Cedar Crest Withstands Conestoga Valley Upset Bid, Remains Unbeaten As Falcons Hold Off Buckskins In Crossover Contest

Written by: on Friday, January 3rd, 2020


Recently, the world at large just went through a major metamorphosis a couple days ago in the ushering in of a new year and with it, a brand-new decade as well. Yet while some are likely inspired about the prospect that both a literal and figurative fresh start can bring, there are sure to be quite a few others that would understandably be rather content if things were to remain just the way they were. Among them, the Cedar Crest Falcons.

With the regular season starting to creep towards its midway point, there was only one team in all the Lancaster-Lebanon League that could claim the honor and distinction of being tabbed the last undefeated team left standing. Fittingly of course, it just so happened to be the 2019-20 edition of arguably the best program of the recent decade that had just expired.

To cite that earlier word of metamorphosis, the past ten years have certainly been that and then some for Cedar Crest Boys’ Basketball. To be sure, while there would always be those special few years that served as the exception to rule where the Falcons would rise up and compete with the upper echelon in Section One and the L-L League at large, for the most part, Cedar Crest had traditionally been relegated to the middle to lower pack of the class, often getting labeled along the lines of an also-ran. But since the ascension of head coach Tommy Smith into the top chair on the bench in Cornwall, not only has Cedar Crest become a dominant and imposing figure in Lebanon and Lancaster Counties, but truly throughout the entire District 3 landscape as well given the Falcons back-to-back appearances in the District 3-AAAA championship games in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Understandably, it’s been a display of dominance not lost on the Falcons’ head coach.

“We’ve had a vision,” Cedar Crest head coach Tommy Smith said on Thursday night while looking back with proud reflection. “My staff, most of them are still with me. We had a vision when we took over. It’s been the hard work from everyone, from our players, to our administration, to the coaching staff. And last but not least, we’ve certainly had great groups of kids come through. We’ve kind of got the ball rolling and have set expectations. We have yet to drop expectations. The goal is always to raise the bar and so far, the guys are doing a great job.”

And while it has certainly been a successful ride that has seen the addition of plenty prominent banners now hanging in “The Cage,” along with some additional hardware that has since been placed inside the Falcons’ trophy case in their gym lobby, to get back to the micro for just a moment, this year’s squad may just have some of the same intrinsic values — to go along with plenty of pure skill — that can perhaps enable them to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their esteemed brethren come seasons’ end.

After all, coming into their Thursday night game at Conestoga Valley, the literal midway point of the Falcons’ season, Cedar Crest was seen boasting an undefeated 10-0 record that already included a pair of tournament titles in the Lebanon Tip-Off and Falcon Booster Club Holiday Tournament respectively, the last of which came against bitter rival Lebanon in the latest edition of a quintessential Cedar/Falcon brawl.

Yet for all their successes to date, the Falcons surely had no intentions in letting their guard down whatsoever when they made the trip to CV in hopes of tallying a perfect 5-0 resume against Section Two competition this season when they squared off against a capable and hot-shooting Buckskins’ squad on Thursday night. And as if the prospect of going on the road at the conclusion of a day which marked students’ first with school back in session following the holiday recess wasn’t already daunting enough, it most certainly was the fact that CV came into the night playing their best basketball of the season up until this point in posting a 2-1 record over their last handful, including an appearance in the Solanco Holiday Tournament championship game after getting past the host Mules in the opening round, 43-42.

But as it would turn out, not even a flip into a new calendar year would do much in terms of slowing down the Falcon machine.

Early on against CV on Thursday night, Cedar Crest came out firing — both literally and figuratively —jumping out to the early 6-0 lead following a pair of back-to-back treys, pumped in by Ilerio Ayo-Faleye and Trey Shutter respectively, just 1:40 into the contest which got the Falcons started off on the right foot.

