As unbelievable as it may seem in today’s day and age, there was a time not all that long ago when the prospect of witnessing a possible matchup between Harrisburg and Cedar Crest would have made even the most loyal of Falcons supporters squirm just ever so slightly in their seats. But unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last handful of years, you — and the rest of the District 3 audience for that matter — is more than aware that this is no longer your older brother’s Cedar Crest anymore.
Dating back to the 2012-13 season up until the present day, it could easily be argued that there quite simply has been no better force contained with the Lancaster-Lebanon League than the meteoric rocket-shot that the Falcons have ascended on over the last decade. Why? Well, perhaps nothing helps serve as better testament than the Falcons’ four consecutive trips to the L-L League championship game, a feat which the fast-rising, tough-as-nails program from South Lebanon had been able to accomplish every year from 2013 thru 2016.
But getting there was simply not the end-all, be-all goal at play here.
Peppered into the Falcons’ dominance during that stretch, Cedar Crest was able to claim two-straight L-L League crowns by topping bitter rivals found in Lebanon and McCaskey in back-to-back fashion for league supremacy during the years of 2014 and 2015 respectively.
Yet while Cedar Crest was clearly running roughshod through the L-L League during this time, there were still plenty of critics who remained, waiting more than eagerly to pounce on the Falcons should they fall short in the District 3 playoffs. But in a way that perhaps best exemplifies the core DNA of what their program stands for, the Falcons proceeded to throw caution to the wind and silence all the doubters by blazing a path through the district brackets as well.
Speaking of the years of 2014 & 2015 yet again, the Falcons were able to make it all the way to highly-regarded District 3 AAAA championship game during the time of the four-classification system, officially signifying that the Cedar Crest program had finally arrived in terms of the high school basketball power grid found within Central Pennsylvania. And while Cedar Crest would ultimately bow out to the York High Bearcats in each one of those title contests, the road to the Saturday afternoon championship round was filled with plenty of memories that had largely been thought to be unimaginable for the longest time.
And perhaps no better game described all of that concocted together than the contest that took place on February 21st, 2015.
On that Saturday afternoon four years ago, the #1-seeded Falcons took their 24-2 overall record with them onto the palatial Giant Center floor for the final game of the District 3-AAAA quarterfinal round against what has arguably been the best basketball program in Central PA since the what feels like the dawn of man, the Harrisburg Cougars. And while this had largely been the round where up-and-comers typically meet the harsh reality of getting bounced in the District 3 bracket after going toe-to-toe with the mighty Cougars, this would prove to be a day when those expected outcomes of the past would do a dramatic about-face.
To be sure, the Falcons made mincemeat of the Cougars after a resounding 76-49 demolition of Harrisburg, catapulting Cedar Crest into the semifinal round where the Falcons would again prevail after getting the better of Reading, before falling to York in the championship match.
So, why the long-winded history lesson? Because the Falcons found themselves matchup with Harrisburg once again in the quarterfinal round of the District 3 playoffs once again on Friday night. And while this game would not be contested at the esteemed confines of Hershey’s Giant Center like the game which preceded it four years earlier, that likely set just fine with the Falcons given the fact that Friday’s game would be contested on their home court in a venue best defined by the name itself, “The Cage.”
But on this night, history would not repeat itself for Cedar Crest.
When thinking of the Harrisburg Cougars, stellar shooting from behind the arc is not typically one the things that immediately jumps out and comes to mind. Yet on Friday night however, the Cougars proved to be lethal shooting the rock.
Despite the fact that neither team seemed to really get away from one another in terms of the scoreboard early on Friday night, Harrisburg remained persistent in their efforts of dialing it up from long distance, eventually being rewarded in doing so as the visitors were able to regain the lead at 8-5 following a trifecta splashed in by 6’1 senior guard, Steffon Chambers. Fortunately for the Cougars, Chambers continued to have the hot-hand shortly thereafter as a fearless take to the cup by the Cougars’ feisty guard gave the team from the state capital their largest lead of the contest up until that point at 12-8 with 3:45 left to play in the opening quarter. But as mentioned, the long-range shooting display authored by Harrisburg in the early going proved to be the greatest difference, as a yet another Cougars’ 3-ball, this one cashed in by Chambers just before the first quarter horn, put the Cougars up by a touchdown at 17-10 after a back-and-forth opening eight minutes.
Unfortunately for Cedar Crest, the marksmanship from the Cougars only continued to remain a constant once the second quarter got underway.
