BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – ‘The Cedars are playing well.’ The Cedars are playing consistent.’ ‘The Cedar are playing consistently well.’
Now re-iterate that 16 times.
Some things never grow old. And others bear repeating.
On Monday night at Lebanon High School, the consistently good play that the Lebanon girls’ basketball team displayed at the end of the regular season spilled over into the postseason, in the form of a 49-28 route of Annville-Cleona, in the opening round of the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs. The Cedars, who seemingly haven’t played a bad quarter this year, opened up a comfortable margin in the second quarter, then poured it on after halftime.
The Cedars’ rare win over a Lebanon County foe in the L-L league playoffs set up an even rarer all local meeting with Cedar Crest, a 57-41 winner over Donegal, in the circuit’s semifinal, Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Annville-Cleona High School. Since losing to the Falcons 49-30 on Dec. 18, the Section Two champions have won 16 of 17 games to improve to 19-4 overall.
The Little Dutchmen, the runner-up from Section Four, slipped to 12-11 on the year and will see their next action at Oley Valley on Feb. 21, in the quarterfinals of the District Three Class AA postseason.
“We’ve been playing progressively better since Christmas,” said Lebanon High head coach Ben Brewer. “We have a slogan: ‘winning is a habit’. Tonight it started out slow, but that second half was Cedar basketball.
“Even from December, going back before the holidays, different people are growing into different different roles,” Brewer continued. “Our players know their roles. In the second half, some of those patient passes turned into lay-up. This is the first time we didn’t hit a ‘three’, and we scored 49 points.”
“We have no pressure. It’s leagues,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Jamie Walborn. “We’re glad we’re here, and we wanted to play hard. I’m glad we got this game. But we won’t see a team this good in districts.
“It was definitely a fun game,” added Walborn. “The girls were excited to play another local team. It’s just a good atmosphere to play in.”
Already up five points, the Cedars’ defense limited A-C to a mere Gabby Battle basket over the final 5:03 of the first half. Offensively, Lebanon High got a driving lay-up out of Brittany Ulrich, two charity tosses from Alicia Haitos and a Haitos base-line move to close out the first half, and take a 24-15 margin to the locker room.
“I’m excited about that,” said Brewer of the ‘zero threes’ stat. “The girls are going to hear about it a lot from me. We don’t have to jack it up every night with ‘threes’. We can run our offense and get easy baskets. That’s a great lesson that I hoped they (his players) learned tonight.
“They’re (the Little Dutchmen) fiesty. They’re scrappy,” added Brewer. “(Alex) Siebecker and (Kayla) Parks are great players who can score, given opportunities. I expect them to make noise in the (District Three) AA playoffs. They defend pretty good too. But I thought our height wore them down a little bit.”
“The difference was their speed,” said Walborn of the Little Dutchmen. “Their team speed. They have way more speed than we have. We have some quick girls, but we always seemed a step behind.
“Ulrich’s looking to drive and dish, and it’s hard to defend,” Walborn added. “And you don’t want to go zone because they’re such good three-point shooters. We played at their (the Cedars’) pace, and at times it was a little frantic.”
Ulrich and Maddie Rakow, who battled through early foul difficulties, shared game-high scoring honors with 15 points apiece. But just as important to the Cedars cause was that they surrendered just seven points to Parks and only six to Siebecker.
Lebanon tallied 20 two-point buckets.
“I told Brittany, ‘you played like a true point guard’,” said Brewer. “Getting to the rim. Running the offense. Controlling the tempo. She was a true point guard with a lot of good players around her.
“Coming in, Annville-Cleona’s got a great program,” continued Brewer. “They’re well-coached, and Siebecker is going to get her’s. But with Brittany’s quickness and our girls in the paint, we can over play her. Siebecker’s a great talent. She’s all over the floor. I know Brittany does a great job defending, but that’s also good team defense.”
“They’re seniors,” said Walborn of Parks and Siebecker. “They’re our go-to scorers. But this game they (the Cedars) limited their opportunities.
“I don’t think they (the Cedars) did anything special against Alex,” Walborn continued. “They just put their quickest player on her and they played her tough. They pressured her the entire game.”
Lebanon High opened things up in the third quarter, thanks to a 14-2 spurt that made it 39-19. Ulrich tallied four points in the outburst, as did Rakow, while Kiana Graves, Shaela Shellehamer and Lauren Chambers all contributed buckets.
And when Haitos canned a pair of foul shots a minute into the fourth quarter, Lebanon was sitting on a 22-point cushion.
“Honestly, it’s (Cedar Crest) the next game on our schedule,” said Brewer with a sly smile. “It’s an opportunity to play for a league championship. From an emotional standpoint, everybody in that locker room wants to play them again. Two county teams playing in a county gym, it’ll be fun.”
Before picking up her second foul, Rakow tallied seven of the Cedars’ first 14 points, as they opened an early nine-point advantage on a steal and lay-in from Ulrich.
“They’re good,” said Walborn of the Cedars. “They’re definitely one of the tougher teams I saw. They’re quick. They can shoot. And they have height. They have a little bit of everything.”