Falcons Ascend Back To Lancaster-Lebanon League’s Top Perch As Cedar Crest Outduels Warwick To Claim Fourth League Crown
Written by: Andy Herr on Saturday, February 15th, 2020
In a sense, really no tournament is ever truly complete without their inclusion. You know, the “Cinderella’s” of the dance. Okay, fair enough. But while Friday night’s Lancaster-Lebanon League boys’ basketball championship game would indeed feature a Cinderella of its own, you’d certainly be hard-pressed to call them that just a few short weeks ago.
In a lot of ways, seeing Warwick ultimately advance to this year’s league title game was likely not all that much of a surprise to the masses. But the way they got there though? Oh yea. Rest assured that their short trek down Route 501 certainly had more curves found within it than they could have ever imagine.
You see, if you were to rewind the clock back to just two weeks ago, Warwick was already trying to play a juggling act of sorts while also trying to chase down their second consecutive L-L Section Two title considering they were without the efforts of starter, Caleb Schmitz, losing the Warriors’ two-sport junior star for the season with an unfortunate injury, dealing a tough blow for a team that already had their eyes set on a second straight L-L finals appearance. But their road towards redemption and having a chance to right the wrongs that the Warriors experienced in last year’s league championship tilt at the hands of bitter rival, Manheim Township, grew exponentially more adverse considering that Warwick would also be without the contributions of another football turned basketball starter, junior Joey McCracken, also lost for the remainder of the season in the Warriors’ home finale against Lebanon.
No matter. Well, at least to Chase Yarberough and Chase Krall apparently.
In the Warriors’ first game of this year’s postseason, the Section Two champs would take to their home floor against a more than worthy foe, Section Five champion Columbia, with their new starting lineup still largely in flux given the timing of the McCracken injury along with the significant uptick in competition considering the Crimson Tide stormed into Lititz with an unbeaten record in L-L League play as it was. However, with the opportunity now ripe for the picking, Warwick senior forward, Chase Yarberough, stepped up to the plate magnificently, authoring up a dizzying career-high 32-point performance that seemed to come out of nowhere to vanquish the Tide in the quarterfinal round, 71-64.
But certainly that had to be the end of the road there, right? After all, how in the world could the Warriors possibly beat Lancaster Catholic while already down two key men, along with the fact that Yarberough had showed his cards and had now become the central focus of the Crusaders’ gameplan coming off his transcendent night? And yes, while Yarberough would not have nearly as successful of a night terms of the scoring column as he did against Columbia, yet another Warwick Warrior had emerged from the depths of the Warriors’ already-deep bench to become an overnight sensation in his own right against Lancaster Catholic.
On Wednesday night against arguably one of the L-L’s most historic programs, Warwick sophomore, Chase Krall –a player not even listed on the Warriors’ varsity roster at the onset of the season—proceeded to come off the bench and fire in seven triples against the Crusaders for a game-high total of 21 points, vaulting this new-look Warwick squad into the championship tilt for the second time in as many seasons after their 50-37 takedown of the Section Four champs.
But if we’re talking about Cinderella, certainly someone must be there once the clock strikes midnight, right?
Yet whether they ever expected to wear the figurative black hat that had seemed to be placed on their collective heads by everyone not already residing the Falcons’ camp coming into Friday night or not, Cedar Crest certainly had Valentine’s Day night reservations set aside at Manheim Township for quite some time now.
Playing in their fifth league title game in the last eight years –a remarkable and outstanding achievement for any program that happens to call the L-L League home–the beginning of this season had seemed to take on the same familiar narrative that has come to define recent Cedar Crest history on the hardwood.
After racing out the gate en route to an 11-0 start, the Falcons went on to finish the regular season campaign with an 19-3 overall record while adding yet another Section One championship trophy to an existing case that likely needs to be refitted to house all the hard-earned memorabilia that Cedar Crest has gone on to claim over the last decade or so. And after a successful 59-36 stop of yet another improbable storyline that had taken shape in the early stages of this year’s L-L tournament in Cocalico, Cedar Crest went on to top a stingy Lampeter-Strasburg crew in the semifinal round, 48-43, advancing to their fifth appearance at Manheim Township on the final night of the league season.
