The saying goes that absence makes the heart grow fonder. The only thing is, whoever uttered that phrase clearly hasn’t been to Lebanon County in quite a while. After all, don’t bother mentioning something like that to either Cedar Crest or Lebanon. They’re simply not having any of it.
Aside from being one of the fiercest rivalries in all of central Pennsylvania hands down, the annual meeting between the Cedars and Falcons really isn’t so much of a game as it is an event for the entire southern Lebanon County community to come out and truly “participate” in. But perhaps what makes this rivalry stand out from all the rest is that neither Cedar Crest nor Lebanon ever shy away from playing against one another should the opportunity present itself. In fact, when the Cedars and Falcons locked horns inside “The Cage” Saturday night at Cedar Crest in the championship game of the Falcon Booster Holiday Showcase, it would mark the third time that these two neighboring schools had faced off against one another in the past four weeks. Now you name me another rivalry around the state that can say something like that.
However, if Cedar Crest had any aspirations of making it a perfect 3-0 season sweep against their city neighbors, it would surely be a task filled with plenty of adversity along the way. But after their latest L-L League showing down at Warwick last Friday night, bouncing back from tough times was exactly what the good doctor had prescribed for the Falcons. Well, doctor turned head coach that is in Cedar Crest boss Tommy Smith.
“I don’t know that we played our best that night,” Smith admitted of his team’s performance at Warwick that ended in the Falcons’ first setback of the season. “But this is what you get night in and night out. You’re going to get everyone’s best shot. We competed, but we didn’t play well,” said the Falcons’ head man.
“It wasn’t too much of a ‘Where are we at’ type of thing,” Smith said of the prevailing theme that emanated from the game against the Warriors. Instead, it was a message of, “Let’s just refocus on what we’re doing and get back to what we do.”
And with that in mind, the Falcons were set to do battle against an old nemesis from right up the street when Lebanon came calling once again after both the Cedars and Falcons were able to handle their business in opening round victories against Mount Carmel and Halifax the previous night respectively.
In a game of this much significance that can run the entire emotional spectrum, settling into a groove and establishing a rhythm takes on the upmost importance. In that regard, go ahead and put a giant “X” right next to Cedar Crest’s name as it related to Saturday night’s contest.
Ignited by two early thefts and subsequent finishes on the offensive end courtesy of Falcons’ 5’7 senior guard Jaquan Andino, Cedar Crest jumped on their guests early by claiming the 7-3 lead, only to see the cushion eventually climb to a half dozen at 9-3 following a hard cut and finish it at the cup by Falcons’ star senior guard, Logan Horn.
And while the Cedar Crest faithful were likely quite satisfied with the way in which things had already gotten started, their Falcons would only continue to please the home crowd by increasing the advantage to double digits at 15-5 following a beautiful dish from Andino to a waiting Jason Eberhart standing underneath the cup, forcing Lebanon to burn an early timeout with 2:33 left to play in the first.
Yet while the early portion of the first quarter was largely dominated by Cedar Crest and their stifling effort on the defensive end which had clearly given the Cedars fits up until that point, Lebanon kept their nose to the grindstone as the opening quarter moved along, eventually getting back within single digits at 17-9, with seven of those points being tallied by the Cedars’ skilled junior forward, J.C. Gonzalez.
But the Cedars weren’t exactly settling after that. Not a chance in this game.
From there, Lebanon was able to close the opening period out on a 7-2 run with a 3-ball popped in by senior guard Scottie Porter serving as the exclamation mark, sending the game into the second quarter with Cedar Crest holding the 17-12 advantage.
Once the second quarter got underway, Cedar Crest was largely able to keep the Lebanon threat at arm’s length for a majority of the period, typically not letting the Cedars close the gap to any less than four points. The keyword there? Majority. Because as Lebanon was about to point out, dealing with a backyard rival is a task that typically takes up most, if not the entire span of the evening. This night too would be no exception.
