SOUTH LEBANON – A great many things to a great many people, the Cedar Crest-Lebanon rivalry possesses the power to bring out the best in its fans, its coaches and its competitors. It also has the power to christen stars.
Sophomore Alex Rich certainly looked like a star coming into her own on Wednesday night, in the most important game of her young career. At the Falcon Cage, Rich strapped her Cedar Crest teammates to her back and willed them to a 39-38 victory over Lebanon High.
Taking the ball hard to the basket with her right hand time and time again during crunch time, Rich was the difference in a game with very little wiggle room. Rich notched eight of her team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter, all on drives.
Her final points of the evening, which came with 1:01 to go, proved decisive, as they gave the Falcons a 39-36 lead. In the frantic closing seconds, the Falcons endured a Brittany Ulrich basket for Lebanon and some tense moments, before a Cedar turnover with 12 seconds remaining iced it.
The triumph lifted Cedar Crest to 2-3 on the season and 1-2 in Section One of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Lebanon High dropped to 2-4 overall and 1-2 in Section Two of the L-L.
“In the first half, the one thing I did tell her was she was playing scared,” said Cedar Crest head coach Donmoyer of his emerging go-to girl. “She played tentative. After halftime, she went out there and she didn’t look anything like she did in the first half. She can play, absolutely. Off the dribble, they (the Cedars) couldn’t handle her. She got us over the hump.
“It was one point, but one possession didn’t lose the game,” said Lebanon head coach Ben Brewer. “We had a couple of opportunities at the end, but you can’t blame it (the loss) on that. We lost the game because we couldn’t contain 25 (Rich).
“I told them (his players), ‘we stole a game earlier this year at the free throw line, and we ended up losing one at the line tonight,'” added Brewer. “Here’s the cool thing: I don’t have a senior in that (locker) room, so we’ll do this again.”
After the Falcons had trailed by as many as ten points early in the second half, they took their first lead – 33-32- on a three-pointer from Maria Battle 1:16 into the final stanza. Rich scored Cedar Crest’s next four points, as the Falcons’ lead reached 37-32 with 4:25 remaining.
The fact that the Cedars went without a score for a four-minute stretch certainly didn’t hurt Cedar Crest’s cause.
“It was huge for us,” said Donmoyer. “It’s a huge win. These games are always big. Yeah, we needed a win. We have a lot of young girls. It’s not all about winning, but we needed some confidence. It’s just one team. It’s not a bunch of individuals. They’re a young team. They’ll be around a long time.
“Lebanon’s scrappy and they can shoot the ‘three’,” Donmoyer continued. “They’re going to fight to the end. They’re not going to give up. They’re young like we are. We’re going to do this (rivalry with Lebanon) a couple of more times. They (the Cedars) didn’t shoot the ‘three’ in the second half like they did in the first half. I was going to take our chances and have their posts (inside players) beat us.”
“I thought defensively in the second half, we were weak,” said Brewer. “We had a couple of girls with four fouls and it kind of wears on you. Credit them (the Falcons). I thought their half-court defense was awesome. But we did not take advantage of our post players. It’s hard when you have three good guards.
“I thought we started great, and we’re not a great starting team,” added Brewer. “Then we got hand-cuffed with foul trouble, and we’re not very deep. I thought we played pretty darn good, but they won the game.”
Back-to-back three-pointers from Shaela Shellehamer and Lauren Chambers to open the contest gave Lebanon High a 6-0 advantage, and that lead reached 10-2 on another Chambers trey. Lebanon closed the first half with charity tosses by Kiana Graves and Ulrich that gave it a 20-13 margin, then got a three-pointer from Ulrich 24 seconds into the third period to make it a 23-13 game.
“I believe in the first half we had shots, and they didn’t fall,” said Donmoyer. “We were amped. We were excited. I have some young kids, and this was their first Cedar Crest-Lebanon experience.
“We started hitting baskets, that started opening things up,” Donmoyer continued. “We made shots and got confidence. Nothing different, just execution. And the kids were more focused in the second half. In the first half, we were a little shaky.”
“I found a penny heads-up. It didn’t work,” smiled Brewer. “I felt confident coming in. We had a great practice yesterday. I thought we could get the ball inside and take advantage of our size.
“It’s Cedar Crest,” continued Brewer. “There were definitely some nerves coming across on the bus ride. But they’re (the Falcons) good. It’s a cool high school rivalry. I’m fortunate to be a part of it.”
In addition to Rich’s 15, Cedar Crest got balanced scoring from the likes of senior Gabi Donmoyer, Rachel Miller, Emily Wagner and Nichole Wagner. The Falcons were without the services of senior Astin Toms.
Ulrich poured in a game-high 18 points, while Chambers connected for ten points. Lebanon made half of its ten free throws.
“They play hard and they play together,” said Donmoyer of his charges. “We shoot the ball well. They play solid defense. They’re young and they’re only going to get better. They never give up. It was a gut check, and my kids stepped up. We tried to give it away at the end, but it was a good win.”
“They (the Falcons) get up in your face and they play good defense,” said Brewer. “They play team ball. They move the ball. They do a lot of good things good. We do some things great, but there’s other things we’ve got to do better.
“I’m pleased with the things you can’t teach, which is heart, passion, aggressiveness,” Brewer continued. “They (his players) do that on their own. And I’m pleased with our shooting. But we’ve got to get the ball inside. We have a two-hour practice tomorrow, an hour-and-a-half will be spent on getting the ball inside, and the other half-hour we’ll be shooting foul shots.”