BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – Start fast. Finish strong.
For one night, it was a formula that served the Lebanon boys’ basketball team well. Now what the Cedars would like to do is replicate that equation, and apply it about 22 more times between now and March.
On Friday night, Lebanon High opened a season full of hope with a 50-36 triumph over Elco, in the opening round of its booster club’s tip-off tournament. In never trailing, the Cedars got off to a hot start, opened a working margin near the end of the first half and then pulled away in the third quarter.
Not only did the outcome provide the Cedars with a positive start to the 2012-13, it also propelled them into Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. championship game of their tournament, against Muhlenberg, which dusted West Perry 61-36 in Friday’s first game. Elco will take on West Perry at 6 p.m. on Saturday, in the consolation contest.
The Cedars are coming off a 2012-13 season in which a furious finish qualified them for districts. They ended that year 13-10.
“I thought we played well,” said Lebanon head coach Tim Speraw. “We had our low moments, but we definitely had more good moments. But overall, I’m pleased with their effort.
“They (his players) were itching to play,” Speraw continued. “They were sick of beating up on each other. It was a lot of fun.”
“I’ve been looking forward to it,” said Elco head coach Brad Conners, whose club went 4-18 in 2012-13. “The kids have been looking forward to it. It’s never as bad as it seems. It’s never as good as it seems.
“We knew they were coming with pressure,” Conners continued. “What we do at practice against eight players was better than what we did tonight. We thought we’d play well, so this is frustrating. We never found a rhythm, never. But I’m young in some key spots.”
Lebanon High’s strong start set the tone for the entire contest.
Employing an active 2-3 zone, the Cedars held Elco without a score for the opening 5:15, and opened an eight-point lead. Jorian Ginnetto knocked down six consecutive free throws in Lebanon High’s grand opening, while fellow senior Blayde Reich added a thunderous dunk off an offensive rebound.
“We got to the foul line early and we made our foul shots,” said Speraw. “Tonight we were 20 for 24, which is incredible for us. It was a concern for us.
“We wanted to set the tone,” Speraw continued. “We didn’t want them to dictate to us. We played some zone, some man and some press. We have a lot of athletic guys. We can change things on the fly and not lose anything.”
“Timmy does a great job,” said Conners of his opposite number. “They (the Cedars) come up and pressure you and force you to do things you don’t want to do. And then they finish plays.
“They (the Cedars) shot their free throws well,” continued Conners. “I felt like they hit every free throw. They went into a little zone, but Timmy has them playing hard.”
Elco guard Austen Davis finally got his side on the board, with a three-pointer with 2:45 left in the opening stanza. Then Brayden Smith knocked down another Raider trey 48 seconds into the second quarter to pull Elco to within 14-11.
But the Cedars, playing without Ginetto, who was on the bench with foul trouble, notched 17 of the next 21 points to open a 31-15 bulge. Kristian Sanchez came off the bench to register seven points for LHS during the span, while Reich and Matty Lopez contributed five points apiece.
“We’re a deep team,” said Speraw. “And we’re still trying to figure out roles for the kids. Just about everybody got an opportunity tonight. All 11 guys played.
“I definitely learned some stuff about our guys,” Speraw added. “It’s hard in practice sometimes. It was fun to come out and be in front of a crowd and play another team.”
“But we came back and it was only five,” said Conners of the Raiders’ early deficit. “It wasn’t like it was out of reach. But they (the Cedars) got a couple of scores and it affected us on the offensive end. It evolved quickly.”
Reich tallied a team-high 14 points for the Cedars, including six-for-seven free throwing. Ginetto went seven-for-seven at the line and collected 11 points. Colton Lawrence paced Elco with 14 points.
Thanks to its hot shooting, Lebanon High outscored Elco, which went six-for-16, by 14 points at the charity stripe. The Cedars also out rebounded the Raiders 23-14.
“Blayde Reich’s coming around,” said Speraw. “I thought he played really well tonight. He’s grown into his body.
“Elco’s going to be all right,” added Speraw. “They’re young. They’re still trying to find out who they are as a team. They didn’t lay down. They’re going to win some games.”
“We wanted to stay spaced on offense, and we didn’t,” Conners said. “We were running backdoors into our teammates. There were times tonight when we got in each other’s way.”
Lebanon High held Elco scoreless for another 3:29 stretch to open the second half, and assumed a 37-18 margin on a drive to the hole from Lopez. The Raiders did win the final quarter by a 12-9 tally.
“Our goals never change,” said Speraw. “We’re trying to win the section (Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League). We want to get into districts and see what happens, and get to states.”
“We want to start a little faster this year,” said Conners. “The section may have dropped a little bit. But we expect to have more wins than last year. We talk about .500. That’s what we’re looking at. But this is one game.”
Lebanon Tip-Off Tournament
De. Miller 1 0-0 2, Du. Miller 0 1-3 1, Davis 3 0-2 7, Buchmoyer 3 0-1 6, Lawrence 4 5-10 14, Kline 0 0-0 0, Stoops 0 0-0 0, Smith 1 0-0 3, Starry 1 0-0 3.
Totals — 13 6-16 36
Hitz 0 0-0 0, Sanders 1 0-0 2, Sanchez 2 4-4 9, Eisenhour 1 0-0 2, Pyles 0 0-0 0, De La Cruz 0 0-0 0, Escoto 0 0-0 0, Lopez 3 2-4 9, Ortiz 1 1-2 3, Reich 4 6-7 14, Ginnetto 2 7-7 11.
Totals — 14 20-24 50.
Elco 8 10 6 12 — 36
Lebanon 12 20 9 9 — 50
3-point goals — Elco 4 (Davis, Lawrence, Smith, Starry), Lebanon 2 (Sanchez, Lopez).
Total Fouls — Elco 18, Lebanon 21.
Fouled Out — None