BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY LORI MESSERSMITH
READING – The baskets were ten feet off the floor.
The ball was orange and 29.5 inches in diameter.
The court was 84 feet long by 50 feet wide.
Each side played with five players.
It was just a game! Or was it?
On Saturday night at Reading High’s Geigle Complex, the Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team treated its 31st game of the season pretty much the same way it had the previous 30, despite the fact that it was the Falcons’ first state playoff contest in 25 years. Cedar Crest simply did what it did, and ‘Falcon Basketball’ was good enough to score a 66-52 triumph over Spring-Ford, in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAAA tournament.
What the Falcons do is come in waves, share the ball and the spotlight and play pressure, trapping defense. Quality-wise, it was difficult to distinguish whether or not the Falcons played any better or worse than they had all year.
The victory moved Cedar Crest, the runner-up from District Three, to 26-5 and into Wednesday’s Round of 16, opposite LaSalle College, which took care of Conestoga 64-58. The site and time of that next step has yet to be announced.
Spring-Ford, the seventh-place team out of District One, completed its campaign at 24-5.
“No it wasn’t just another game, but our kids approach every game the same,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith. “We have a focused group of kids. It was a big game for us, but our kids approached it like any other game. At this point of the season, it’s survive and advance.”
“To me, it was just another game,” said Falcon sophomore standout Evan Horn. “To our fans, it was the first state playoff game in a lot of years. You always think states when you come to the Geigle Complex. As long as we come out and play, it’s another game.
“Treating it as just another game means just being ourselves,” Horn continued. “Playing basketball. When we start thinking too much, that’s when we get into trouble. When we just play, I know we’ll be all right. All we want to do is survive, and keep winning.”
And for the Falcons, ‘playing its game’ also means making plays – something which they did a lot more of in the second half. After struggling to find the right combinations in the first half, Cedar Crest hit the Rams with a devastating 9-0 burst in the middle of the third period.
With its man-to-man defense holding Spring-Ford off the scoreboard for a four-minute stretch, Cedar Crest was getting four points from senior Andrew Eudy, three from Horn and two Seth Daubert foul shots. The run turned a three-point Cedar Crest margin into a 39-27 Falcon advantage, with 3:23 of the third quarter remaining.
“The one thing I know is we’re going to compete,” said Smith. “I don’t worry about not stepping up or not playing our best. We’re going to have a chance because our kids compete. And we think our depth is going to keep us in games.
“We thought this was maybe one of our most complete games in quite a while,” Smith added. “Playing 11 or 12 guys, they are not missing a beat. That really makes a difference.”
“It was a complete game, definitely,” said Horn. “It was the best game we played in a while. Yeah, we have been playing pretty well.But scoring-wise, it was one of our better games.”
Cedar Crest kept pouring it on, and its momentum spilled over into the final period. A 9-2 Falcon run capped off by Eudy’s inside move with 4:20 remaining, jacked the CC lead to 54-37.
Falcon Nick Miller netted ten of his 13 points in the period.
“We were ready,” said Smith. “It was a long lay-off. But give the credit to the kids. They came out to practice and got better. At this point of the season, we just did a little game planning and tried to stay crisp on our stuff.
“We are fortunate to be very deep,” Smith continued. “We want to play pressure defense all game. We heard their point guard runs the pick-and-roll as well as anyone we’ve seen. And the kids did a nice job of defending it.”
In addition to Miller, the Falcons attack offered 17 points from Eudy, 12 from Bucher and 11 points and 11 rebounds by Horn. Cedar Crest outscored Spring-Ford 37-27 over the second half.
“It’s all similar to everyone else’s,” said Horn of his role on the team. “It’s depth. I’m a driver. I’m a driver and a kicker. If we need a spark, I’ve got to get to the rim. You’ve got to play it as the game plays out. When the team needs me to go, I go.”
Horn helped set the tone for the Falcons, as he tallied three early points as part of their 5-0 lead. Then Eudy, Zach Gristick and Jimmy Kern got into the act during a 9-2 CC run that pushed its advantage to 14-8.
And when Gristick drained a trey 44 seconds into the second stanza, Cedar Crest had a 19-10 cushion.
“We knew those two kids (Nick Stanek and Drew Kakareka) were the keys. They really make their team go,” said Smith of the Rams. “We just did a real nice job defensively on (number) 40. Whether it was Nick Miller or Andrew Eudy, we really defended him well.
“What we knew about them (the Rams) was that they were undefeated in their league, that they were very athletic and had good size,” Smith continued. “We thought they ran a nice offense. But we felt we matched up well with them athletically. They were better than everyone else in their league, athletically.”
Despite squandering their nine-point second-quarter advantage, the Falcons did manage to take a lead to the break, thanks to the play of a couple of reserve guards. Dominic Garloff connected on a driving lay-in, and Kern worked his way inside with six seconds left, to give Cedar Crest a 29-25 margin in the locker room.