SOUTH LEBANON – Not sure it was normal. Or even the new normal.
But it felt familiar enough. And that’s going to have to suffice for right now.
On Friday night at ‘The Cage’, the Cedar Crest girls’ basketball team opened a COVID-19 shortened and Coronavirus-delayed season with a 36-23 victory over Manheim Township. Following a somewhat expected slow start, the Falcons got hot at the end of the first half and carried that momentum into the early portions of the second.
The contest was the first in a season postponed for a month by the COVID-19. It also represented the first scholastic basketball game involving a Lebanon County squad in nearly ten months.
And if that wasn’t enough, it served as the Lancaster-Lebanon Section One opener for both Cedar Crest and Manheim Township.
“The word of the night is ‘Normalcy’,” said Cedar Crest’s first-year head coach Will Wenninger. “It felt normal. We were fortunate enough to win. But it’s normal to play a high school basketball game on a Friday night.
“These kids are going to be successful,” added Wenninger. “I can genuinely say that they understand and accept their roles in the institution of our program. We have a new normal, and that’s to stay safe and healthy. We want to have an opportunity to compete. We want to play hard. I think our version of fun is kids getting an opportunity in the new normal to compete. In this world of a pandemic, I’m not sure we can think about championships.”
Nursing a two-point halftime margin, Cedar Crest started the second half on fire.
On three-pointers from Sarah Laney and Reese Glover, and a stick-back by Laney, the Falcons outscored the Blue Streaks 9-0 over the initial 1:07 of the third period to establish a 21-11 cushion. Then, thanks to a Sarah Batra lay-in and a Mackenzie Kerkeslager triple, Cedar Crest ended the stanza with a 26-16 advantage.
“At halftime, we talked about our offensive sets and their zone and what they (the Blue Streaks) were doing as far as double-teaming in the post,” said Wenninger. “But what really made us look smart was we hit a couple of ‘threes’. We applied a little pressure, we felt good about ourselves and that’s what contributed to our success.
“Am I happy with the result? Absolutely,” Wenninger added. “I thought our kids did a tremendous job. I’m pretty pleased. But there’s always a but – we have a lot of work to do.”
With the exception of a Laney lay-up, the Falcons scored all of their fourth-quarter points at the charity stripe. A pair of foul shots from Kaya Camasta gave Cedar Crest a 30-19 lead with 3:38 remaining.
“I was just happy we could have a game,” said Wenninger. “We put our unis (uniforms) on, we had officials and we had some fans in the stands. Our kids are healthy. Our kids are very safe. But we played hard and we didn’t quit.”
Glover poured in a game-high 16 points to pace the Cedar Crest attack. Cedar Crest outscored Manheim Township 15-3 from beyond the arc, and the Falcons’ converted 11 of their 13 free throw attempts, compared to six-of-14 foul shooting by the Blue Streaks.
“We talk to the kids about defense,” said Wenninger. “We spend the majority of our time in practice on defense. We’re not real fancy. We’re going to get up on you and make you feel uncomfortable.
“We couldn’t shoot the ball as much as we wanted to (in practice),” continued Wenninger. “We couldn’t condition as much as we wanted to. We couldn’t prepare for our opponent as much as we wanted to. But the kids adjusted. The kids really responded.”
The Falcons did not score over the opening 5:42 of the contest, as Manheim Township was establishing a modest 4-0 lead. But Cedar Crest closed the first half on a 7-2 run – on the strength of five Glover points and a couple of free throws from Batra – to take a 13-11 edge to the break.
“With three minutes left in the second quarter, we started to gain a little composure,” said Wenninger. “We found out that there wasn’t a fire. How many points did we score in the first quarter? Three? That’s not good. But we composed ourselves. We settled down. The staff came up with some great adjustments at halftime. We started the second half well and the game never got closer than nine.
“The kids know that Mr. Wenninger is a little off. OK, maybe more than a little bit,” concluded Wenninger. “I hadn’t been a head coach at the high school level since 2007. Was I nervous? Absolutely. Was I so nervous that I was throwing up? No. It’s good to have a couple of butterflies in your stomach because it helps you focus.”