BY JEFF FALK
COATESVILLE – If there were any sort of common denominators in the few games that the Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team lost this winter they were that the Falcons played together, worked hard and had a chance to win. But then again, those characteristics were also common in Cedar Crest victories.
It was somehow appropriate that a tough, hard-fought loss would end the most successful season in Cedar Crest boys’ basketball history.
On Wednesday night at Coatesville High School, in the second round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs, the Falcons endured a 49-43 overtime loss to LaSalle College that ended their unprecedented run. After enjoying a nine-point lead with less than six minutes left in regulation, the Falcons’ shots stopped falling and they were outscored 23-6 over a nine-minute span that spilled over into overtime.
Cedar Crest did not score another point in regulation after an Andrew Eudy jumper gave it a 34-30 lead with 3:15 of the fourth quarter remaining. The Explorers got a pair of free throws and a lay-in Dave Krmpotich to knot the score at 34.
The Falcons made it to overtime with outstanding defense on LaSalle College’s last possession in regulation, then grabbed a 36-34 edge on a stick back by Evan Horn 38 seconds into the extra session. But the Explorers tallied the next ten points to open a 44-36 margin, with 52 seconds left in the overtime.
With one of its finest defensive efforts of the year, Cedar Crest created the type of pace that it wanted. But the Falcons were abandoned by their shot-making capabilities down the stretch.
Still, Cedar Crest’s 26 wins represented a program record, and the second-round of the state tournament is as far as any Falcon club has ever advanced. Along the way, the Falcons captured Section One and Lancaster-Lebanon League championships for the first time in 38 years, and finished second in the District Three Class AAAA tournament.
With the win, LaSalle College, the third-place finisher out of District 12, improved to 21-6.
“There weren’t too many common themes in our losses,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith. “One of them may have been that when we didn’t win, we didn’t shoot well. But teams really got up for this year.
“I thought we played well,” continued Smith. “We didn’t make shots in the fourth quarter. There’s nothing we didn’t execute, we just didn’t make shots. Yeah, I feel like we’re a little snake-bitten in the fourth quarter. We spread the lead, and then there was a lot of hand checking. But we didn’t play well enough down the stretch.”
Employing some stifling man-to-man defense, the Falcons appeared to have things in control when Josh Bucher’s driving lay-up 1:21 into the fourth quarter pushed their lead to 28-19. That’s right, LaSalle College had a total of 19 points to that point, but then the Explorers notched 11 in the next 2:28, to pull within four points of Crest’s lead.
“He made some tough shots,” said Smith of Explorer junior guard Najee Walls. “And Josh Bucher had a hand in his face on a lot of them. They (the Explorers) needed something to get them going. And then we couldn’t make any buckets.
“This is what I thought it would be,” added Smith. “I didn’t think it (the score) would get out of the 50s.”
Protecting a one-point edge, the Falcons held LaSalle College without a point over the final 4:05 of the third quarter. And when Eudy knocked down a short jumper, Horn scored on a put back and Eudy converted a couple of foul shots, Cedar Crest had itself a 26-19 margin.
“I thought we were tentative early, but not in the fourth quarter,” said Smith. “We were still doing the things we needed to do offensively. We kept attacking the rim.
“They’re (the Explorers) long and athletic,” Smith added. “They had a good game plan. They stretched a lot, and we played into their hands a little bit.”
Cedar Crest also held the Explorers without a score for a 6:22 stretch in the first half, one that began late in the first period and spilled over into the middle portions of the second. Thanks to a hustling three-point play from Jimmy Kern that beat the opening quarter buzzer, an offensive rebound by Andrew Eberhart and a pull-up from Horn, the Falcons enjoyed a 12-8 lead.
But the half ended with the score tied at 16.
“I just told them that it hurts right now, but once the hurt wears off they’re going to realize how great of a season they had,” said Smith of his troops. “They’ll understand what they did for their school and their community.
“They’re (the Explorers) very well-coached,” Smith continued. “What we wanted to do is control them offensively by getting on the offensive glass.”
Horn led the Falcons with 14 points, while Eudy contributed 12. Walls poured in a game-high 22 points.
LaSalle College outscored Cedar Crest 17-9 at the free throw line.
“We played every possible game we could this season, except for three,” said Smith. “When you look at it that way, it tells you what type of success we had this season. But we wanted to play three more. When this wears off, we’re going to be able to enjoy all of our accomplishments.”
The Explorers notched the first four points of the contest. But that was before Eudy drained a couple of foul shots and Josh Bucher nailed a trey to give the Falcons a 5-4 edge.
“I think we’ve got a good start,” said Smith of building the program into a perennial winner. “Each of the last four years we’ve gotten better. The character of the kids, that’s where you start. I think we’ve got some things in place. We’re keeping kids in the program. Hopefully we can do this, year-in and year-out.”