choosing instead to kick the ball out, and ‘the pumpkin’ ultimately found its way back to Klopp, who knew what to do with it.
The Falcons sealed the nail-biter when Central Dauphin’s Manny Gonzalez was short on a jumper, thanks in part to the defensive efforts of CC freshman Evan Horn.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Andrew, shoot it!’,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith of the final furious seconds. “But if either one of my seniors (Klopp and Clay Penchard) has the ball at the end of the game, I’m fine. That shot was well-deserved, because that kid (Klopp) has worked his tail off for me since he was a freshman. It was just a tough shot. The kid never gives up.
“One thing they (his players) do a good job of with the dribble drive is when we don’t get what we want out of a set, the guys who need to have the basketball get the basketball,” added Smith. “It wasn’t the play we drew up, but we got a good look.”
“Clay passed it to me. I threw it into Eudy. And Eudy kicked it out to Seth (Daubert). Seth got it over to me and I got a nice lay-up,” said Klopp. “We wanted to run our offense and see if we can get a good look. The last possession we played as a team. And we played good solid defense at the end.”
Cedar Crest’s fifth straight win improved it to 10-7 overall, and also improved on its 19th-place standing in the latest District Three Class AAAA rankings. The top 16 teams qualify for the tournament, and the Falcons have five games remaining on their regular-season docket.
The triumph was also Cedar Crest’s first in three tries against Mid-Penn Conference competition this year. Central Dauphin slipped to 7-11 overall.
“Absolutely we’re a good team,” said Smith. “One thing I tell my guys, we can also be a bad team. When they’re focused for 32 minutes, they’re a good team. I think we’ve been a good team all year, but not making some mistakes, it’s showing up.”
“I think we’re a solid team,” said Klopp. “We made some heads turn. But I’m not going to consider us a good team till we get to districts, because that’s where good teams go.”
The Falcons led modestly most of the afternoon, but found themselves on the wrong end of a 55-51 score 51 seconds into the four-minute extra session. But Daubert hit a pull-up and Penchard and Klopp nailed free throws to tie it, before Central Dauphin went back ahead with 29 ticks left in OT.
After giving the Falcons a 51-49 edge on a three-pointer with 1:28 left in regulation, Klopp misfired on a potential game-winning basket with five seconds remaining, off of an in-bounds play. Ram Zayd Issah had knotted the score at 51 with an inside move with :46 to go.
“I thought that was our most complete game all season, bell to bell,” said Smith. “To beat a good team like this, that’s what you’ve got to do. It was a big game. Anytime you’re playing a Mid-Penn team, you always want to get the win.
“And number two, we’re starting to hit our stride,” Smith continued. “Every game from here on out is important. We had this game circled on our calendar to see where we are as a team. But our upcoming games in Section One (of the Lancaster-Lebanon League) are more important than this win, to be honest with you.”
Before Klopp’s late three-pointer, Central Dauphin led by three on two separate occasions in the fourth quarter, 49-46 and 47-44.
In the middle of the third, Cedar Crest had used a basket and a couple of charity tosses from Klopp to grab a 39-36 margin. But the Falcons needed an old-fashioned play from Horn at the end of the period to knot the game at 42.
“We have two seniors and everyone else we’ve been playing are kids without varsity experience,” said Smith. “There were games when we had mental lapses. If I could pin-point two things they would be that we’re putting a good, full game together. Our focus is better and we’re protecting the basketball.”
With 20 points, Klopp led all scorers, while Eudy threw down 15 and Penchard notched 11. Issah, who’s headed to Penn State on a Division One football scholarship, paced the Rams with 18 points.
“Andrew (Eudy) is a junior and he’s very young,” said Smith.”He just turned 16. He doesn’t even have a driver’s license. He’s just getting better each game and each practice. He kept battling on defense. I think today was a huge growing experience for him, and I think he’s only going to get more confident from here on out.
“Evan (Horn) is a special athlete,” Smith added. “He does so many things well. He could play any of the five positions. Typically, I have him matched up with who I think is the other team’s best offensive player.”
With Horn, Klopp and Penchard penetrating the CD lane, they created offensive first-half opportunities for teammates, and Cedar Crest enjoyed a handful of two-possession leads in the second quarter. Back-to-back treys by Klopp to open the period put the Falcons ahead 23-16 and a Penchard drive midway through the stanza produced a 27-21 CC advantage.
“That’s our offense,” said Smith. “We’re a dribble-drive team. I’ve been telling our kids to space the floor. That’s what was going on in the first half. In the second half, the (Rams’) game plan was not to allow Clay to touch the ball, and it took us out of our game plan.
“We got to play three Mid-Penn teams this year,” Smith continued. “We battled our butts off in both of those other games, and unfortunately came out on the short end. When you play the Mid-Penn there’s pride on the line. They claim they’re the best league in the state, and until someone proves otherwise they are.”