Cedar Crest Gets Defensive, Locks Down Lampeter-Strasburg As Falcons Head Back To L-L League Championship Game
Written by: Andy Herr on Thursday, February 13th, 2020
If someone were tasked with going into a laboratory and concocting the perfect Lancaster-Lebanon League semifinal round matchup in the year 2020, you probably couldn’t have possibly done much better than the first game that tipped off a double-header night of league semifinal play held on Wednesday night at Hempfield.
Over the course of the last decade or so, the Cedar Crest Falcons have steadily and consistently established themselves into one of the premier players in the entire league, making competing for the Section One title, league championship, as well as the District 3 crown, seem like the norm rather than the exception to the rule. Sure enough, this year too has played itself it out just like any other in recent memory up in Cornwall seeing as how the Falcons captured yet another Section One championship at the conclusion of the regular season, claiming the #4 overall seed in the upcoming District 3-6A playoffs in the process as well.
And while Cedar Crest could easily be argued as having been the preeminent program league-wide over the span of the handful of seasons, it has also seen the rise of yet another program that dons shades of blue and white, the Lampeter-Strasburg Pioneers.
Much in the same vein as that of their midweek counterparts, the Pioneers’ meteoric ascension towards the head of the Lancaster-Lebanon League class cannot be overstated, nor overlooked either. In fact, while not only have the Pioneers been able to capture their first L-L League championship, something accomplished in 2018, L-S has ultimately parlayed those same levels of success into fairly deep District 3 and PIAA playoff runs respectively over the last few years following the league tourney. Again, even with just a very abbreviated biography, it’s certainly easy to understand how the Falcons and Pioneers may have felt like they were looking directly into a mirror once they lined up against one another on Wednesday evening in Landisville.
Yet if the two programs’ shared history that seemed to cause a prevailing feeling of déjà vu wasn’t already enough to tantalize the palate, seeing Cedar Crest and L-S go toe-to-toe against one another was a sight for sore eyes given how it is a matchup that is fairly rare all things being considered, even despite such an eerily similar track record of success found between the two. And c’mon. Who could also possibly ignore the elephant in the room? You know, the dynamic of Lancaster County going up against Lebanon County? So yes, all the hype was clearly there and ripe for Wednesday night’s curtain-raiser on L-L semifinal night to quite possibly become a game for the ages.
In a matchup between two teams that seemed to mirror one another so closely, it was certainly understandable to see both the Pioneers and Falcons struggle in terms of getting separation from one another once the game got underway.
As far as the first punch thrown on Wednesday night was concerned, it manifested itself in an uppercut landed by the Falcons in the opening minutes as a nice take to the rack by way of 6’1 senior guard, Amani Jones, propelled Cedar Crest out to the 5-0 lead. That said, the Falcons’ lead would be relatively short-lived considering the Pioneers proceeded to answer right back with a Seth Beers triple along with a Darin Landis bucket at the cup, knotting things back up at 5-5 shortly thereafter.
But to their credit, L-S would keep plugging away, eventually claiming their first lead of the evening on a yet another Seth Beers’ triple, his second of the opening frame, making it a 10-7 Pioneers’ lead at the 1:50 mark of the opening quarter before immediately following that up with a deep deuce, vaulting the L-S cushion up to five at 12-7, before a late Cedar Crest bucket would later end the first quarter scoring at 12-9.
Throughout the opening eight minutes in Wednesday night’s semifinal game, it was apparent that L-S had a strong-willed desire to hoist from deep. On the other side of coin, it was equally obvious that Cedar Crest had dead-set intentions of using their size advantage to pound the ball inside against their counterparts.
In fact, after a pair of back-to-back buckets chipped in from point-blank range by Cedar Crest 6’7 senior forward, Jason Eberhart, the Falcons had gone on to regain the lead at 18-17 with 5:10 left to play before the halftime break. From there, the Cedar Crest advantage would then balloon out to a pair shortly afterwards as 3-ball knocked down Amani Jones made it a 21-19 affair in favor of the Falcons.
But that would be all the momentum Cedar Crest would be able to enjoy for the remainder of the first half.
