NEFFSVILLE – It needed to play the perfect game. And given the way it had been competing, that prospect wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.
For a half, that possibility began to look more and more like a probability. But then the Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team discovered just how small its margin for error really was.
On Friday night at Manheim Township High School, the Falcons historic run through the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs came to a screeching halt, in the second half of the tournament’s championship game. McCaskey’s talented Red Tornado exposed a Crest weakness, exploited it and ran away with a 62-41 victory, and their record 13th league title.
In the first half, the Falcons continued to play some of their best basketball of the season and took a precarious two-point lead to the locker room. But during the decisive third quarter, one which saw McCaskey outscore Cedar Crest 21-8, the Red Tornado’s full-court pressure got to the Falcons a bit, before Crest began to hoist up some ill-advised shots.
No huge mistakes. But mistakes none-the-less.
The loss was only the Falcons’ second in its last 13 outings, but both have come at the hands of the Red Tornado. In fact, McCaskey, the second-seeded team in the District Three Class AAAA playoffs and the fourth-ranked team in the state, has now beaten Cedar Crest three times this year, including a 99-48 walloping in Lancaster on Jan. 7.
Cedar Crest will carry a 16-9 overall mark and an eleven-seed into its District Three Class AAAA quarterfinal game at number-six Chambersburg on Wednesday. The win was McCaskey’s 23rd straight and lifted it to 23-2 overall.
“I thought we had to play our best game to beat those guys,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith. “We did a good job. The biggest thing in the second half was we needed to make shots, and if we did, it would’ve been a different game. I thought we played well. Our kids competed, like they always do.
“I can’t say enough about my seniors (Killian Klopp and Clay Penchard),” Smith continued. “They’ve played their tails off all season, and they made big play after big play during this stretch. It’s been a great ride and the best part is that it’s not over yet. We lost to a very good team. We played one of the best teams in the state and we played them tough.”
“I don’t think we had to play a perfect game, but we had to play our best game this year,” said Klopp. “We had a good game plan coming in. We wanted them to come to us, instead of us going to them.
“I’ll never forget this,” Klopp added. “It’s just such a good group of guys. Our JV team has been to every game. We have guys who aren’t getting the minutes they want, on the bench cheering. We have one goal left to achieve, going to the Giant Center.”
Not only did the Red Tornado pressure create turnovers and transition baskets in the second half, but McCaskey also got run-outs on long rebounds of missed CC shots. McCaskey scored the first six points of the third quarter to grab a 27-23 advantage it would never give up.
A buzzer-beating three-pointer capped an 8-1 run with which McCaskey closed out the third period, and the Red Tornado took a 42-31 lead to the fourth. By the midway point of the final quarter, the Red Tornado was sitting on a 51-34 cushion.
“Defensively, we wanted to switch things up on them and make them think,” said Smith of the Red Tornado. “We wanted to play the game at our pace, not their’s. But in the second half they picked up the tempo. They put the press on. Our offensive possessions weren’t patient. We were taking quick shots and not making them.
“Give credit to McCaskey. They did what they do best,” added Smith. “I don’t think the press killed us. I think the worst thing was the tempo we played at.”
“Our team definitely has a lot of fight in it,” said Klopp. “I didn’t doubt them (his teammates) at all, until we got down 13 or 14 points with a couple of minutes left. It’s hard to beat a good team three times in a season. And we’re a good team.”
In the first half, the Falcons performed much like they did in wins over Elizbathetown and Lancaster Catholic earlier in the week, patient on offense, scrappy on defense and confidently composed.
Late in the opening period, Klopp netted five unanswered points, to turn a 7-6 deficit into an 11-7 lead. Cedar Crest also led by four points at 20-16, courtesy of a lay-in from Andrew Eudy 3:46 before halftime, and at 22-18, on an inside move by Eudy 1:21 later.
“We played awesome in the first half,” said Smith. “We wanted to have great offensive possessions. We made some shots, and if we could’ve kept them off the glass, we would’ve had an eight- or ten-point lead.
“Our coaching points were: great offensive possessions,” Smith added, ” ‘Let’s not hurt ourselves with turnovers’, and we had to get back in transition.”
“We wanted to do exactly what we did in the first half,” said Klopp. “Let them come to us. We just wanted to play solid defense, a 2-3 zone on made baskets and man-to-man on misses. We wanted to be patient on offense. The whole thing was to be patient on offense.
“They’re a good team. They’re tough,” added Klopp. “They just have so many threats. Their whole starting lineup is an offensive threat. They have a bunch of Division One athletes, and kids like that can take over a game.”
With 15 points, Klopp was the only Cedar Crest scorer to reach double digits. The Falcons did leave some points out there by missing ten free throws.
McCaksey outscored Cedar Crest 15-6 from beyond the arc.
“It (playing in front of a boisterous and supportive crowd) was great,” said Smith. “It was something we talked about before the game. Cedar Crest basketball, for a long time, hasn’t been as competitive. I told our guys, ‘If you want to play in front of crowds, you have to start to win.’ This atmosphere was awesome, but the kids deserved to play in it.
“It’s (the season to this point) very satisfying,” Smith continued. “I hate losing. I don’t want to lose at anything. One of the things I tell my kids, ‘If you give it your all, you can sleep at nights.’ You don’t have to like losing, but you can accept it. But we’re not done yet. We have some goals left to accomplish.”
“It would feel good (to be the group that turned the program around),” said Klopp. “We definitely think we put Cedar Crest basketball back on the map. I have a lot of faith in the coming years. I know they’re going to be winners.”
And that may be the best consolation prize of all.