So, no matter how you wanted to slice it up, the story-lines were certainly there heading into Friday night. Cinderella story vs established power, red vs blue, Lancaster County vs Lebanon County. Yes, this had quickly morphed into a night in which no one involved was sure to ever forget.
Sure enough, after 32 wildly intense minutes of basketball, this one had indeed lived up to all the billing and then some by the end of the night.
In their last game against L-S, Cedar Crest had been able to clamp down hard with a potent defensive-driven formula to contain Seth Beers and his fellow Pioneers in the semifinal round. Then, just two days later, Cedar Crest had appeared to pick up right where they had left off in the finale on Friday night.
Besides a fearless Amani Jones triple knocked down on the Falcons’ opening possession of the night, the points between either side were hard to come by throughout the first eight minutes of the contest. With that in mind, arguably the biggest moment from the opening quarter on Friday night was Jason Eberhart’s theft defensively and subsequent dish to Grant Allwein, who had recognized the situation and began sprinting down the floor following the change in possession, as the Falcons’ senior duo helped Cedar Crest claim their largest lead of the evening up until that point at 7-1 with just under two minutes left to go on the first quarter clock.
However, as would quickly develop into a prevailing theme for the remainder of the night, Warwick only continued to come right back by way of their bread and butter of the three-point shot as a key Ethan Minnich trey off a marvelous out-of-bounds set later on for the Warriors trimmed the Cedar Crest lead back down to three at 7-4 by the end of the opening quarter of play.
Yet even though Warwick had largely been able to weather the first punch thrown at them throughout the game’s opening period, Cedar Crest only continued to exacerbate their lead once the second quarter got underway.
With 6’7 senior forward Ileri Ayo-Faleye patrolling the paint defensively –something clearly evident given the manner in which he emphatically rejected a would-be Warwick shot attempt inside in the opening moments of the second quarter—the Cedar Crest offense then got into tip-top shape shortly thereafter as a Jason Eberhart bucket inside allowed the Falcons to flirt with the double-digit lead at 13-4 before an Ayo-Faleye take to the rack gave Cedar Crest the ten-point cushion at 17-7 with half of the quarter already having gone by.
But once again though, Warwick would simply refuse to say die while amid this marvelous run throughout the L-L tournament.
On the Warriors’ next trip down the floor following the Ayo-Faleye take, Warwick 5’10 sophomore guard, Tate Landis, proceeded to fire in an enormous triple before coming right back with a tough finish at the cup, cutting the Falcons’ lead back down to seven at 19-12 with 1:30 left before the intermission. From there, Warwick would continue grinding as an man-sized offensive rebound and stick-back courtesy of 6’2 junior forward, Kai Cipalla, later sliced the Cedar Crest lead down to a half dozen at 21-15 before an enormous 3-ball pumped in right before the second quarter buzzer by way of Cedar Crest 5’8 senior guard, Carson Perlaki, sent the Falcons into their dressing room with seemingly all the momentum in the world, along with the 24-15 lead as well.
While most of the first half up until that point hard largely been a case of Cedar Crest getting up big before allowing Warwick to creep back ever so slightly, the third quarter on Friday night would yet again prove to be much of the same narrative.
Case in point, a Kai Cipalla trifecta—good for 3 more in his team-high total 10-point effort on the evening—which got the Warriors back within shouting distance at 26-20 with 5:50 left to play in the third, only to then see that answered with an Ileri Ayo-Faleye bucket immediately afterwards, allowing the Falcons to nudge Warwick away once again. However, here came the Warriors back on the attack as an old-school three-point play by Tate Landis –who had played well beyond his years all night long—allowed the Warriors to get back within a half dozen at 29-23 with 4:54 left to play in the third frame before a Grant Allwein bucket later capped the impromptu Cedar Crest 4-0 salvo following the Landis momentum swing, putting the Falcons back up by double figures at 33-23 with 2:30 left to play in the third stanza.
