This week, every L-L basketball team was preparing for the same opponent. Mother Nature. Turn on the news or venture outside and it’s easy to see why.
As this week’s nor’easter traversed up the eastern seaboard, leaving a dumping of snowfall and sub-artic temperatures behind in it’s wake, odds were high that several high school hoops games would fall victim to this winter’s first unwelcome visitor. And for many of the teams that make up Lancaster Lebanon Boys’ Basketball, that was indeed the case. Throwing game preps and scheduling through a loop along with it. However there were a few hearty souls who braved the elements and decided to start the buses and lace up the sneakers on Friday night. Two of them being the Conestoga Valley Buckskins and the Lebanon Cedars.
For CV the message was simple. Keep it rolling. Dating back to before the holiday season, you’d be hard pressed to find a team playing better ball than the Buckskins. Using the knockdown, dragout victory over McCaskey as their catalyst, the Bucks took off, going on to win Wyomissing Holiday Tournament their last time on the court heading into Friday night’s affair on a three game winning.
As far as the Cedars were concerned, they were just looking for any sort of spark heading into the new calendar year following a season of memorable highlights. Among them, a Section 1 championship, a trip to the Giant Center, a game against Reading in which the eventual 6A state champions received all they wanted from the gritty Cedars, and a trip to the inaugural PIAA 6A state tournament just to top it all off. And while this season has not been nearly as joyous to this point with Lebanon entering the weekend with a 3-6 overall record while standing at 1-3 in the section, there was no time like the present to go ahead and reverse their fortunes, possibly changing the entire outlook of their season in the process. While we will have to wait and see what the immediate future may bring for Cedar basketball, Lebanon certainly got off to a solid start in going about that task as the Cedars displayed all their mental resiliency, fighting tooth and nail against a scrappy bunch of Buckskins from CV.
With CV opening the game in a 2-3 zone defensively, the Cedars were stymied somewhat on the offensive end by the methodical pace at which they forced to play. In fact, the Buckskins were able to keep the home-standing Cedars off the scoreboard entirely until the 3:40 mark of the first quarter before a trifecta was dialed up by sensational Cedar junior Sincere Scott. From there however, CV was able to respond with a 4-0 rally of their own which culminated with a bucket inside by CV junior Jordan Ransing to give the visitors from Witmer the early 9-5 advantage. But the Bucks weren’t finished there.
No, the Buckskins only grew their initial from that point on as back to back triples cashed in by Bradley Stoltzfus and Logan Monroe saw the Buckskin lead swell to 15-7 in the waning minutes before the first period finally concluded with CV holding serve by way of the 17-9 lead.
Coming out to start the second quarter, the Buckskins picked up right where they had left off. Throwing the ball inside to Logan Monroe proved to be a sound decision as the star senior converted the bunny from point blank range to put CV in front by double digits at 19-9 in the opening stages of the second frame.
But Lebanon would be able to get back inside that double digit barrier as a triple knocked in by Sincere Scott, good for 3 of his game-high 21 on the evening, made it a 22-14 contest with 5:50 to go in the half. The Cedars’ somewhat small deficit would not stand for long however as an easy deuce inside by CV sophomore guard Ethan Bredeman proved to be the immediate answer for the Buckskins, putting CV back in front by 10.
However the Cedars kept pressing on as a traditional three point play administered by Sincere Scott closed the gap to a half dozen at 26-20 with 4:10 left in the half. Little did anyone know it at the time, but that would be the last time the ball go through the net for either team for quite a while.
After a nearly four minute scoring drought left both teams famished, it would be guess who, Sincere Scott, who would have the answer for Cedars’ offensive woes against the 2-3 Buckskin D as a his strong, physical three point play inside through contact narrowed the gap to just three at 26-23 which also just so happened to be the halftime score when the remaining 23.5 ticked off the first clock.
For as much as the first half narrative felt like it was written by CV, Lebanon proved immediately out of the intermission that this was a different group of Cedars ready to do battle in the second half.
After a nifty Euro-step to the tin was put home by Lebanon star senior guard Luis Aquino-Rios to trim the CV lead down to just a point, the Cedars were able to take their first lead of the ballgame shortly thereafter courtesy of a 3 ball knocked in by Lebanon senior big man Felix Kortright to make it a 28-26 ballgame in Lebanon’s favor with 5:35 left in the third.
And for just as much good work as Lebanon was putting in on the offensive end to begin the second half, the Cedar defense was equally if not more impressive. For proof of that, consider that CV’s first points of the second half did not come until the 2:23 mark of the third quarter following back to back freebies cashed in at the line by Bradley Stoltzfus to make it a 32-28 Lebanon lead.
