It wasn’t all that long ago that seeing Cedar Crest and McCaskey on the nightly basketball slate wouldn’t have garnered much attention. But those days are long gone. For years, the McCaskey Red Tornado dominated the Section 1 landscape taking down nearly all comers. But for the last handful of seasons, the Cedar Crest Falcons refused to abide by that narrative and have dared to challenge the throne. And not only have the Falcons risen up to challenge the mighty Red Tornado, the two programs have gone on to trade volleys with one another for Section and League supremacy. Needless to say, a Cedar Crest and McCaskey game that now appears on the schedule has become appointment viewing. And on Thursday evening, the Falcons just so happened to be headed southbound to renew acquaintances with their old friends in Lancaster city.
In terms of drawing up a perfect start, it was hard to imagine one better than what the Red Tornado illustrated in the game’s opening minutes. After a steal by Cedar Crest’s Dylan Miller promptly led to an assist to Jaiden Melendez just a few seconds into the contest, the Red Tornado came roaring back. Fueled by a Bryan Menendez triple that started the scoring, McCaskey ripped off a 14-0 onslaught that capped off by a reverse finish at the tin by senior forward Eddie Simmons, forcing Cedar Crest to call time down 14-2 with 2:51 left in the opening quarter.
Trying the figure out the best way to go about attacking McCaskey’s zone, Cedar Crest found relief from their scoring drought in the foul line as a pair of free throws from senior guard Blake Thomson got the Falcons within ten at 14-4 just 30 seconds after the timeout. But McCaskey was able to remain on their sizzling start as a trifecta rained down from senior guard Isiah Speller put the Red Tornado lead past the ten point mark at 17-6.
Despite starting off colder than the temperatures outside Shultz Transportation Gymnasium, the foundation had been laid for Cedar Crest’s comeback as a three point play by veteran senior forward Cole Laney got the Falcons back under that aforementioned ten point gap at 17-9 as the first quarter came to a close.
From there, Cedar Crest erased their early game struggles in almost the blink of an eye. After a 3 ball from Jaiden Melendez coupled with a floater in the lane by Blake Thomson, the Falcons found themselves back within three already at 17-14 with just 1:15 having gone off the second quarter clock.
Cedar Crest would eventually go on to take the lead as a jumper from junior guard Brody Dunlop gave the Falcons their first lead since the opening seconds of the contest at 19-17. Although McCaskey would rally to tie things up at 19 apiece, the Falcons found separation from their hosts after a pair of triples from Logan Horn and Dylan Miller respectively as Cedar Crest went into the halftime break leading 27-24.
For as much as the first two quarters could be seen as separate entities making up a back and forth affair, the third quarter in and of itself illuminated that theme in spades. Coming out of the break, the Tornado proceeded to go on a 6-0 run that was capped off with Isiah Speller floater in the lane returned the lead back to McCaskey’s favor at 28-27. But from there, a Jaiden Melendez triple, one of his four on the evening, gave the lead back to Cedar Crest at 30-28, only to see the trading of honors continue as a Makai Ortiz 3 ball put the Red Tornado back in front shortly thereafter at 33-32.
The downtown shooting display from McCaskey continued on as Isiah Speller splashed home one of his four triples on the evening to put McCaskey back on the upper hand of the seesaw at 36-35 with 3:35 left to be played in the third quarter. But from that point on, Cedar Crest was able to take the lead and run with it.
Cole Laney would be the one to put Cedar Crest over the edge as his triple, good for 3 of his 13 point effort, saw the energy translate on the defensive end as well as a Laney rejection down on other end eventually led to a pair of Blake Thomson freebies from the charity stripe to make it a 40-36 Falcon advantage before Cedar Crest would see the third quarter expire with the 42-37 lead in their favor.
Although the deficit was just five facing McCaskey when the final quarter got underway, the Falcons slowly but surely were able to pull away and with it, any hopes of a final McCaskey flurry as the fourth quarter marched on. After a tough hoop inside was registered by Cole Laney which made it a 48-39 ballgame, a Blake Thomson hoop plus the harm seemed to really take the wind out of the McCaskey sails as Thomson went on to make the free throw that would follow to put the Falcons on top 51-39 with 5:03 left to go.
Although McCaskey would respond with the next four points, the last of which came courtesy of a Brian McKenzie jumper, Cedar Crest would go on to close the game out from charity stripe as a plentiful handful of freebies from Logan Horn helped the Falcons cruise home down the stretch and remain unbeaten at 4-0 with hard-fought 61-46 victory at McCaskey.
Although any win in Section 1 is considered so precious, Thursday’s night battle at McCaskey took on extra significance considering the Falcons will tip the ball off again on Friday afternoon opposite of the York Bearcats. Oh yeah by the way, on the very floor of the Philadelphia 76ers. Without question, the type of circumstance that could make even the most veteran of head coaches antsy. “This was one of the games that scared me,” Cedar Crest head coach Tommy Smith admitted afterwards. “I knew the kids were so excited about what they have tomorrow, but we had good focus coming in. The first quarter didn’t go our way, but shots just didn’t fall.” And despite what could have turned out to be a point of no return given a deep hole to McCaskey on their home floor, Cedar Crest did not flinch. Even with aspirations of playing on the same floor graced by NBA Hall of Famers in just a matter of hours. Playing with that level of focus, Smith and the Falcons are sure to be pleased with the results not only in the short term, but the long term as well. “Knowing what’s ahead of them tomorrow and the way handled themselves tonight I was very proud of them.”
NEXT UP: As mentioned Cedar Crest will take a quick detour out of LL League play for the trip down to Philadelphia to take on York at the Wells Fargo Center. A once in a lifetime opportunity that Coach Smith is excited to share with his Falcon squad. “It’s something special for these kids,” Smith went on to add now that the moment had finally arrived. “Ever since I found out, I’ve been excited about it, and just so excited for these kids. Give them credit. They haven’t looked ahead too much. What an incredible opportunity these guys have tomorrow.”
McCaskey will now take Friday night off since the Cedar Crest game was moved up for logistical purposes, but the Tornado will return to action for a Saturday afternoon road scrap with fellow powerhouse Harrisburg. Once next week begins, the Tornado will be looking at dates with Lebanon, Penn Manor, and Conestoga Valley inside Section 1 respectively before the holiday break.