BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – There’s a difference between history and experience.
History is related to the past, tradition and what has happened before. Experience has more to do with the recent past, a skill one has gained and learned through repetition.
At this point of the season, the Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team doesn’t have a lot of history. But the Falcons do have experience.
On Saturday morning, during their first trip to Hershey’s Giant Center, the Falcons used their experience to create some new history, as they corralled Cumberland Valley 47-35 in the quarterfinals of the District Three Class AAAA postseason. After jumping out to an early 14-point lead, Cedar Crest held off the Eagles’ spirited comeback try with some deadly three-point shooting in the fourth quarter.
Not only did the Falcons’ eighth straight, playoff-type, win move them into Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. semifinal, opposite second-seeded Central York back at Giant Center, it also qualified Cedar Crest for its first trip to the PIAA tournament in more than 15 years. Cedar Crest, the district’s third seed and reigning Lancaster-Lebanon League champion, improved to 24-4, while sixth-seeded Cumberland Valley slipped to 18-6 overall.
“We’ve played a great schedule that has prepared us for this,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith. “Lancaster-Lebanon Section One is good, and we play a tough non-league schedule. We are absolutely experienced, and tested.
“I’ve got kids who are determined,” Smith continued. “We take it one game at a time. We enjoyed the Lancaster-Lebanon championship for a day, and then we went back to work. They (his players) really come with a workmanlike attitude. And here we are.”
The key moment for the Falcons came late in the third quarter, after the Eagles had whittled most of their two-touchdown deficit down to 27-24. Cedar Crest responded with a pair of strong moves to the basket from Evan Horn – one which resulted in a three-point play and the other a drive down the lane with two seconds left in the stanza that gave the Falcons a 32-26 lead.
Cedar Crest’s period-closing flurry prevented Cumberland Valley from ever gaining the lead.
“Of course you always want to be ahead,” said Smith. “You never want to look up at the scoreboard and see fewer points on your side. But our kids are resilient. When faced with adversity, they respond.
“We got them (his players) here (Giant Center) early because we wanted them to experience this,” added Smith. “We told them, ‘Take your pictures. Get back in the locker room. And come out strong.’ We want to make this our home court.”
In the final period, Cedar Crest used its three-point shooting early to extend its lead, and then its free throw shooting late to put the outcome away. The Falcons did not convert a two-point basket in the stanza.
The Falcons scored their first 12 points of the fourth quarter on three-point field goals – two from Zach Gristick and two from Josh Bucher – to open a 44-34 advantage with 2:11 to play. Cedar Crest tallied its final three points at the charity stripe, courtesy of Andrew Eudy, while holding Cumberland Valley to a single point over the final 2:44.
“At that point, we had the lead and they (the Eagles) were scrambling,” said Smith. “We got wide-open jump shots. I told our guys, ‘Let’s shoot with confidence’. We still had to be aggressive. It wasn’t forced. If it isn’t forced, it’s a good shot
“It’s our offense,” Smith continued. “During the flow of the game, teams can’t defend playing up on us. We’ve got kids they can’t guard off the dribble. It’s something special. It’s what we do.”
It was nearly the perfect start for the Falcons. In opening a 14-0 lead, Cedar Crest held Conestoga Valley without a score for the contest’s first 10:42.
On the strength of Nick Miller’s buzzer-beating trey, the Falcons went to the locker room with a 24-13 lead. Amazingly nine different Falcons – Horn, Bucher, Gristick, Jimmy Kern, Soren Frost, Eudy, Seth Daubert, Bucher and Miller – accounted for Cedar Crest’s 24 first-half points.
“I’m just so proud of my kids,” said Smith. “Every night, it’s somebody else. It’s a testament to the kids because they believe in each other. They all believe in the team.
“I don’t know if our start threw us off,” added Smith. “I was surprised, because number one, they’re (the Eagles) a good team. To hold the number-six seed in the district without a point in the first quarter, that’s pretty good. They were letting us play early. And I thought we got a lot of hands on the basketball early.”
Cumberland Valley registered 11 of the second half’s first 14 points to make it a one-possession game.
“We took the foot off the gas pedal,” said Smith. “The kids slowed it down. We told them, ‘let’s get that tempo back’.
“He (Horn) does it all for us,” continued Smith. “He knows what he needs to do for us. He’s strong with the basketball. When we have an eight-point lead with three minutes to go, I like having number 33 on the court.”
Cedar Crest knocked down a total of seven three-pointers. Bucher, who finished with 13 points, stroked four, while Gristick, who tallied ten points, canned a pair.
The Falcons benefitted from numerous Eagle unforced turnovers and the fact that CV big man Matt Tamanosky made good on just three of his 11 foul shots.
“Their big kid, we think he’s pretty good,” said Smith of Tamanosky. “We were dropping down (bringing in a guard to help) on him early. We wanted to make him work for the ball. We felt if we were fundamentally sound on defense that we’d be OK.
“To be honest, it really hasn’t sunk in yet that we’re going to states,” continued Smith. “We have a game on Tuesday we’re focused on. I said to our guys, ‘Let’s get the next one.'”