BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – What makes a Falcon’s eyesight its most dangerous attribute is the unique ability to be both near-sighted and far-sighted at the same time.
With an eye on the future, the Cedar Crest boys’ basketball team is firmly focused on the present.
On Thursday night at the Falcon Cage, the present made Cedar Crest’s future appear very bright. The more athletic Falcons played hard and played together and dusted Ephrata 58-40.
The Falcons turned up the defensive volume in the middle of the third quarter and the resulting run-outs and easy buckets led to an overwhelming 23-2 run that settled the issue. No less than four Cedar Crest scorers found their way to double-digits.
With the triumph, Cedar Crest improved to 5-8 on the year and 3-6 in Section One of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. While the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs seem to be a far-off dream for the Falcons, they remain alive for a District Three Class AAAA postseason spot.
The loss dropped Ephrata to 3-12 on the campaign and 1-8 in Section Two of the L-L.
“We’re one game at a time,” said Cedar Crest head coach Tommy Smith. “We’re right there in every game. I told the guys, ‘Stick with it and let the cards fall where they may.’ Our ulitmate goal is to compete in Section One. We’re doing that. But we have to take the next step and win some of these games.
“We’re taking steps in the right direction,” Smith added. “The season is a long way from being over, but as a team and a program, we’re taking steps in the right direction.”
After squandering a double-digit first-half advantage, the Falcons re-asserted themselves in the third quarter. With the score tied at 27 three minutes into the stanza, Cedar Crest dominated the action over the next eight minutes.
With the Falcons turning up the defensive pressure and causing turnovers, they outscored Ephrata by 21 points during the stretch and took a 50-29 lead on a Juan Palmores lay-in with 5:17 to go. Junior slasher Clay Penchard had eight points in the decisive burst and Tyler Massar seven.
“I do remember the defensive stops,” said Smith. “Our offense starts with our defense. We’re struggling a little bit in our half-court offense. But we dug in on the defensive end and matched their intensity.
“I think athlete-for-athlete, when we had our five on the floor, we had an advantage over them,” Smith continued. “Defensively, we play with great effort and intensity. Night in and night out, we’re going to be in games because of effort on the defensive end.”
With 17 points, Penchard led Cedar Crest’s balanced attack. Palmores and Garrett Levengood notched a dozen Falcon points apiece, while Massar recorded ten.
“The way Clay played, that’s what we expect from him,” said Smith. “He’s at his best when he’s aggressive on the offensive end. If we can get that type of performance from him every night, we’re going to be a better basketball team. He’s definitely a hard guard. He’s starting to get confidence in his jump shot. He’s athletic and he’s got a quick jump.
Cedar Crest went 12-for-16 at the charity stripe and outscored the Mounts by nine points there
“Our biggest area of concern right now is free throws,” said Smith. “I’d be surprised if we were over 60 percent (for the year). At times, our ball handling has been sloppy. When we protect the ball, we get a good shot on the offensive end.”
Cedar Crest notched the first five points of the contest, on its way to an early 15-5 lead. Levengood handled the scoring burden capably with eight early points.
The Falcons opened a 19-7 bulge courtesy of two Massar free throws 5:10 before halftime. But Ephrata closed the first half with a 13-4 spurt to get within three by the break.
“We started strong and stretched the lead to ten,” said Smith. “And then the next thing you know, they’re within three points at halftime. We got comfortable, took the foot off the gas pedal and let them back in the game.
“I thought we played well,” Smith added. “Our effort and intensity in the second half was greater than the first. But we’ve still got a lot to work on.”