Picking up where they had left off in the opening stanza, L-S went right back to firing from beyond the arc following the impromptu Cedar Crest momentum shift. As it turned out, that would prove to be a wise decision given the fact that a timely triple sunk by 6’2 junior guard, Austin Stoltzfus, gave the lead right back to the Pioneers, effectively capping off the impromptu L-S 5-0 surge. And if Stoltzfus wasn’t busy canning treys from bonus distance, the L-S junior guard certainly had no issues whatsoever with offering up some last-second first half heroics as well considering Stoltzfus’ fast-break bucket just mere moments before the halftime horn sent the Pioneers into the locker room with ownership of the 26-23 advantage over Cedar Crest.
Suffice to say, in a game of this magnitude where the stakes are ratcheted up to an entirely different level altogether, second half possessions needed to be treated in a manner that makes them being equal to that of gold with the game already hanging in the balance heading into the final 16 minutes. Well, it then became rather evident as to what Cedar Crest intended to do for the duration of the contest.
Truthfully however, it didn’t even take the Falcons very long in terms of asserting their low-post presence once again in the second half considering a pair of back-to-back buckets in the paint by Cedar Crest’s twin towers, Ileri Ayo-Faleye and Jason Eberhart, helped raise the curtain on the second half proceedings and gave the lead right back to the Falcons, 27-26.
However, L-S would not be outdone on the inside either as a nice second-chance bucket from point-blank range pumped in by 6’4 sophomore forward, Nick DelGrande, knotted things back up at 31-31 shortly thereafter, only before seeing yet another Eberhart bunny inside –good for two more en route to his game-high 19-point performance—put Cedar Crest back in front by a pair at 33-31 with 3:15 remaining in the third quarter.
And while an old-school, three-point play by L-S’ Darin Landis would later slice the Cedar Crest lead back down to the slimmest of margins at 35-34 with two minutes remaining, the Falcons would then head off into the final period with the slim 37-34 cushion over the Pioneers.
With the game still well up for grabs with only eight minutes separating either one of the two sides from appearing in Friday’s title fight, the opportunity was there for someone to step up and become a hero should they be able to eventually help push their team over the proverbial hump. In that regard, it’d be darn near impossible to overlook the effort of L-S’ Luka Vranich.
At the onset at the final period, the Pioneers’ 6’0 sophomore guard proceeded to offer up a pair of fearless back-to-back takes to the tin, ultimately helping L-S draw back even at 38-38 just 1:40 into the final frame. And while Vranich did the lion’s share of the heavy lifting for L-S in the fourth quarter’s infancy, Seth Beers was there to capitalize on it by giving the lead right back to L-S as the 5’11 senior guard poured in yet another triple –good for his three more en route to his team-high 17-point outburst—making it a 41-38 Pioneers’ lead following Vranich’s early handiwork.
But as had been the case all night long, Cedar Crest’s Jason Eberhart would prove to be a force for which L-S simply could not contend with, but most particularly down the homeward stretch on Wednesday evening.
Ironically, while most are familiar with seeing Eberhart’s quintessential back-to-the-basket spin moves while working within the post, the Falcons’ towering post man proceeded to offer up arguably the play of the game near the midway point of the final frame with Eberhart being drawn outside and having to play against an L-S ballhandler near the midcourt line.
For most big men, playing so high up on the floor defensively likely makes them feel like a fish out of water. Not Eberhart however considering he proceeded to get down low and pick-pocket the L-S ballhandler before ultimately firing off a wonderful outlet past to a streaking Cole Miller for a play which helped put momentum back on the Cedar Crest bench with the game heading down towards its final few minutes.
From there, Eberhart would then go right back to his bread and butter post game on the Falcons’ ensuing possession, authoring yet another gorgeous, trademark spin move inside to give the lead right back to Cedar Crest at 44-43 with two minutes left to go.
Yet when speaking of the Cedar Crest post men exhibiting great defensive plays down the final stretch, it’d be nothing if not foolish to simply gloss over the game-saving charge taken by Ileri Ayo-Faleye who unselfishly gave up his body for the betterment of the team while courageously playing with four fouls, giving the ball back to the Falcons who were now trying to protect their narrow, existing lead.