Although the deficit would be four following the Stoltzfus free throws, the Cedar advantage was then pushed back up to seven at the expiration of the third quarter as 5-0 Sincere Scott rally put Lebanon in front 37-30 with the Cedars holding the Bucks to just four total points in the third frame.
Despite the fact that CV was staring at a seven point hole to start the final quarter, it took next to no time for them to climb back out of it.
After a nice move inside by Logan Monroe sliced the Cedar lead down to three at 37-34 just one minute into the quarter, the Buckskins were then able to regain the lead shortly thereafter following a pair of free throws thanks to brother Austin Monroe which made it a 39-38 CV lead with 6 minutes left to play. But that lead would be short-lived.
After a Felix Kortright hoop inside gave the lead back to Lebanon immediately following the Monroe free throws, a beautiful assist from Jessy Martinez to Jahlil Young inside made a three point Cedar bulge at 41-38.
Even though it felt like Lebanon was on the cusp of taking the game over once and for all following a beautifully executed out of bounds play that ended in a Luis Aquino-Rios bucket which made it a 45-42 Cedar lead with 1:40 left to play, the Buckskins proved yet again that they were not done fighting.
Following the Aquino-Rios deuce, the Buckskins were able to retaliate with a 4-0 charge culminating in a Logan Monroe bucket which put CV back in front 46-45 with just 39.6 left to play. Following an empty trip from the Cedars on the other end, Austin Monroe was then on the scene to go 1-2 from the stripe to push the Buckskin lead back up to two at 47-45.
This time down for Lebanon, nearly everyone in the gym thought they knew who would be getting a touch. And sure enough, Luis Aquino-Rios got his hands on it, immediately going hard to rack and getting fouled in the act. No surprise for someone with the mindset of a warrior. Although there would be no And 1 opportunity on this trip, Lebanon’s senior leader was able to go 1-2 to cut the CV lead down to the slimmest of margins at 47-46.
Needing to play the foul game, Jordan Ransing got himself open for the Buckskins on the ensuing inbounds and was forced to walk the length of the floor with ultra-important foul shots waiting at the other end. No matter. The Buckskin junior calmly knocked down both, including being iced in between the first and second attempts due to a Lebanon timeout.
Now needing to score with time of the essence, it seemed simple. Set something up for #23. That’s precisely what Lebanon was able to do as Luis Aquino-Rios put the team on his back with the game on the line, earning the hoop plus the harm to make it just a one point game. And although the foul shot was unsuccessful on the backend, there was still plenty of time left to go.
After a backbreaking 0-2 trip to the line left CV unfulfilled, a defensive rebound secured by the Cedars instantaneously put the Buckskins back on their heels while needing to maintain the razor-thin one point lead.
Ask any basketball aficionado and they’ll tell you that good ball movement is one the biggest keys to successful offense. As far as Lebanon was concerned on Friday, that same type of stellar ball movement could not have come at a better time. On the final Cedar possession, the ball was worked around like a hot potato with every pass serving a purpose before it eventually landed in the mitts of Felix Kortright at the elbow-extended, using that as his starting block. From there, the 6’1” senior stretch 5 for the Cedars attacked the rim, coming away with a beautiful up and under move to give Lebanon the lead at 50-49 just in the nick of time with 1.8 remaining.
Faced with the task of being 94 feet away and being behind on the scoreboard with just one second remaining, CV opted to try the long baseball pass. But the low roof in the Lebanon High gymnasium proved to have the best defense of the night as the ball bounded off the ceiling tiles, giving the ball back to the Cedars underneath their goal.
Felix Kortright would be fouled on the ensuing inbounds play, going 1-2 from the line, still leaving the door ajar albeit with not much light coming through for the Buckskins. CV would then see the door close as the last second Buckskin halfcourt heave bounced off the glass sending Lebanon into the winner’s circle with the 51-49 triumph over Conestoga Valley in a Section 1 dandy.
NEXT UP: Lebanon will now look to ride this wave of momentum from Friday night into the Rhoades Foundation Classic with a tip opposite of Lebanon County foe Palmyra Saturday evening at 5pm on the campus of Lebanon Valley College. After Saturday’s backyard nonleague scrap, the Cedars will return to Section 1 play against arguably the three biggest heavyweights in the division with Cedar Crest, Manheim Township, and Hempfield coming down the pike in that order.
For CV, it’s time to get back to work on short notice as well. On Saturday afternoon, the Buckskins will head across the Susquehanna River bound for West York to take part in the annual War of the Roses battles which pits the L-L against the YAIAA in a head to head competition for conference supremacy with the Buckskins drawing Eastern York in their matchup. Once Section 1 play resumes for the Buckskins, CV will face off with Warwick and Penn Manor before making their second trip through the section. A road that starts off with Hempfield and Manheim Township.