That said, the Falcons’ early momentum that had been conjured up courtesy of the 3-ball, effectively went away, by the 3-ball ironically, as a pair of successive trifectas pumped in by the Buckskins’ backcourt duo of Will Stone and Luke Rumbaugh got CV to within four at 10-with 4:10 left in the first quarter, only to have the CV retaliation be answered on the Falcons’ next trip down the floor by Trey Shutter rifling in a, you guessed it, 3-ball, to quiet the CV faithful.

To their credit though, CV continued to hang in amidst the Cedar Crest early flurry, eventually trimming the Falcons’ lead down to just a deuce at 13-11 late in the opening stanza following a strong move inside by CV 6’0 sophomore forward, Ethan Wertz, before Cedar Crest would go to claim the 15-11 advantage at the end of the opening frame.

While both teams certainly came out explosive on Thursday evening, the second quarter was a complete and polar opposite in terms of the quarter that had just preceded it.

In fact, the first field goal tallied by either team wouldn’t come until the 5:30 mark of the quarter, thanks to a take by way of CV 5’10 junior guard, Gabe Matos, enabling the Bucks to play with a little jolt of momentum.

Yet as would end up being the theme all night long, whenever Conestoga Valley had likely felt like they had Cedar Crest dead to rights, the Falcons would come up with a marvelous response to regain their footing.

Case in point, a Trey Shutter take to the cup immediately following the Matos bucket, good for 2 of team-high 19 points on the night, propelling the Falcons back out to the four-point lead near the midway point of the second quarter. From there, the Cedar Crest lead later ballooned up to as many as nine following a confident, corner triple cashed by Falcons’ 6’1 senior point guard, Amani Jones, upping the Cedar Crest lead to 22-13 with 2:30 left to go before the break.

But as Cedar Crest was about to find out, putting Conestoga Valley away once and for all was a task far easier said than done.

From the Jones triple onward, the Buckskins would race back to within four, thanks in large part to a 3-3 trip to the foul line from 5’8 junior sharp-shooter, Luke Rumbaugh who was fouled in the act, ushering the Bucks back to within reach at 22-18 with 1:17 left before intermission, which is where things would remain once either side retired to their respective locker rooms.

Once again, the early portion of the third quarter on Thursday night was one also mired by a lack of highly efficient and productive offense, making each and every offensive possession worth its weight in gold.

So, with that in mind, it probably should have come as no surprise to Cedar Crest’s reliable big man, 6’7 senior forward, Jason Eberhart, act as the Falcons’ ace in the hole once the going got tough as Eberhart was able to tally a tough bucket inside which allowed Cedar Crest to enjoy a lead that now stood at half a dozen, 24-18, with 5:25 left in the third.

But once again, whenever Cedar Crest felt like they had finally survived all the haymakers that the Buckskins could possibly throw in their direction, CV would come back with another one, much like Gabe Matos did with a theft and subsequent lay-in off transition, trimming the Cedar Crest lead down to two at 24-22.

In such a tight game that comes packed with plenty of significance, it is sometimes the less-heralded stars who end up stealing the show, coming up with some sort of game-saving heroics that ultimately prove to be the difference come games’ end. In that regard, you’d be hard-pressed to find a much bigger play all night long than Matt Smith’s at that very juncture.

With his team protecting their third quarter lead by nary a thread, Smith promptly checked into the game, his first action of the night, before the Cedar Crest 6’3 junior guard proceeded to sink a cold-blooded pull-up jumper just inside the three-point line on the Falcons’ next trip down the floor, effectively pushing the Buckskins back to arm’s length despite the impromptu Conestoga Valley charge.

From there, the Falcons’ advantage would swell to as many as eight at 36-28 following a second-chance bucket tallied inside by the human pogo stick, Cedar Crest 6’7 senior forward, Ileri Ayo-Faleye, before the third quarter would later expire with Cedar Crest having ownership of the 36-30 lead.