Again, just when Warwick had to have felt like they were finally gaining some traction following a timely 3-ball sunk by 6’2 junior forward, Corbin Horst, which had gotten the Warriors back within six at 33-27 with under one minute to play in the third, an equally ill-timed Warwick foul on Ileri Ayo-Faleye seen hoisting a 3-ball in the final five seconds of the third quarter was emphatically capitalized on as the Falcons’ long and rangy forward proceeded to go a perfect 3-3 from the charity stripe to pour an extra ounce of salt in the Warwick wound, pushing the Cedar Crest lead back up to nine at 36-27 with the final eight minutes getting set to commence.
Needless to say, if ever Warwick was going to offer up some sort of final haymaker in hopes of knocking the Falcons off their game-long lead, the time had arrived. Sure enough, as if to be right on cue, here came the Warriors.
By now, no team is really a mystery in terms of how they are going to attack you. In Warwick’s case, the Warriors’ overall lack of team-wide height is more than made up for by their potent three-point shooting prowess given the way in which the Warriors routinely like to rise and fire from beyond the arc. Well, perhaps it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise then to see Warwick begin to claw back into the thick of things by way of their favorite weapon of choice.
At the onset of the final frame, a Corbin Horst triple –his second critical splash from bonus distance in the second half—quietly got the Warriors back within reach at 39-32 with 5:50 left to play. Then, seemingly within the blink of an eye, back-to-back treys cashed in by way of Warwick senior guard, Conor Adams, had gotten the Warriors well-within the clutches of claiming the lead once and for all at 40-38 with 3:08 still left to play.
Now, rewind the clock back to just two nights ago. In Cedar Crest’s previous game against Lampeter-Strasburg, the Falcons’ overall lack of free throw shooting down the stretch undoubtedly made the final outcome far more exciting than it truly needed to be had they simply cashed in more when sent to the charity stripe against the Pioneers. Ironically, the same situation seemed to rear its head once again within the final few minutes in Friday’s title fight as Cedar Crest was tasked with pushing the Warriors away once and for all with their late-game foul shooting. In that regard, Cedar Crest senior forward, Amani Jones, calmly toed the line and came up aces in knocking down a gigantic pair of Falcon freebies to up the Cedar Crest lead back to a half dozen at 44-38 with 55.1 seconds remaining.
But again, as Cedar Crest would soon find out, Warwick was far more than simply a team of destiny. No, the Warriors certainly contain more than their fair share of firepower to compete with anyone no matter who suits up for them on a nightly basis.
So, with the sand dial starting to run out on the Warriors’ chances of winning claiming their first L-L gold medals in over three decades, Kai Cipalla then came right down the floor and knocked down a tough-as-nails trey to again get Warwick back within reach at 44-41 with just 29.8 seconds remaining.
Then, following the subsequent Warwick foul following the ensuing Cedar Crest inbounds pass, the Falcons were again tasked with silencing their inner demons in hopes of finally extinguishing Warwick’s last gasp effort should they be able to knock down some more late-game free throws. Unfortunately for the Falcons however, the foul line continued to be their arch nemesis as an 0-2 trip at the line kept the door ajar for one final Warwick counterpunch.
Ultimately however, it was not to be as Warwick’s final offensive set that had been drawn up in the half court with 12.6 seconds left resulted in a Warriors’ 3-ball that bounced high off the back heel of the rim before being snatched down Ileri Ayo-Faleye, sending the senior Falcon the length of the floor with his own opportunity to put the Warriors away once and for all with a pair of free throw attempts late.
And while Ayo-Faleye would only be able to go 50% on his final two attempts, his lone make proved to be more than enough as the Cedar Crest Falcons were able to once again claim their seat at the head of the Lancaster-Lebanon League class after a few years’ absence, silencing Warwick in a well-earned 45-41 championship decision.
Granted, just a handful of years ago, seeing Cedar Crest compete for the L-L League championship had almost become something that had developed into being as common as equal to that of death and taxes. However, after wrapping their arms around the L-L League championship trophy for the first time since 2015, it was an achievement that was certainly not lost on anyone in the Falcons’ camp.
