Ask anyone associated with the Lebanon boys’ basketball team about seasonal goals and the first thing out of his mouth has something to do with playoffs. But deep down, in a place where words aren’t necessary, it may be that all the Cedars really wanted was to be considered a good team.
Funny how those two things go hand-in-hand.
Well, it’s official. The Cedars are a good basketball team.
On Tuesday night, Lebanon High solidified its posteason stature with a nail-biter of a 51-47 victory over Ephrata. After failing to put the Mounts away at the free throw line, it was a crucial blocked shot by senior forward Josh Spaulding with six seconds left that preserved the win for LHS.
Spaulding’s quick, athletic block came on a short Ephrata shot, and with the Cedars’ clinging to a 48-47 edge. Drey Murray and Mark Pyles connected on charity tosses in the closing seconds for the final margin, but Lebanon converted just seven-of-13 free throws in the final 3:30, after Murray had given it a 44-42 lead midway through the final quarter.
The loss was the eighth straight for a Cedar club that only three weeks ago was floundering at 5-9 overall. Lebanon, now 13-9 on the year and 9-7 in Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, entered last night’s fray with a league playoff berth secured, but with a District Three Class AAAA spot hanging in the balance.
Lebanon came in positioned 20th in a Class AAAA field that takes the top 18 ranked teams for its postseason, but it is believed that the win did enough to vault the Cedars into the play-in portion of the tournament. As for the L-L League playoffs, Lebanon will play at Donegal in Monday’s quarterfinal round, probably at 7 p.m.
“We lost a bunch of games we should’ve won,” said Lebanon head coach Tim Speraw. “Of those eight wins, seven came down to the wire. We learned how to close games out.
“I can remember when we were 5-9,” Speraw continued. “But I’m glad the win column got a bunch of wins added to it. When we were 5-9, we had a team meeting, and we talked about where we wanted to go, and how we were going to get there.”
Apparently how the Cedars got there was by making big plays in crunch time, plays that sometimes erased erratic performance.
There was a stretch on Tuesday night when it appeared that Lebanon could do whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted. But sandwiched around that stretch were two times of mental letdowns.
Employing a full-court, jump-and-trap defense, the Cedars ripped off 18 unanswered points in the third quarter to turn a 30-23 deficit into a 41-30 lead. LHS junior forward Jorian Ginnetto was responsible for eight of those points, while Kristian Sanchez chipped in with five.
But the Cedars didn’t score during the final 2:51 of the third stanza, and managed but a single charity toss in the first 4:09 of the final quarter, as Ephrata tied the game at 42.
“Our kids battled back, and fought through the whole fourth quarter,” said Speraw. “Josh Spaulding’s block at the end was just a huge, huge play.
Spaulding, who has certainly elevated his game during the Cedars’ win streak, also led Lebanon with 14 points. The Cedars, who were without a hobbled Evan Zimmerman, got 12 points apiece out of Murray and Ginnetto, and ten from Sanchez. During the contest, Ephrata knocked down six three-point baskets.
“It was off just getting full-court pressure,” said Speraw of his club’s 18-0, third-period run. “We finally got the momentum, and we slowly chipped away.
“We’ve been up and down, mostly down with our foul shooting,” added Speraw. “We knew we had to win this to have a chance at districts. I think the kids knowing we had to win did affect the way we played. It was a playoff game for us.”
Ephrata used a 21-10 run through the second quarter to take a 28-23 advantage to the break. Included in the stanza was a four-minute scoring drought by Lebanon, during which the Mounts turned a 14-11 deficit into a 23-14 bulge.
“Our goals, every year, are to make the playoffs,” said Speraw.”If we don’t get there, we don’t feel we made our goals.
“We had a couple of injuries early on,” Speraw continued, “so injuries have definitely played a role in our season. When we were losing, it was mental. And when we’ve been winning, it’s been mental. ”
By holding Ephrata without a point for the opening 3:18, the Cedars assumed an early 6-0 advantage. Lebanon High closed out the first eight minutes of action with a 13-7 lead, thanks to a Ginnetto charity toss.
The Mountaineers were coached by head man Jason Coletti, a one-time Cedar star, and assisted by Coletti’s father John, a former stalwart in the city of Lebanon rec department’s biddy basketball program.