When creating the overall anatomy of an upset, typically the first rule of thumb above all else is to never let the underdog hang around for any great length of any time so that they think they have a puncher’s chance. Well, whether it be Cedar Crest just being unable to solve the Conestoga Valley riddle, or the fact that the Buckskins refused to yield and simply become another name to be scribbled on the Falcons’ resume this year, the fact of the matter was that Conestoga Valley had hung around for all three quarters, giving those in attendance and on the CV bench firm belief that the hometown team could ultimately pull this off.

That belief would soon morph into a sense of near conviction once inside the final quarter when CV’s sniper, Luke Rumbaugh, fearlessly threw in a key triple in the corner, slicing the Falcons’ lead down to a modest five points at 40-35 with five minutes left to play.

Sensing this game starting to swing into a precarious position for them to try and deal with, Cedar Crest wisely went back to their safety blanket of playing within their twin towers of Ileri Ayo-Faleye and Jason Eberhart. Especially Jason Eberhart.

With the Cedar Crest lead standing on what now largely felt like shaky ground, Eberhart proceeded to come with a masterful late-game showing, including the authoring of an old-school, traditional three-point play which suddenly made it a double-digit Cedar Crest lead at 45-35 with 3:13 left to go. Shortly thereafter, the Cedar Crest big man would end up putting the Falcons up by a dozen at 47-35 at the end of the Falcons’ next trip down the floor.

And while Conestoga Valley would try and muster something up late as best evidenced by a Bradley Stoltzfus four-point play with 1:15 left to play, good for 4 of team-high 13 points on the evening, the damage inflicted upon the Buckskins up until that point was far too large to overcome in the waning moments, as Cedar Crest would later see their perfect record hold true in a hard-fought, 52-46 crossover victory over a very game Conestoga Valley squad.

In sports, it’s often been said that the great teams can withstand adversity and win games when the going gets tough and they aren’t playing at their peak. Granted, while we have yet to see what this season will ultimately become for Cedar Crest, they most certainly have been great thus far. That said, it probably should not have been a shock to see the Falcons persevere on Thursday night in Witmer.

“First off, Conestoga Valley is better than their record. (Conestoga Valley head coach Brad Herr) has his kids playing extremely hard,” Cedar Crest head coach Tommy Smith offered up afterwards. “You know, long bus ride, first game after a big win….You hear it all the time. I have a group of seniors that I was hoping would be over that, but a win’s a win. We’ll take it. Didn’t play our best, but we’ll take it.”

Sure, while Thursday night certainly wasn’t the Falcons’ finest hour this season, the fact remains that Cedar Crest remains unbeaten at the midway part of their season. And if you’re wondering if this group has some of those same intrinsic values that those recent, special Cedar Crest squads had inside, the head man does indeed see some of those same things that may not be picked up by the naked eye.

“These guys have been pretty gutsy,” Smith said of this year’s bunch. “The bigger the game, the better they play. That’s been one trait of some of the teams I’ve had. You talk about the 2015 team, that was them. It wasn’t always pretty, but the bigger the game, the better they played. That’s a positive trait that I can take out these guys.”

“Again,” said Smith summing up the evening, “The game was close and we’ve had a knack to win close games.”

NEXT UP: With their clean sweep over Section Two now behind them, Cedar Crest will get a rare Friday night off from competition before heading back on the floor on Saturday afternoon for a tentative 4:30 tip against Lower Dauphin in the middle game of Rhoades’ Classic held at Lebanon Valley College. After Saturday, the Falcons will look to remain perfect when match wits with Hempfield and Penn Manor in Section One tilts next week before an absolutely blockbuster game next Saturday afternoon against Bishop McDevitt in a showcase event being held at Manheim Central.

For Conestoga Valley, good luck finding a harder stretch of games that the one that the Buckskins currently find themselves amid. After playing Cedar Crest, the lone unbeaten team in the L-L League, the Bucks will take on Central York, arguably the best team in District 3-6A this season, on Saturday afternoon at Hempfield, before going back-to-back against Section Two favorites next week in E-Town and Warwick respectively. But as they’ve proved on more than quite a few nights already this season, if the Buckskins get hot, CV has the all the ability in the world to slay even the biggest of giants.

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