“It feels great. It’s just awesome,” an excited Cedar Crest head coach Tommy Smith said with a pair of scissors in one back pocket and another freshly-cut net residing in the other. “This is a feeling that’s so hard to describe, but it’s just awesome.”
“I’m proud of my guys,” Smith added. “It was a gusty win and I think that’s a great word to describe my guys throughout the year. Just gutsy. Finding enough plays to win down the stretch.”
Don’t be fooled by the Falcons’ triumph on Friday night however. After all, the overall culture that has long-since been built and is now thriving beyond belief at Cedar Crest is one that is arguably one of the most unique in terms of the L-L landscape. In short, the feeble-minded need not apply in hopes of someday donning the prestigious Cedar Crest uniform.
“The one thing is holding the kids accountable,” said Smith when illuminating on what he expects out of his players on both ends of the floor, but particularly on defense. “If they don’t do it, then they don’t play. I tell (his players), ‘You can be my best scorers, but if you don’t play defense, you’re not going to play. If you don’t play defense, you’re coming out.’”
“When their number is called, they’re not selfish,” Smith went on to add of his team’s true character amongst themselves for the betterment of the Falcons’ overall cause. “That’s what being a part of a team is all about. I’m thankful for it. My hats off to those guys because they sacrifice a lot to be part of this, something bigger than themselves.”
Yet even with all that said, Cedar Crest’s last trip to Manheim Township High School a few weeks ago was not nearly as joyous considering the Falcons came up short against a Blue Streaks team seen playing for their playoff lives as Township went on to defeat the freshly-minted Section One champs, 61-42. But their trip to Neffsville back on February 4th wasn’t all that bad though. No, instead of having that loss morph into perhaps two or more additional setbacks along the way, the Falcons were able to right the ship from then on and regain their footing, culminating in a triumphant return trip back to Township’s home gym.
“I never want to lose in anything. I don’t care if my playing my wife in cards,” Smith said while injecting some humor into his post-game comments. “But that was a good loss for us in the sense that we were able to regroup and refocus. We came off an emotional win (against McCaskey) and I think we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We were able to knock (his players) down a little bit and say, ‘The line is very slim between good, great, and bad.’”
“I knew that our film session the next day was going to be a good one,” Smith added regarding their late-season loss at Township. “These guys want to be good. They want to win, they’re into it, they’re dedicated, and they take what I say, and they go and apply it. When we sit in that film room, I can show them, ‘This is what you did,’ and they understand it and then we go out and fix it. I think that’s the difference in having seniors as opposed to sophomores. They’ve been through it. They listen and then they go apply, and I think that’s the sign of a good team.”
But perhaps most of all, don’t lose sight of the fact that bringing the gold hardware back home across the county line into Lebanon makes things all the more sweeter for Cedar Crest in terms of proudly carrying Lebanon County’s banner.
“Most of the schools (in the L-L) are from Lancaster,” Smith acknowledged. “I was born and raised in Lebanon and anytime you can bring a championship back to your hometown, it’s great,” before adding simply with a grin, “I’m sure the guys back home are happy.”
NEXT UP: After claiming L-L gold for the third time since 2014 on Friday night against Warwick, Cedar Crest will now get prepped for their opening round of the District 3-6A playoffs when the Falcons will host either Central Dauphin or Manheim Township next Friday night in Cornwall. And should the Rams be able to knock off the Blue Streaks in their opening round affair over in Harrisburg this Tuesday night, Friday night’s tussle will serve an epic battle between two league champions between the L-L and Mid-Penn respectively.
On the Warwick side, they too will now regroup and get set for the District 3-6A playoffs as well. And while the Warriors will not receive a first round bye like that of their Friday night counterparts, it will be a battle between two like-minded squads when the Warriors host Governor Mifflin on Tuesday night in Lititz between a pair of squads fresh off heart-breaking defeats in their league championship games on Friday night seeing as how the Mustangs dropped a 66-42 final decision at the hands of bitter rival, Wilson, in the Berks title game held at downtown Reading’s Santander Center.
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