BY JEFF FALK
NEFFSVILLE – For the Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team, winning a Lancaster-Lebanon League championship was one for the history books. But winning a first league title in 38 years against Lebanon, well that was one for the story books.
On Saturday afternoon at a jammed Manheim Township High School, the Falcons’ fairy tale ending to a perfecting scripted Lancaster-Lebanon League season came to life in a 55-45 triumph over neighbor, rival and friend Lebanon High. In the first-ever meeting between two Lebanon County schools in the circuit’s championship game, it was Cedar Crest which grabbed control of its destiny right before halftime, and then squeezed the life out of the Cedars in the second half.
Indeed it was the second L-L League title overall for Cedar Crest, and first since Steve Kuhn led the Falcons to one in our country’s bicentennial year of 1976. The Falcons, now 22-4 overall, will ride that momentum into Wednesday’s District Class AAAA opening round as that bracket’s third seed, at home.
Earlier this season, Cedar Crest had defeated Lebanon High 67-48 in a Lancaster-Lebanon Section One-Two crossover affair.
With eight overall championships, Lebanon’s history in the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs is a much more storied one. The Cedars’ turnaround will be a quick one, as they host Waynesboro on Monday at 7 p.m. in a play-in game to the District Three Class AAAA tournament.
“It’s amazing,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith. “It’s every bit as enjoyable as I thought it would be. This dream of winning a Lancaster-Lebanon championship was a thought I had. But the kids earned it, and the kids deserved it.
“It feels great,” Smith continued. “If nothing else, what I brought to this program was a lot of Falcon pride. It shows what you can do when you have some pride. I’ve gotten a lot of emails from alumni who tell me how proud they are of us. But these kids are rewriting history.”
“It’s good for Lebanon County,” said Lebanon head coach Tim Speraw, whose side slipped to 17-8 overall. “When I looked around, I saw so many players from the past. It was a good experience for our kids. They’re going to remember it for the rest of their lives.
“It was great, but I just wish we would’ve come out on top,” Speraw added. “There was a lot of sloppiness on both sides. And I think if you would ask Tommy (Smith) he would say the same thing. But that’s what happens when it’s Lebanon-Cedar Crest.”
The turning point of the intense, physical championship contest came late in the second period, with the Cedars entrenched in a 2-3 zone and Cedar Crest senior star Andrew Eudy on the bench saddled with two fouls. A small adjustment to the Falcons’ attack produced driving lanes for CC sophomore slasher Evan Horn, and gave senior sniper Zach Gristick a clean look at a trey.
The resulting eight straight Cedar Crest points gave the Falcons a 25-16 margin in the locker room. And when Eudy scored the first two baskets of the second half from the paint, Cedar Crest suddenly had a 13-point bulge.
It wasn’t over at that point. But it did become the Falcons’ game to lose.
“We thought they were going to play some zone,” said Smith of the Cedars. “So we came out in our zone offense, but it wasn’t very effective. So we went to our man (to-man) offense. We started attacking more and getting to the rim.
“We were able to hang in there because we defend,” continued Smith. “It’s been that way all year. We talk about defending every possession. We have played zone, but I like man, just because of our match-ups across the board. We like our match-ups.”
“I thought it was a combination of them playing well and us not playing as well as we could have,” said Speraw. “They’re (the Falcons) the Section One champs for a reason. I didn’t think that we couldn’t beat them. They had the better night. They played better in a couple of stretches, and it changed the game.
“I was happy with the way our kids played,” Speraw added. “There were two or three-minute stretches that killed us. We knew it was going to be physical. We knew it was going to be tough. But I thought we matched their intensity.”
The closest Lebanon could get to Cedar Crest in the second half was eight points, at 29-21 on a steal and lay-in from Jeremy De La Cruz. The Falcons closed out the third stanza with a drive from Josh Bucher and a couple of charity tosses from Evan Horn, and carried a 39-27 advantage to the final period.
Again the Cedars came within eight points, on a Noah Sanders trey that made it 42-34, at the halfway point of the quarter. But an emphatic alley-oop jam by Eudy, from Seth Daubert, brought the crowd to its feet and effectively moved the momentum into the Falcons’ corner for good.
All that was left for Cedar Crest to do was protect the ball and make nine-of-18 free throws.
“I really didn’t think in those terms,” said Smith when asked if he thought he’d see the Cedars again after beating them in December. “This is a goal of our’s. But I didn’t think ahead too much. They (the Cedars) take on the personality of their coach. Coach Speraw is a great motivator, and their staff knows basketball.
“I love this environment,” Smith continued. “I’d love to coach in a Cedar Crest-Lebanon game every game. This was awesome. They’ve got great kids. They’ve got a great coaching staff.”
“After the Township game, we talked about coming back to this court,” said Speraw. “And after the Cedar Crest game, we talked about coming back to this court and seeing Cedar Crest. But hats off to them. They were the better team tonight.
“Sometimes that (knowing each other’s personnel) a negative because they (his players) think they know them (the Falcons) better than the coaches,” Speraw continued. “So they don’t pay attention to the scouting reports as much. But they (his players) know a lot of their (the Falcons’) tendencies.”
Despite his foul difficulties, Eudy shook loose to score 16 points. Horn, who used his athleticism to influence the outcome on both ends of the court, tallied 14 points.
But it was the Cedars’ Blayde Reich who led all scorers with 19 points, in addition. The Falcons outscored the Cedars by ten points at the foul stripe, but lost the rebound battle 39-30
“He’s made big plays for us all year,” said Smith of Horn. “It always seems he’s in the right place at the right time. And he’s such a team player. I’m glad he’s on my team.
“After I watched (Reich on) the Manheim Central film, I don’t know if I slept that night,” Smith added. “I knew he (Reich) was going to have a good game. He’s had a good year.”
“He’s (Horn) a match-up nightmare for anyone in the Lancaster-Lebanon League,” said Speraw. “He’s too strong and so physical, and he’s such a good ball handler. He’s such a good all-around player. I thought we defended him OK, but he got into our zone too much.
“I don’t know if it’s going into the playoffs or what,” Speraw continued. “But we’ve been coaching him (Reich) the same all year. Tonight he set the tone early and got their big guys into foul trouble. He has a jumper, so you’ve got to come out and play him. And he can finish around the rim.”
It was the Blayde Reich show early for the Cedars. He netted eight of his club’s first 11 points, as the Cedars enjoyed leads of 5-2, 7-4 and 9-6.
But in the second stanza, Gristick nailed a trey, Daubert converted a hard drive and Horn went strong to the bucket, as the Falcons assumed a 17-14 margin.
“I don’t need to motivate my kids to play Lebanon,” said Smith. “That’s one team they want to beat. We probably wouldn’t even have to practice to play them, just because we know them so well.
“It brings a little pride to the County, and not just us,” continued Smith. “Playing Lebanon in the final, our kids probably wouldn’t have it any other way. And their kids probably wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Past Lancaster-Lebanon League Champions
1976: Cedar Crest
1991: Conestoga Valley
2003: Lancaster Catholic
2009: Conestoga Valley
2014: Cedar Crest