BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – Disciplinary actions, injuries and suspensions have been the leading causes of the Lebanon boys’ basketball team’s inconsistencies this season.
But now that everyone’s back and healthy, the Cedars are faced with a new dilemma: Who’s going to play? When? And with whom?
On Saturday morning at Hershey’s Giant Center, in the quarterfinals of the District Three Class AAAA playoffs, Lebanon’s lack of flow, chemistry and court balance contributed heavily to its 55-39 loss to Wilson. The Cedars probably played well enough defensively to prevail, but couldn’t figure out what to do with the Bulldogs’ zone defense and at times, their own rotations.
Eleventh-seeded Lebanon, which was coming off its biggest win of the season, Wednesday at Harrisburg, fell to 16-9 and into the loser’s bracket of the event. With a PIAA playoff berth already secured, the Cedars will play for seeding in that tournament, beginning on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Cumberland Valley High School.
Well-schooled and 14th-seed Wilson will carry an 18-8 mark into Tuesday’s District Three Class AAAA semifinal.
“It’s tough at times, especially having Camryn (Shaak) and Felix (Kortright) back healthy,” said Lebanon head coach Tim Speraw. “That gives us ten guys we’re trying to rotate. You’ve got to see who’s playing well and shooting well and go with those guys more.
“I think most coaches want to get a nice tight, eight-man rotation,” continued Speraw. “But with injuries and discipline and suspensions, we’ve had so much turnover. That definitely takes a toll on the consistency. You’ve got to come to play, and play with enthusiasm. Today, I think that was our biggest problem.”
At one point, the Cedars had four ‘bigs’ on the floor together. At another time, they had four guards out there.
When Lebanon’s offensive struggles were most glaring was at the beginning of the second half. Down only a single digit, the Cedars went the first 3:45 of the third quarter without a point, during which time Wilson extended its lead to 29-20.
Shaq Ortiz stopped the Cedar bleeding with a stick-back, and then a free throw, but Lebanon wouldn’t come any closer the rest of the way. The Bulldogs closed the stanza with a 6-2 spurt and a 35-25 advantage.
“I don’t think we played with the same enthusiasm as we did on Wednesday,” said Speraw. “I’m disappointed with that. I’m not sure if it was the big stage,the fact that it was a bigger game or what.
“Yeah, that’s (no one’s ever sure what they’re going to get out of the Cedars) an accurate assessment,” Speraw continued. “We prepare the same way. Sometimes they (his players) come out with fire in their eyes. Other times, I feel like they’re just going through the motions.”
The only time Lebanon was able to shave its deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter was at 41-32, thanks to an Alan Escoto drive with five minutes to go. But the Cedars again went cold – on this occasion it was a three-minute stretch – and Wilson’s lead ballooned to 49-32.
“It was just missed shot and missed lay-ups,” said Speraw. “I didn’t think we were taking bad shots. We just weren’t knocking them down. And turnovers. We had too many turnovers.
“I didn’t think we did a horrible job of attacking their zone,” added Speraw. “We didn’t knock down as many shots as we could’ve or should’ve. Sometimes this place is a little different for shooters.”
Ortiz showed the way for the Cedars with 17 points. But no teammate scored more than six points.
Lebanon managed just 12 total field goals.
“This was the first time we played here,” said Speraw. “It was a goal of their’s (his players) to play here. One of the things we talked about was: ‘This place is big, but a loss would be bigger’.
“We’ve got two more games in districts before states,” Speraw added. “We’re going to see what happens. If it’s a game, we’re going to come to compete. We’re going to play hard, no matter if we won or lost today.”
Lebanon experimented with lineups and rotations during a first half in which it played ten players. Facing a 19-14 deficit, the Cedars got back-to-back three-pointers from Logan Blouch in the final 1:41 of the second period, and only trailed 21-20 at the intermission.
“We had them (the Bulldogs) at 21 points at halftime,” said Speraw. “That’s where I expected us to be. I just wasn’t happy about our 20. We had missed assignments at times, but I don’t think we did all that badly on defense.
“I knew coming in that they’re (the Bulldogs) an incredibly well-coached team,” continued Speraw. “He (Wilson head coach Matt Coldren) does a great job every year, no matter what he has. They were prepared.”
The Cedars’ biggest lead of the game came at 8-5, courtesy of a jump hook from Khalique Washington. A couple of charity tosses from Ortiz knotted the score at ten, and a drive by Ortiz tied the game at 12.
But Lebanon High went without a point for a 4:13 span in the middle of the second quarter, and Wilson opened a 19-14 margin.
“Yesterday morning, the doctors gave him the 100 percent go-ahead,” said Speraw of Shaak’s return from a leg injury. “He’s been shooting. He finished his rehab. He was good enough to play. I knew his conditioning wouldn’t be up to par. But he gave good energy.”
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