BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY LORI MESSERSMITH
LITITZ – There are some games which no matter how much one dissects them, no matter how much one over analyzes them, no matter how much one breaks them down, the exact reasons that distinguishes the victors from the losers remain unclear.
Some times the side which prevails is simply the one which makes more plays. Usually when that happens, the team which emerges victorious is the one which wants it more.
On Friday night at Warwick High School, in the quarterfinal round of the District Three Class AAAA playoffs, the Cedar Crest girls’ basketball team’s will to win ultimately led to its 61-56 triumph over Mechanicsburg, in a thrilling, engaging and hard-fought three-overtime duel. After the Falcons had trailed through most of regulation, it was a 10-2 run at the onset of the third, four-minute extra session – one which gave Crest a 58-50 lead – that proved decisive.
Alyssa Austin and Nikki Wagner netted four points apiece during the Falcons’ critical stretch, and Rachel Miller added a bucket, after teammate Ariel Jones had sent the contest to a third OT with an ice-in-the-veins pull-up with 31 seconds left in the second overtime period. But there were also Jones’ clutch free throw with 38 seconds left in the initial extra-session that knotted the score at 44 and Austin’s charity toss with 25 seconds to go in regulation that tied the game at 40 and initially forced ‘bonus basketball’.
Not to mention N. Wagner taking a key charge, the Falcons’ timely steal of an in-bounds pass and CC senior Maddie Rakow’s high-low-pass to set up Austin.
The win – the 19th in their last 20 outings – pushed the Lancaster-Lebanon League champion and fourth-seeded Falcons to 23-4 overall and into a historic all-Lebanon County District Three Class AAAA semifinal with Palmyra, on Monday at 5 p.m. at Hershey’s Giant Center. On its resume, Cedar Crest boasts a 65-61 overtime triumph over the Cougars, on Jan. 28 at ‘The Cage’.
The triumph qualified Cedar Crest for the upcoming PIAA postseason and ruined a Mid-Penn Conference bid to place all four teams in District Three’s biggest classification’s Final Four. Mechanicsburg, the fifth seed, was relegated to the loser’s bracket with a 21-3 mark.
“In the first half, we didn’t get any 50-50 balls,” said Cedar Crest head coach Jim Donmoyer. “In the second half, we did. We were more aggressive. We had more desire. We wanted it more.
“I challenged them (his players) at halftime,” continued Donmoyer. “I told them the first three or four minutes of the second half were important ones. I asked them during timeouts, ‘Are we going to fold? Or are we going to come back?’ They looked at me and said, ‘We want to go to Hershey!'”
Cedar Crest trailed by as much as 38-33 with as little as three minutes to go in the fourth quarter. But Austin scored on an offensive rebound, Jones nailed a short jumper and Rakow canned a couple of foul shots, with 1:18 left, to knot the score at 39.
“I went into the locker room after the game and I was happy,” said Donmoyer. “I can’t explain the feeling. It was the best game I was ever involved with, and they’re (his players) the best group I could’ve ever been in it with.
“We had a list of goals, and we knocked off three of them in this game – getting to state, going to the Giant Center and getting to the semifinals of districts,” added Donmoyer. “It’s a great group of kids. They tried their hardest. You can knock me over with a feather. I can’t tell you how excited I am.”
Facing an eight-point halftime deficit, the Falcons opened the third quarter on a 10-3 spurt, backed by two Jones treys, a floater from the sophomore guard and an inside move by Austin. Then Austin converted a couple of charity tosses at the end of the stanza, before scoring on a power move that gave CC a 32-31 edge to start the fourth period.
“Most of the kids I have can shoot free throws,” said Donmoyer. “We’re looking forward to Monday. It’s confidence. I can’t imagine a more stressful game, a more intense game they (his players) could experience as high school basketball players. They got through that. They can get through anything. They gained confidence and experience by doing it and getting through it.
“I had a lot of things to say for four periods and three overtimes,” Donmoyer continued. “They (his players) listened, they executed and that’s the end result. I’ve been coaching for awhile, and that’s the most intense game I’ve ever been a part of.”
With Jones tallying 23 points and Austin contributing 22, the sophomores accounted for 47 of the Falcons’ total of 61. Rakow’s man-to-man defense limited Wildcat star center Cecily Carl to nine points over the 28 minutes following halftime, after she had burned Cedar Crest for 19 first-half points.
“She had 19 points in the first half,” said Donmoyer of Carl. “I had my sophomore post player (Austin) on her and went to my senior post player (Rakow), and she (Rakow) held her (Carl) to nine points in the second half and three overtimes. Maddie, for the most part, didn’t come out of the game and she played man (-to-man). She hung tough. I told the kids we were going to win it on the defensive end.
“Ariel played well,” Donmoyer added. “She gets to the basket very well. She made some big shots down the stretch. Our two sophomores stepped up. They’re growing up right before our very eyes. Ariel stepped into the starting lineup seven games into the season, and she’s been our catalyst ever since.”
With Carl seemingly making every shot she took – both inside and beyond the arc – the Wildcats enjoyed a 26-18 margin at intermission. Jones had tied the score at 18 with a steal and lay-in, before the Falcons went the last 6:04 of the second stanza without a score.
“We knew they were bigger than us,” said Donmoyer. “But what we lacked in height we made up for with speed. I have some kids who are skilled, who can get to the basket.”
After grabbing an early 6-2 margin, Cedar Crest took a 9-8 edge on a Jones three-pointer midway through the opening period. But Mechanicsburg went off on a 7-3 spree that spilled over into the second quarter and gave it an 18-14 advantage.
Cedar Crest 2014-15 Results
|7:30 PM||L 38-51|
|6:00 PM||W 55-42|
|7:30 PM||W 67-37|
|7:30 PM||W 55-41|
|7:30 PM||W 45-19|
|7:30 PM||L 48-49|
|7:30 PM||L 42-45|
|6:00 PM||W 67-23|
|7:30 PM||W 61-57|
|7:30 PM||W 55-32|
|7:30 PM||W 71-50|
|7:30 PM||W 62-31|
|7:30 PM||W 91-36|
|7:30 PM||W 61-29|
|6:00 PM||W 41-31|
|7:30 PM||W 51-34|
|7:30 PM||W 43-28|
|7:30 PM||W 51-28|
|7:30 PM||W 65-61|
|7:30 PM||W 56-39|
|7:30 PM||W 56-25|
|6:00 PM||L 47-58|
|7:00 PM||W 68-62|
|7:00 PM||W 47-33|
|02/14 * #||
|1:00 PM||W 58-49|
|6:00 PM||W 59-42|
|6:30 PM||W 61-56|