BY JEFF FALK
COATESVILLE – It was the alternate ending. Though never scripted, or perhaps even considered, it was the conclusion that had to happen if the storybook ending wasn’t available.
Battling the best team in the state of Pennsylvania tooth and nail – seeing exactly how it measured up – before going down in a blaze of glory, together.
If the Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team couldn’t win as a team, it sure as heck was going to lose as one.
On Wednesday night at Coatesville High School, the most cohesive and most successful group in Cedar Crest basketball history had its two-plus year run halted by powerful Roman Catholic, 53-35 in the second round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs. Battling a bigger, more athletic opponent and their own foul difficulties, the Falcons managed only 11 second-half points and were outscored by 22 points over the third and fourth quarters.
Cedar Crest, which forged its legacy from a family approach, team work, unselfishness and the experience of ten seniors, completed its year at 27-4 and as the runner-up from District Three. In their last 76 games over the past three seasons, the Falcons compiled an overall mark of 64-12.
Cedar Crest has won the last two Lancaster-Lebanon League and Section One championships.
Roman Catholic, the District 12 champion, number-one ranked team in the state of Pennsylvania and nationally recognized, improved to 26-2 overall.
“It’s hard to explain,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith after emerging from a sullen locker room. “These guys are best friends. They know each other so well that they finish each other’s sentences. They’re probably the most special group of kids I’ve ever been around. You name it, they’ve got it.
“Athletes always remember their last games, win or lose,” Smith continued. “They are pretty emotional right now. They care about this game, and each other. They’ve created a bond. The fact that they’re not going to be able to play together any more is ripping them apart.”
For as well as things went for the Falcons in the first half, they went as bad in the second. Cedar Crest struggled mightily to find any rhythm offensively and Roman Catholic appeared to make more of a concerted effort to get to the basket on the other end.
With Cedar Crest up a point, Roman Catholic notched the final five points of the third quarter and the initial bucket of the final stanza to assume a 35-29 margin it would never relinquish. Nick Miller stopped the Falcon bleeding with a hard drive to the hole, but it was only temporary.
Roman Catholic’s lead was 39-31, before Evan Horn converted a lay-in to bring Cedar Crest back to within six. But that would prove to be the Falcons’ last gasp.
Roman Catholic netted its final ten points at the charity stripe, as Falcon captains Andrew Eberhart and then Josh Bucher fouled out within 25 seconds of one another.
“This is what our kids wanted,” said Smith. “We always say, ‘to be the best you’ve got to beat the best’. They embraced this opportunity. They left it on the court. They’re (Roman Catholic) the number-one team in the state and nationally ranked for a reason.
“It’s probably going to take a little while to reflect on this,” continued Smith. “Since the time they walked into the gym as freshmen, we knew they were special. Every class has been a part of changing the culture of Cedar Crest basketball, but none more than this one.”
Cedar Crest enjoyed a 24-20 locker room lead, thanks in part to Horn’s buzzer-beating three-pointer. Earlier in the second period, the Falcons had run off seven straight points – five from Bucher and a steal and lay-in by Horn – to turn a 14-9 deficit into a 16-14 edge.
Horn scored all five of the Falcons’ third-quarter points, including a trey with 2:46 remaining in the period, to give his side a 29-28 edge.
“I thought we were getting looks, and we didn’t finish,” said Smith of the second half. “Their (Roman Catholic’s) length may have had something to do with that. I don’t know if they did anything more than pick up the intensity. We missed some shots in the second half. Eleven points in the second half isn’t going to get it done.
“I don’t think we executed our game plan,” added Smith. “It was a tale of two halves. They (Roman Catholic) were able to rebounds and get out in transition. They all go hand-in-hand. And we wanted to control our pace on offense.”
Cedar Crest held Roman Catholic without a point for the first four minutes of the game, then assumed a 9-4 advantage on two Eberhart baskets, a Horn tap and a Bucher trey. But Roman Catholic netted the next ten points and grabbed a 14-9 lead a minute into the second period.
“It’s a good measuring stick,” said Smith. “We believe we’re in the same conversation with them. I think we’re as good a team as they are.
“They (his players) were definitely down in the locker room,” Smith added. “Last year, the moment was uninterrupted. We made our run. We knew we were good. Today was our expectation. We expected to win. We weren’t content to be up at halftime against Roman Catholic.”
Horn collected a game-high 19 points, but only three other teammates scored. On 16-of-25 foul shooting, Roman Catholic outscored Cedar Crest by 13 points at the free throw line.
Cedar Crest made five of 23 field goal attempts in the second half.
“He’s a competitor,” said Smith of Horn. “What I got out of Evan Horn I expected out of Evan Horn. He played an Evan Horn game.
“I thought we did a good job of forcing them away from the basket in the first half, and they settled for jumpers,” continued Smith. “In the first half, we did a good job defensively, and in the second half, we did a good job defensively. Our kids are warriors. Roman Catholic isn’t the number-one team in the state for no reason.”
And this too shall pass. The only thing that remains are unforgettable memories.
Roman Catholic (53)
|6:30 PM||W 62-44|
|5:00 PM||W 70-60|
|7:30 PM||W 50-48|
|7:30 PM||W 65-27|
|7:30 PM||W 68-53|
|7:30 PM||W 74-45|
|7:30 PM||W 57-48|
|7:30 PM||W 46-43|
|7:30 PM||W 80-61|
|7:30 PM||W 53-42|
|7:30 PM||W 58-56|
|7:30 PM||W 55-33|
|7:30 PM||W 45-44|
|7:30 PM||W 66-23|
|7:30 PM||W 67-52|
|7:30 PM||W 59-42|
|7:30 PM||L 54-58|
|7:30 PM||W 58-54|
|7:30 PM||W 52-38|
|7:30 PM||L 57-60|
|7:30 PM||W 72-43|
|8:00 PM||W 68-46|
|7:00 PM||W 56-33|
|7:00 PM||W 45-40|
|7:00 PM||W 70-66|
|8:00 PM||W 52-38|
|1:00 PM||W 76-49|
|8:00 PM||W 58-49|
|1:00 PM||L 53-56|
|1:30 PM||W 63-47|
|7:30 PM||L 35-53|