BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY LORI MESSERSMITH
LEBANON – The championship of the Lebanon Tip-Off Tournament means more to the host than any other club. The way the Lebanon boys’ basketball team has it figured it could very well serve as sort of practice – and perhaps precedence – for more meaningful championships down the road.
On Saturday night, the Cedars captured the championship of their annual opening-season event by downing Muhlenberg 58-48 in the final game. Thanks to some crucial plays in crunch time by tournament MVP Jorian Ginnetto and some timely free throw shooting by Lebanon, the final score did not reflect how competitive and close the contest was throughout.
In moving to 2-0 and winning the title of their tip-off tournament for the third time in four years, Lebanon High outscored the Mules 13-3 over the final four minutes of the fourth quarter. The loss dropped Muhlenberg to 1-1.
“It was definitely a goal,” said Lebanon High head coach Tim Speraw of the title. “It was our first championship game of the season. The kids stepped up in a big game. It was our biggest so far. You prep the whole year for the postseason because you want to extend your year, hopefully into February.
“We’re deep and we have different guys stepping up,” Speraw continued. “It seemed like each in each quarter, somebody different contributed.”
Ginnetto was the Cedar who stepped up in the fourth quarter. His lay-in with 3:23 remaining gave the Cedars a 48-45 lead, and a Ginnetto inside maneuver with 1:49 to go put Lebanon up 50-47.
The Cedars closed out Muhlenberg by going eight-for-eight at the charity stripe over the final 1:02, as Ginnetto, Matty Lopez and Luke Eisenhour took care of their business.
“What I remember was just the kids coming together on the floor and starting to talk more,” said Speraw of crunch time. “They could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the seniors stepped up. And we made some free throws, again.
“It was a good game,” added Speraw. “They’re (the Mules) a tough team. They matched our athleticism. They had more intensity than us in the first half and that’s how they built their lead. But it was a really good team win.”
After facing a nine-point deficit early in the third quarter, the Cedars rattled off ten unanswered and took a 38-28 edge on a Ginnetto bucket with 2:45 remaining. Earlier in the period, Eisenhour had nailed a pair of key treys, while Lopez contributed a third.
“We’re still trying to figure that out,” said Speraw of his team’s identity. “We know we’re deep. We can go eight or nine, and anyone can step up and carry us. That was very evident today.
“Luke Eisenhour hit some big threes,” Speraw continued. “And Matty Lopez came up with some big plays. Jeremy De La Cruz did a good job of shutting down Flynn. Mark (Pyles) was Mark. He’s our glue. It’s a cliche, but I truly have a quarterback on the court.”
Ginnetto finished with a game-high 25 points, on nine field goals and six-of-eight foul shooting. Lopez netted 13 points and joined Ginnetto on the all-tournament team.
On 18-of-26 foul shots, Lebanon outscored the Mules by ten at the line. The Cedars also converted twice as many three-point field goals as Muhlenberg.
“Last night (Friday), Jorian was so amped up to play,” said Speraw. “I thought tonight he just played within himself, and just kept fighting and battling. He was a beast inside, and he stuck with our game plan. He was a warrior.”
By holding Lebanon High pointless over the first 3:31 of the second period, Muhlenberg managed to open a 20-9 lead. But the Cedars hit the Mules with a 9-2 spurt – a three-pointer from Noah Sanders, a nifty reverse by Lopez, a conventional three-point play from Ginnetto and a charity toss by Blayd Reich – to close to within 22-18.
On a three-pointer by Ginnetto and a steal and lay-up from Pyles, the Cedars notched the last two baskets before the break, and trailed 26-23 in the locker room.
“They out played us in the first half, bottom line,” said Speraw. “We got a little closer before halftime, but they (the Mules) were more physical and more intense than us.
“All we knew about them was what we saw last night (Friday),” Speraw continued. “We knew physically they could match up with us. They have some tough players.”