Case in point, Lebanon eventually closing the Cedar Crest lead down to the slimmest of margins at 21-20 after a 3-ball bombed in J.C. Gonzalez with 4:10 left to play in the first half. Yet even despite Lebanon’s valiant charge, the Falcons were able to create some much-needed breathing room as the second trudged along, eventually growing the buffer back up to six at 29-23 following a Logan Horn take to the rack. From there, with the first half closing in on its conclusion, the Falcons were able to maintain that separation as Cedar Crest ran into the locker room in possession of the 31-23 advantage.
Whether it be a halftime message filled with fire and brimstone or just the Cedars getting back to what they do best, Lebanon opened up the second half on a tear as evidenced by their 4-0 run out of the chute, clearly knocking the Falcons back on their heels somewhat coming out of the break. The only thing was, the Cedars’ snowball was just now rolling downhill at a rapid pace.
While Lebanon had somewhat flirted with the lead at times up until that point, the Cedars were never quite able to get over top of the mountain. This time though, things just felt a little bit different. Sure enough, the Cedars were able to press on and fight tooth and nail for the lead once again after a corner 3-ball splashed by freshman guard Marquis Ferreira which sliced the Falcons’ lead down to just one at 36-35. Shortly thereafter, the Cedars stayed on the attack and were able to tie things up at 38-38 after another take by J.C. Gonzalez, before eventually taking their first lead of the night after a pair of free throws cashed in by junior guard Raylin Pena, making it a 40-38 Lebanon advantage with two minutes left to play in the period. And once the third quarter ultimately did come to a close, the Cedars were playing with their largest lead of the ballgame at 42-39 as an eventful fourth quarter was sure to take place.
In a tight game with something as large as city and county bragging rights hanging in the balance, chances are strong that the more-veteran group will ultimately find a way to persevere and come out on top. And while that theme certainly appeared to be taking shape after Logan Horn fired in a triple to begin the fourth quarter proceedings which knotted things back up at 42-42, the much-younger Cedars were clearly up to the challenge as evidenced by their immediate 4-0 answer in retaliation which made it a 46-42 Lebanon lead as the Cedars’ salvo was capped off with a lay-in at the tin by sophomore forward Isaiah Rodriguez with six minutes to left to go.
As the cat and mouse game raged on over the course of the next few minutes, Cedar Crest would find a way to keep hanging around, eventually cutting the Lebanon back down to a deuce at 50-48 after two enormous free throws cashed in by Logan Horn with 2:20 still showing on the scoreboard clock. But just when it had appeared that Cedar Crest was well on their way to generating a late-game comeback, Lebanon’s Scottie Porter clearly had other ideas as the Cedars’ senior forward immediately answered with a fearless drive to the cup, putting the Cedars back up by four with time winding down.
However, just when it had appeared that Lebanon may have been in the clear, the pendulum immediately swung back around in Cedar Crest’s direction as the ensuing inbounds following a Falcons’ bucket was met with confusion of a possible end-line violation, only to see the live ball eventually roll along the floor to a waiting Brody Dunlop underneath the bucket as Dunlop was immediately fouled when trying to go up with his newfound prize. And after the 6’1 senior guard was able to knock in both of his freebies from the charity stripe, Cedar Crest had suddenly tied things back up at 52-52 as the one-minute mark was rapidly approaching.
And while the Cedars would have the honors in terms of having a chance to take the lead down the final stretch, that opportunity would never come to pass as a Lebanon turnover helped pave the way for a possible Cedar Crest walk-off win.
So, with the ball in the hands of arguably no better option in the entire Lancaster-Lebanon League, Logan Horn dribbled the ball out in frontcourt while waiting his chance to rise up and strike for the Falcons. Truth be told, it was a scene about to take place that gave Cedar Crest head coach Tommy Smith vivid flashbacks.
“Honestly, I saw shades of #33 there,” Smith quipped while harkening back to arguably Cedar Crest’s all-time greatest player and older brother Evan Horn. “But yeah, I’ll take him (Logan Horn) with that shot, in that situation, any day of the week.”
This time however, Horn’s last-second shot was just off the mark, sending this magnificent battle royale into a deserving extra session.
