LANCASTER – They didn’t play like they had never been there before.
They played like they hadn’t been there in 37 years. Like they had earned it. Like they cherished it. Like they belonged. Like they never want to leave.
On Monday night at Lancaster Catholic High School, the Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team made their first venture into the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs since 1976 a memorable one by knocking off the host Crusaders 53-49 in a hard-fought, quarterfinal tussle. After surrendering a ten-point first-half lead, the Falcons won it with critical, big-time plays in crunch time.
Lancaster Catholic led 45-40 midway through the final stanza, before back-to-back treys from senior sniper Killian Klopp and consecutive moves in the paint from fellow senior Clay Penchard gave the Falcons the lead for good, up 50-49 with 2:05 remaining. Thanks in part to a huge block by CC center Andrew Eudy, Lancaster Catholic didn’t score over the contest’s final 2:48, as Klopp iced the outcome with three charity tosses over the final 48 seconds.
The win moved the Section One runner-up Falcons to 15-8 overall and into Wednesday’s league semifinals opposite Elizabethtown, which beat Lampeter-Strasburg 47-43. The 7 p.m. contest is slated for Hempfield High School.
Lancaster Catholic, the champions of Section Four, dropped to 16-7 on the season.
“We talked all week about how we liked to be here,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith. “It’s a privilege, an honor they (his players) earned. So I told them, ‘You deserve to be here, go out and enjoy it.’ I expected nothing less from this group.
“We were definitely on our heels there,” said Klopp of his key threes. “I just wanted to get the crowd settled down. It settled our team down, and we made a push. My team never quits.
“We’re definitely happy,” Klopp continued, “but we’re definitely not satisfied. We want to get to the championship game. Maybe see McCaskey and maybe give them a game.”
With the Crusaders breaking down the CC man-to-man off the dribble, Lancaster Catholic opened the fourth quarter with a 10-2 burst to grab a five-point lead. The Crusaders, who faced a 27-21 deficit at the break, had pulled to within 31-29 of the Falcons midway through the third period.
“We played up and down. And in spurts,” said Smith. “Obviously we came out very hot, and a lot of shots fell. They (the Crusaders) definitely locked us down and and they turned us over a bunch (20) of times. We were playing on our heels from the second quarter on.
“I think their (the Crusaders’) game plan was to keep us out of the paint, especially Clay (Penchard),” Smith continued. “It opened up a little bit, and he (Penchard) got into it. My two seniors (Penchard and Klopp) have made big play after big play after big play all season. And tonight was no different.”
“I don’t think any part of my game affects my shot,” said Klopp. “This summer I practiced a lot with my range. My teammates find me when I’m open. When I get a rhythm, I feel comfortable shooting it, any time from anywhere.”
Klopp, Penchard and Andrew Eudy combined to score 50 of their team’s total of 53 points. Klopp counted 22, Penchard contributed 16 and Eudy collected a dozen.
“The key for us was number 12,” said Smith of Klopp. “He hit some big shots when we were struggling. He’s hit big shots for us all year. For the last three years he’s been hitting big shots. He brought us back, and got us over the edge. I think he hit three shots down the stretch, and all three were huge. At that point in time, I think our kids realized they were still fighting.
“We knew we had a little bit of a size advantage,” Smith added. “Andrew (Eudy) carried us early. He had six or seven blocks tonight, and he really helped us out on the defensive end.”
“We were definitely trying to get the ball inside,” said Klopp. “We knew nobody could handle Eudy inside.
“Evan’s (Horn) very effective,” Klopp continued. “He always plays the other team’s best player. He’s very quick and elusive. He has a good first step and once he gets into the lane he can score. And he’s a freshman.”
With Penchard and Eudy notching four points apiece, and Klopp and Seth Daubert each nailing treys, Cedar Crest opened an early 14-4 bulge. The opening quarter concluded with the Falcons sitting on a 16-10 cushion.
“It was definitely a new situation for us,” said Smith. “But we won nine of ten to get here. We were believing in ourselves. And the kids believe. We liked the match-up. We thought we had a chance.
“This (the league playoffs) was a goal for them all year,” continued Smith. “We talked about it. They (his players) embraced it. They wanted it. But as the game wore on, the emotions wore off.”
“I really don’t get nervous,” said Klopp. “But before the game I felt some jitters. After the tip-off, we all settled down. And in the end, we finally overcame it.”
“In the huddle, the last thing I said to the guys was: ‘Fight through the lows. Fight through the highs. Just keep fighting,’ said Smith. ” ‘If we get stops, we’re going to get scores.’
“In our losses early on, we didn’t handle pressure and turned the ball over,” Smith added. “Down the stretch, we really did a good job of protecting the ball.”
“As little kids, me and Clay always played together,” said Klopp of Penchard. “Our goal was always to play at Giant Center. But the last few years we haven’t been close.
“But I consider me and Clay complete opposites,” added Klopp. “He’s a slasher and I’m the shooter.”