SOUTH LEBANON – It’s as simple or complex as one cares to make it. For the Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team to get where it wants to go, it must win games against Lancaster-Lebanon Section One competition.
On Wednesday night inside the Falcon Cage, Cedar Crest’s struggles against Section One competition continued, in the form of a 71-46 setback to Hempfield. The Falcons hung with the Black Knights for all of 26 minutes, before succumbing to a technical-foul induced 20-6 run on which Hempfield ended the contest.
The Falcons have now dropped 12 straight games to Section One foes, dating back to the 2010-11 campaign.
This season, Cedar Crest is 2-1 in crossover games with Section Two, 0-2 against Section One competition, 2-3 in Section One and 5-5 overall. Hempfield improved to 6-3 on the year and 4-1 in Section One.
“We’ve been talking about this from the start,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith. “It was a playoff game for us. For us to get where we want to go, we have to win these games. We’ve got to win Section One games. The last time we won a Section One game was my first year (as head coach).
On this night, Cedar Crest was plagued by missed lay-ups and a failure to box out on the defensive boards throughout, and a slow-to-switch man-to-man defense which got beat off the dribble, especially in the second half. Early on, the Falcons were competitive, or managed to keep the Black Knights in striking distance.
Down 13-6, late in the opening stanza, Cedar Crest pieced together seven straight points, on two hard ‘takes’ to the hole by freshman Evan Horn, a driving lay-in from Josh Bucher and a Clay Penchard charity toss, to knot the score at 13 early in the second. But Hempfield closed out the first half with a 7-0 run of its own, to take a 29-20 advantage to the intermission.
Cedar Crest had enjoyed leads of 2-0 and 4-2, but none after that.
“I told our guys that Hempfield is a very good basketball team,” said Smith. “I told them, ‘if we bring our A-game, we win. But if we don’t win it, we lose by 20.’ That (his club) wasn’t the team we’ve seen the entire year.
Hempfield’s scoring attack, which featured five players in double figures, was led by 5-8 junior guard Tyrell Wickersham, who pumped in a game-high 17 points. Cedar Crest placed one scorer in double digits, Clay Penchard, who recorded 13 points.
Normally prolific from beyond the arc, the Falcons were held to two three-point field goals.
“He’s a tough guard,” said Smith of Wickersham. “The scouting report said he’s predominantly a shooter. He’s a heck of a ball player. On film, tonight was the best he played. He was tough. He was a difference maker. They’ve (the Black Knights) got some tough guards.
“Our defense was horrible,” added Smith. “That was the worst defense we played all year. In the first half, it wasn’t bad. Twenty-nine at halftime is right about where we want to be. In the second half, that was the worst half of defense we’ve played since I’ve been coaching.”
The Falcons opened the second half with a three-pointer and a drive by senior guard Killian Klopp to pull to within 29-25. But a few minutes later, they were held scoreless for a 2:14 stretch by a Hempfield unit that re-established its advantage to 42-31.
“You hit on it, offensive rebounds,” said Smith. “We continue to have problems big-time with (allowing) offensive rebounds. There wasn’t anything they (the Black Knights) were doing that gave us fits. They just out worked us.
“That’s what I’m chalking it (missed lay-ups) up to (a lack of concentration),” continued Smith. “I’ve got a talented team out there. There was absolutely a lack of focus.”
The two foul shots from Falcon Andrew Eudy that completed the third quarter and the two free throws by Penchard that began the final period drew Cedar Crest to within 46-38. But after that, it was all a Black Knight.
“Our goal is the same as it’s been, we want to be competitive in Section One,” said Smith. “We want to get one of the top two seeds for the league playoffs. If we do that, districts will take care of itself.
“I don’t know that after McCaskey, if there’s a team that stands out,” Smith added. “It’s kind of a pack. But if you don’t show up to play, you get pushed to the back of the pack.”