BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – It had it all – intensity, a great comeback, outstanding individual efforts, historical significance, a true sense of destiny and of course, drama.
It was the biggest win in the history of the Cedar Crest boys’ basketball program.
Andrew Eudy’s lay-in of a length-of-the-court pass from Evan Horn with no time showing on the clock lifted the Falcons to a 49-47 triumph over Central York, in a semifinal game of the District Three Class AAAA playoffs, played Tuesday night at Hershey’s Giant Center. With 1.7 seconds remaining, Eudy caught Horn’s perfectly throw baseball pass over the finger tips of two Central York defenders – ala Duke’s Christian Laettner in the 1992 NCAA tournament – and had the presence of mind and composure to turn, and take one long stride to the basket before laying it in.
Now commonly known as ‘The Play’ in South Lebanon, it capped a furious Cedar Crest comeback from a 13-point deficit with less than seven minutes to play. Cedar Crest outscored Central York 23-8 in the final quarter.
But Eudy and Horn’s collaboration was just one of a handful of big plays made by the Falcons in crunch time. Nick Miller’s driving lay-up with 17 seconds to go had knotted the score at 47, before Central York, out of a timeout, turned the ball over, with 1.7 seconds left.
Twenty-one seconds earlier, Hon misfired on two free throws which could’ve forged a tie. But after the second miss, the hustling sophomore stole a Central York pass, but missed a lay-up, as did teammate Soren Frost, who corralled his own miss and called a timeout, to set up Miller’s basket.
But what made all of those plays possible was a pair of ice-water-in-the-veins treys from senior Zach Gristick, 24 second apart from the same spot on the right wing. ‘Zach’s Jacks’ shaved Cedar Crest’s deficit from eight points to 46-44, with 1:43 to go.
“I asked him if he knew who Christian Laettner was,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith of the timeout prior to Eudy’s game-winner. “We just tried to do the best we can. We executed. The kid made a play. Then we really know how to celebrate.
“I think they (the Panthers) stopped being aggressive on the offensive end,” Smith continued. “And we started being aggressive on the offensive end. We just got momentum on our side. And Zach (Gristick) hit some bit threes.”
“We got in the huddle and coach said we were going to throw it to me,” said Eudy. “I know who Christian Laettner is, and that’s exactly what we called it in the huddle. It was a perfect pass. They (the Panthers) tried to go in front of me, but I got it.
“1.7 seconds is a lot longer than people think,” Eudy added. “When you’ve played the game as long as I have you get to know those things. I took one dribble and went up. I thought I did the right thing.”
Playing in its first District Three semifinal in 25 seasons, its ninth straight triumph propelled Cedar Crest, the now 25-4 third-seed, into its first District Three championship game in program history. That tilt will be played Saturday at 1 p.m. back at Giant Center, against York High, which clipped Hershey 69-58 in the other semifinal.
The setback dropped the second-seeded Panthers to 24-3. Earlier in the year, back on December 11, the Panthers had defeated the Falcons 69-65 in overtime, at Central York.
Cedar Crest’s 25 wins is the most in program history.
“I’d probably say at this point, it is the biggest win in program history,” said Smith. “But by no means are we satisfied. It is (the biggest win), as far as Cedar Crest basketball has gone.
“It didn’t look good,” added Smith. “But we never stopped believing. The coaches kept coaching their tails off. And the players kept playing their tails off. There was no quit in these guys.”
“It’s great to come here and play at Giant Center,” said Eudy. “We’ve never played here, so now we come here and compete in the district final, which has never happened in Cedar Crest history. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
Facing a 39-26 deficit at the start of the fourth period, Cedar Crest outscored Central York 10-2 in the initial four minutes of the frame to narrow its gap to five points. Miller hit four free throws in the stretch, Josh Bucher canned a pair, Seth Daubert took it strong to the hole and Eudy scored on a stick back.
“I think it was just a sense of urgency to get back in it,” said Smith. “Once they (his players) started to get that urgency, we got to the foul line. They’re (the Panthers) a good defensive team.
“It’s a special team,” Smith continued, “and they deserve it and I’m proud of them. It would’ve been easy to say, ‘it’s been a nice run’, and play out the fourth quarter.”
“It was a great comeback,” said Eudy. “Different people stepped up. That’s how it always is for us. We had nothing to lose.”
Very little went Cedar Crest’s way over the first three quarters.
After trailing 26-18 at the break, the Falcons trimmed Central York’s lead to six with Bucher’s drive down the lane two minutes into the second half. But the Panthers notched the next six points to stretch their lead to 34-22.
“For the first three quarters, no, we did not play well,” said Smith. “But over the last quarter, yes. We didn’t finish at the rim. We didn’t shoot well. We just didn’t score the basketball. The effort was there. We were trying. We just weren’t finishing.
“They (the Panthers) are the best defensive team I’ve coached against,” Smith continued. “They’re hard-nosed. They’re well-coached. They’re fundamentally sound. They were trying to keep Evan (Horn) out of the lane. And Evan’s a team player, and he wasn’t forcing things. And they’re (the Panthers) a good defensive team.”
“We were more aggressive in the fourth quarter, and spread the floor better,” said Eudy. “Once we got attacking the rim, we played our game.”
A stick back from Eudy three minutes into the second period knotted the score at 12. But the Panthers pieced together a 10-2 spurt over the next four minutes to open a 22-14 margin.
“Probably the last time we played bad was our last loss, at Warwick,” said Smith. “We just didn’t play our game. But that put pressure on us. We needed to get on a run to get to this point of the season.”
Cedar Crest found itself in an early 7-3 hole. But five unanswered points at the end of the opening period from super-sub Dominic Garloff gave Cedar Crest a 10-9 edge.
“The fans have really rallied behind us,” said Smith. “Before we started winning, they didn’t make it to the end of games. Now we’re getting awesome support. You don’t get here without great fans.”
Miller paced the Falcons’ balanced attack with 12 points, while Gristick’s three treys equaled nine points. Cedar Crest nailed 13 of its 19 free throw attempts.
“No, he doesn’t have a limit to his range,” said Smith of Gristick. “In practice, if he misses a few, we tell him to move closer to the line, but he takes a few steps back. He sits on the bench for long stretches of the game and waits for his chance. And when we call his name, he responds.”
LEBANON COUNTY DISTRICT THREE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
Cedar Crest: None.
Lebanon: 1936 (single class), 1940 (A*).
Lebanon Catholic: (All A) 2000, 2005, 2006, 2013
Northern Lebanon: None.
Palmyra: 1949 (B*), 1957 (B*), 1996 (AAA)
Cedar Crest: 1976 (AAA), 1991 (AAAA), 1994 (AAAA), 2003 (AAAA).
Elco: 1997 (AA), 1999 (AAA), 2001 (AAA).
Lebanon: 1980 (AAA).
Lebanon Catholic: (All A) 1980, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2012.
Northern Lebanon: None.
Palmyra: 2013 (AAA)