SOUTH LEBANON – Yeah, both sides wanted to win – very badly.
Sure the contest dripped with implications that went beyond being a mere playoff game.
Yeah, there may have been some hints of the David-versus-Goliath scenario.
But ultimately this was a celebration of Lebanon County girls’ basketball.
On Saturday night, at Cedar Crest High School’s jammed ‘Cage’, the Falcons downed Lebanon Catholic 63-54 in an intense, emotional and hard-fought contest that was disguised as a quarterfinal game in the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs. While the Beavers made several runs at Cedar Crest after the home team opened a double-digit, first-half lead, every time senior guard Ariel Jones had an answer for the Falcons.
It was the first meeting in 12 years for two of Lebanon County’s most storied girls’ basketball programs. And for the now 23-0, Section One champion Falcons, the triumph earned them an even more intriguing semifinal date, opposite 22-1 Section Three champ Northern Lebanon, which dismissed Hempfield 53-31 in another quarterfinal.
Lebanon County’s Girls’ Basketball Game of the Year will be played on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Lebanon High School. Northern Lebanon is the top-ranked Class AAAA team in District Three and Cedar Crest is the second-rated Class AAAAAA club in District Three.
“What was good about this was that it was two county teams, and the place was packed – for a girls’ game,” said Cedar Crest head coach Jim Donmoyer. “There were a lot of people here. The atmosphere was exciting. It was exciting for me as a coach. But most of my kids have played two or three years now. They’re not in awe of pressure or the crowd.
“Hey, look, everybody talks about the Mid-Penn, this, that and the other thing,” continued Donmoyer. “But if you look at the teams in the playoffs, there’s three from Lebanon County that are pretty good. I think Lebanon County and the Lancaster-Lebanon League doesn’t get the credit it deserves. But the people in the county are aware of the level of basketball being played here.”
“It was a great atmosphere,” Hower continued. “I think a lot of the people who came out weren’t Cedar Crest people and weren’t Lebanon Catholic people. It was a great showing. It’s what people want to see. It’s what the kids want to do.”
Jones was the unofficial player of the game because she was at her best when her team needed her the most. She notched 20 of her 29 points in the second half, when the Falcons were holding the Beavers at arm’s length.
Twice did Lebanon Catholic pull within six points of the Falcons’ lead – at 55-49 on an Alexis Hill free throw with 2:32 to go and at 57-51 on a Jasmine Turner lay-in with 1:39 remaining. Alyssa Austin provided the Falcon response to Hill’s free throw and foul shots from Gracen Donmoyer and Raven Morgan, and a three-point play off a steal by Jones, iced the outcome for Cedar Crest.
“I thought she played like she always does,” said Donmoyer of Jones. “She was aggressive. No one can stop her off the dribble. Every time they (the Beavers) made a run, she answered. Every time. She’s a great player. As she goes, we go.
“They (the Beavers) played a heck of a game,” added Donmoyer. “We had to respond. Ariel responded like she always does. We play as a team. We win as a team. We stuck together.”
“We went down 13 multiple times,” said Hower. “But we didn’t back down. Ariel Jones was outstanding. We really didn’t have an answer for her.
“She was tough to contain, and you really can’t help off her,” Hower added. “They have a nice team. Neesha (Pierre) is a pretty good defender. She’s (Jones) quick with her crossover and she finishes well.”
Backed by six points from Alexis Hill, the Beavers began the second half on an 11-5 run to pull to within 34-27. But Jones tallied seven points during an 11-4 outburst that re-upped the Cedar Crest advantage to 45-31.
“If we win, everybody expects us to win,” said Donmoyer. “If we lose, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh.’ Lebanon Catholic is a great single-A basketball team. We’re a 6-A school and we’re undefeated. We had pressure to win. Lebanon Catholic is not a chump. They can play. The kids don’t care. They want to play them.”