While the initial stages of the overtime period seemed to take on a feeling-out process between these already familiar ballclubs, it would be the Falcons who would strike first in extra time as Cedar Crest’s human highlight reel, 6’7 junior forward Ileri Ayo-Faleye, kissed a shot off the glass to give the Falcons the lead at 54-52 with just two minutes left to play.
Their next time down the floor however, the Falcons’ offensive attack would not be nearly as successful as Cedar Crest came up empty-handed, giving the ball back to Lebanon with the chance to tie or take the lead. And wouldn’t you know it, with the Cedars about to fire on what had appeared to be a wide-open look without absolutely any interference, Logan Horn came darting out of nowhere, swatting away the would-be Lebanon shot attempt as the ball bounced helplessly up against the cinderblock wall along the baseline with the crowd responding with a roar of approval. Yet even with all of the excitement that had just transpired, the Cedars still maintained possession. And while Horn nor any other Falcon would be able to get their mitts on this shot attempt, the result would end in the same vein as the Lebanon triple bounced up against the wire trellis which brings the basket down from the ceiling, giving the ball back to Cedar Crest with time dwindling down.
With the Lebanon foul-game set to commence in full, the ball once again had a funny way of ending up in the hands of Logan Horn. And sure enough, just as he has already done so many times in his Falcon career, the senior was able to deliver once again by calmly sinking two freebies at the charity stripe, adding two more to his magnificent game-high 24-point performance and subsequent tournament MVP honors, but more importantly for the moment, increasing the Falcons’ advantage to 56-52 with just 28.2 left to go.
On the Cedars’ ensuing offensive possession, one thing was certain: Score the ball by any means necessary. With that mind, Lebanon opted to go the way of the 3-ball their next time down the floor. Unfortunately, just like their previous possession, chilly shooting seemed to arrive at the worst possible time for the Cedars, as this shot too clanged off the rim, with Ileri Ayo-Faleye snatching the defensive board for the Falcons. And with a trip to the charity stripe serving as his reward, Ayo-Faleye promptly sunk both freebies, allowing the Falcons to finally exhale at long last for the final few remaining seconds as Cedar Crest was able to hold off a valiant Lebanon-effort once and for all, 58-52.
As mentioned, in games such as this where there are bound to be so many twists and turns along the way, veteran savviness tends to rule the day more often times than not. This night too would be no exception. Something that just so happens to currently be in favor of the Falcons.
“I’ve got a veteran group, he (Lebanon head coach Tim Speraw) has a younger group,” Cedar Crest head coach Tommy Smith stated. “Our guys are battle-tested and have been there.”
“My guys are as tough as nails and rock-solid at all times, especially in situations like that,” Smith added. “I thought we handled the last couple minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime very well…We’ve got tough kids that are built for that situation. The expectations are high and they meet those expectations every day in practice. We talk about winning games like this in practice. Our kids practice hard, they push each other, they compete, and we’re able to come out on top in games like this.”
NEXT UP: From here, Cedar Crest will look to carry this momentum forward into their upcoming games against Conestoga Valley and Lower Dauphin before Section 1 play which begins on January 8th with a trip to Hempfield. And truth be told, it’s something that excites Coach Smith and his band of Falcons.
“I’m ready for Section 1 as crazy as that may sound,” Smith said with a laugh. “This is what we prepare for. Section 1 is as good this year as it’s been in years I think from top to bottom. It’s going to be a grind, but this is why we do what we do.”
For Lebanon, the Cedars will look to wash away the bitter taste left behind from Saturday night’s defeat as they too prepare for section play which gets underway on Thursday evening when they welcome Ephrata for kickoff of the Section 2 slate. And while the Cedars are already looking upwards to teams like Warwick and E-Town in the Section 2 standings following crossover play, the Cedars are clearly a true and viable darkhorse to steal the show once everyone meets up for round-robin play.
“They (Lebanon) take on Coach Speraw’s personality,” said Smith of the Cedars. “They grind, they don’t give up, they fight, and they do whatever it takes to get back in a basketball game. They did it again tonight.”