BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – They don’t award style points in basketball, especially in the playoffs. No matter what it looks like, somewhere along the way not only did the Lebanon boys’ basketball team learn how to win, it turned it into a craft.
On Wednesday night at Annville-Cleona High School, in a semifinal contest of the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs, the Cedars’ attention to detail served them well down the stretch, during a 48-41 victory over Manheim Central. With the outcome on the line, Lebanon High performed admirably on defense, made big plays when asked of it and made enough free throws to decide it.
Not only did the triumph propel the now 17-7 Section Two champs into Saturday afternoon’s L-L title tilt at Manheim Township, it also set up their circuit’s first-ever all-Lebanon County championship contest. Waiting for the Cedars will be rival and Section One champion Cedar Crest, which dispatched Lancaster Mennonite 58-49 in the other semifinal, at Warwick.
But before that for the Cedars there’s the matter of a District Three Class AAAA play-in game with Waynesboro, at home on Friday at 7 p.m. That particular playoff affair has the power to extend Lebanon’s season.
Manheim Central, the Section Three title holders, fell to 21-3 overall.
“We’ve been winning ugly all year,” said Lebanon head coach Tim Speraw. “But I wouldn’t even consider this an ugly win. I’m proud of my kids. I’m just so happy for them. Hats off to Central. They’re young, and they’re going to be good.
“There have been times when we’ve come out and struggled,” continued Speraw. “But tonight we came out with energy and intensity. We didn’t wait for the other guy to dive for a loose ball. We dove first.”
The Cedars gained control of the outcome with their defense. They held Manheim Central without a point for the initial 3:12 of the fourth quarter and opened a huge 12-point lead.
Reserve Jahlil Ortiz registered two key buckets, Luke Eisenhour nailed a dagger of a three-pointer and Matty Lopez stroked a short jumper, as Lebanon turned a three-point edge into a 38-26 advantage. Though the Barons would pull to within seven points and then four points of the lead, the Cedars converted eight of 13 charity tosses and got a critical tap from Lopez over the final 3:45 to ice it.
“The kids were amped up all day,” said Speraw, whose club had to go to overtime on Tuesday night to beat Lancaster Catholic. “They would’ve been ready to play at 7 a.m.. I don’t know if it was the quick turnaround, but our kids were able to keep their focus, just in terms of knowing the scouting reports.
“We just stayed the course,” added Speraw. “We stuck with the game plan. We knew they (the Barons) were going to get their points. But I thought we did a great job of defending all night.”
Down two at the intermission, the Cedars got a tying steal and lay-in from Jeremy De La Cruz and a pair of go-ahead foul shots from Blayde Reich to open the second half of play. Reich closed out the third period with an athletic ‘take to the basket’ that gave Lebanon a 29-26 lead.
“I thought we came out with a great focus to stop people,” said Speraw. “Our focus was really on (Matt) Walsh and (Taylor) Funk, and just trying to contain them.”
With emotional leader Jorian Ginnetto held to four points, Reich really stepped up in a big way for Lebanon and recorded a game-high 18 points. The Cedars also received a key contribution of 17 combined points from their bench.
Funk went for 16 Manheim Central points and Walsh added 15. Lebanon made good on 11 of its 21 free throw attempts.
“I was talking to Coach (Carlos) Sanchez and I thought the game really relied on how Blayde played, both offensively and defensively,” said Speraw. “He came to play, and he really brought it on the offensive end. Jahlil’s a spark. There’s time the game doesn’t fit him. But tonight the game fit him.
“We pride ourselves in being deep overall,” Speraw added. “We’re hoping to go to our bench, because we feel our bench is better than their’s. We have confidence in the kids. And they have confidence in themselves.”
Reserve Noah Sanders’ three-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer gave the Cedars an 8-5 edge heading into the second. But the Barons held Lebanon scoreless for the first five minutes of the period to grab a 15-8 lead.
The Cedars responded with six Reich points and a Ginnetto bucket to get back to within 17-16.
“The way I’ve always coached, the most important game is the next game,” said Speraw of the play-in game with Waynesboro that will precede the title game with Cedar Crest. “It’s going to be tough to keep the kids focused on the next one, even though Cedar Crest is after that.
“Every year I’ve been here, we’ve talked about going back to the league championship game,” continued Speraw. “It’s kind of been motivation for us. We don’t care who we play. But it’s great having an all-Lebanon County final.”
After the game, L-L officials squelched the rumor that they were considering changing the name of the local boys’ basketball circuit to the Lebanon-Lancaster League.