By this time, it had quickly become apparent that if Cedar Crest were to ultimately dispatch L-S within the game’s final minutes, the Falcons would have to do by way of the charity stripe. And while their free throw shooting would certainly have its fair share of wild ups and downs within the final few minutes, just enough freebies cashed in by Amani Jones, Cole Miller, and last but certainly not least, Ileri Ayo-Faleye, helped prove to be the difference as an emphatic rejection by Ayo-Faleye on the Pioneers’ final offensive possession seemed to serve as the perfect punctuation mark on Cedar Crest’s defensive-minded, 48-43 final triumph over the Section Three champions on Wednesday night.
“We are able to get buckets on the offensive end, so then were able to set our defense,” a happy Cedar Crest head coach, Tommy Smith, said standing outside his team’s victorious locker room after their takedown of L-S. “We wanted to push (L-S) off the three-point line so we talked about switching the flare screens that they were having success with early. That was it. That, and we had an extra sense of urgency right there down the stretch.”
Speaking of urgency, it was abundantly clear that Jason Eberhart had arrived to Hempfield for the semifinal round with plenty of that. Something clearly not lost on his head coach.
“Fantastic,” Smith said matter of factly describing his center’s evening of work against the Pioneers. “Offensively he kept us in the game when we weren’t making too many things. Defensively, he’s spot-on every game and he was spot-on again tonight. He had a huge deflection when we were down three, gets an assist, had a block, and rebounded like crazy….He does so much for us,” Smith added of Eberhart. “Some of it shows up in the stat lines. A lot of it doesn’t, but he’s a special basketball player who does so much for us.”
And while it certainly didn’t figure to be an easy task in terms of getting ultimately getting past a team the caliber of L-S, rest assured that the Cedar Crest’s head man knew full-well what his team was getting into on Wednesday night.
“I like to stay up-to-date on everything that’s going on in the L-L, especially when (L-S) has a nice kid like (Seth Beers),” Smith said. “I told our coaches before the game that while I was scouting, I found myself just watching the game because (Beers) is just so good, especially the E-Town game the other night because that was such a good basketball game. I had to keep rewinding it because I had to get refocused on what I was actually trying to do and not just be a basketball fan,” said Smith while continuing to laud the praises of the team that his squad had just knocked off.
“I think we’re 9-0 now in games decided by six points or less,” Smith went on to add with a clear sense of pride regarding his team’s mental fortitude in yet another nip-and-tuck affair. “I just think that’s the resiliency and toughness of our seniors.”
NEXT UP: After dispatching L-S in the semifinal round, Cedar Crest will now meet the Warwick Warriors in the league championship game on Friday night at Manheim Township after seeing the Warriors pull off the somewhat surprising upset of Lancaster Catholic in the other semifinal game at Hempfield on Wednesday night, 50-37. In their first and only matchup of the season this year, Cedar Crest was able to withstand a valiant Warwick punch on the Falcons’ home floor in taking down the Warriors, 55-50. But regardless of whoever the opponent may have been waiting for them on the opposite bench come Friday night, making it back to the championship round is something that is certainly not taken for granted by the Cedar Crest contingent.
“It’s been a few years. We got used to it there going four years in a row,” Smith said while peppering in some humor to his postgame comments. “It feels great. It feels great for these seniors. Again, we’ve been so close the last few years and now we’ve got the opportunity. It’s going to be great.”
“This what you work out for in the summer,” he continued. “It’s so nice when your kids get rewarded and now we’ve got the opportunity to go back to Township on Friday.”
For L-S, the Pioneers must now conjure up some of that same gameplan that they used in taking down E-Town on Monday night as L-S will now load up and travel to Daubert Gymnasium against what figures to be a hungry bunch of Bears on their home floor following L-S’ dramatic 64-61 win over E-Town in the league quarterfinal round just seven days prior to their upcoming rematch in the first round of the District 3-5A playoffs.
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