BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY LORI MESSERSMITH
CHELTENHAM – Somewhere along the way, reality curbed the Lebanon Catholic boys’ basketball team’s expectations. Yesterday, the Beavers lived up to those redefined expectations.
On Friday evening at Cheltenham High School, during the opening round of the PIAA Class A postseason, Catholic ran into a buzz-saw named Church Farm School, which put an end to the Beavers’ up-and-down campaign with a 59-38 decision. The Griffins made a little working margin for themselves with their first-half defense, then surgically and methodically pulled away from LCS with their offense in the second half.
The triumph was the 21st straight for Church Farm, the 24-4 and four-time District One champion. Lebanon Catholic, which had finished third in the District Three Class A playoffs, concluded its year 17-9.
“Sometimes it’s tough to read kids,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Scott Clentimack. “I was excited. We’re in the state playoffs. It’s a long season, but we wanted to get to this point. I know it’s starting to wear on you mentally and physically, but that’s the point.
“They’re (the Griffins) good. They’re athletic,” continued Clentimack. “They don’t have a lot of height, but they’re all 6-2 and 6-3, and they get off their feet. But at this point, everyone’s good.”
After tallying eight of the game’s first ten points, Church Farm opened a 41-22 margin late in the third quarter. That lead ultimately reached 58-33 late in the fourth quarter, before Lebanon Catholic emptied its bench.
“They (the Griffins) were more athletic,” said Clentimack. “We have some pretty good basketball players. But we don’t have those types of athletes. That happens. Sometimes teams are better than you.
“The look-outs (quick outlet passes) hurt us,” added Clentimack. “It’s so demoralizing because you’re trying to grind it out, and then they get a couple of break-outs in-a-row. The complexion of Class A (in the state) has changed the last couple of years, since the PIAA allowed the Philly schools in.”
Despite its early deficit, Lebanon Catholic shaved Church Farm’s lead to 13-9 on an Anthony Pletz jumper 27 seconds into the second stanza. And then three minutes later, John Groh converted a lay-in that brought the Beavers to within 15-12.
But the Griffins recorded the next seven points, to extend their margin to ten.
“The kids played hard. They didn’t back down,” said Clentimack. “They (the Griffins) were better than us. I wanted to give us the best chance to win. I wasn’t conceding anything. I told our guys, ‘we’re going down with what we do’. But there’s always someone better than you. I thought they (the Griffins) were too athletic for us to press and run.
“We needed to shoot the ball well and defend,” continued Clentimack. “We were hoping they would take bad shots, and not make them. We were trying to contain their athleticism. It doesn’t always work. Talking about it doesn’t get it done.”
The Beavers were still hanging around early in the second half, when Anthony Thomas drove hard to the hole and Groh stuck back an offensive rebound to get Catholic to within 24-18. But over the next 2:11, Church Farm outscored Lebanon Catholic 11-2 to open a 35-20 bulge.
“Then you wonder why we put all of our eggs in the district basket,” said Clentimack. “That’s where we’re most competitive. I’m not saying we couldn’t beat this team, but we had to play the perfect game. I thought we did OK with our zone.”
The Beavers, who didn’t place a single scorer in double figures, converted one lone three-point shot. The Griffins outscored the Beavers 20-9 at the charity stripe.
“I think this team reached its potential,” said Clentimack. “From where they started and where they are now, that’s leaps and bounds. It’s a real credit to their (his players’) character and what they were trying to accomplish.
“I told them that (no one will ever be able to take away last season’s District Three gold medal),” concluded Clentimack. “This is a great group. It’s been a wonderful four years. It was a terrific journey. I’d do it all over again. I wouldn’t change a thing.”