In fact, as of it to be right on cue, the Harrisburg cushion then reached the double-digit plateau as another 3-ball, this one sunk by 5’10 senior guard, Stephen Jones, put the Cougars up 20-10 after the opening minute of the second stanza. From there, the Cougars kept their foot pressed firmly down to floorboard a floater in the lane from 6’2 junior guard, Davon Lee, effectively knocked the Falcons back on their heels with Harrisburg holding serve at 24-13 near the midway mark of the second quarter.
But as was to be expected, especially when talking about the senior leadership provided by the Cedar Crest’s unquestioned leader in 6’0 senior guard Logan Horn, the Falcons would refuse to yield another further ground over the course of the opening half. And right at that very moment, Horn proceeded to take things over for the homestanding Falcons with a hard take to the rack which narrowed the Harrisburg lead back down to seven at 24-17.
Yet as mentioned, the outside shooting prowess demonstrated by the Harrisburg in the first half of Friday night’s contest remained an Achille’s heel for Cedar Crest, as the Cougars proceeded to rip off an 11-2 blitz following the Horn bucket to regain control at 35-19 after a trey knocked in by Harrisburg’s 5’11 senior guard, Ali Anthony.
And with the first half rapidly winding down, the Cougars were able to build upon their lead in the final 2:20 as Harrisburg raced into the halftime locker room with their lead standing at a baker’s dozen, 39-26.
However, as Harrisburg was about to quickly find out, the Falcons team that would reemerge from the halftime intermission would prove to be a unit far more difficult for the Cougars to get a handle on in the second half.
Needing any sort of spark in order to get the second half underway, the Falcons certainly found that and then some after a 3-ball cashed in by 5’11 senior guard Trey Shutter that got the scoring underway, before an emphatic two-handed stuff by 6’7 junior forward Illeri Ayo-Faleye quickly followed suit, reinvigorating the crowd as Cedar Crest quickly found themselves back within single figures at 41-33 with 5:30 left to play in the third frame. And with Shutter continuing to have the hot-hand — something best evidenced by his 17-point effort put together on Friday evening by way of five triples — the Cedar Crest junior guard poured in yet another trifecta to narrow the Harrisburg back down to eight at 46-38 just two minutes later.
However, as big-time players often do — and Davon Lee certainly fits that description — the Cougars would come right back as the Harrisburg junior point guard promptly ended two consecutive Cedar Crest possessions with back-to-back steals and finishes, effectively putting the Cougars back in front by double digits at 52-41 with now just 1:40 left to tick off the third period clock.
Yet when speaking of big-time players, one simply cannot overlook Cedar Crest’s Logan Horn. Fittingly, with his team once again begging for someone to step up and take over the steering wheel while seeing their aspirations of making a trip to the District 3-6A finals slowly slipping away, Horn would proceed to close the third quarter out by going on his own personal 5-0 scoring run, bringing the Falcons back to within five at 54-49 with the final frame now set to get underway.
Much in the same manner that both squads began the contest, neither Harrisburg nor Cedar Crest would be able to find much in terms of breathing room from one another once the fourth quarter got underway. So, with both teams taking jabs at one another, it became imperative that someone from either step to the forefront and make a momentum-turning play in order to turn the tide in favor of their side heading down the final furlong. Right at that very moment, it appeared that Cedar Crest would be the team reaping the benefits of rising to the challenge at hand with an old-fashioned three-point play put together by Ileri Ayo-Faleye which quickly trimmed the Falcons’ deficit down to four at 66-62 with just 1:11 left to go.
As mentioned, the damage in which Harrisburg was able to inflict upon their hosts in the first half largely proved to be the prevailing theme which propelled the Cougars off to a fast start. And while playing with the lead for much of the contest as a direct result of their sizzling shooting in the early going, stellar shooting from the foul line would be even more vital to the Cougars’ cause heading down the final stretch.
In that regard, the Cougars deserve a standing ovation for the way in which they were able to close the game out from the charity stripe on Friday night.
Within the game’s final 50 seconds, Harrisburg routinely kept Cedar Crest at bay despite the Falcons’ constant threats heading down the stretch as the Cougars rattled off a 7-12 free throw shooting display down inside the final minute to maintain the slim cushion with the clock melting away, much to the chagrin of Cedar Crest.
Yet even despite their prowess from the foul line down the stretch, an ill-timed 0-2 spurt with 2.6 seconds left to go kept the door open just ajar for the Falcons to fully complete their furious rally.
Unfortunately for the Falcons and their loyal supporters, the Falcons’ last second halfcourt heave bounced cruelly off the back rim, officially sending Harrisburg into the District 3-6A semifinal round after prevailing past the Falcons, 74-71, in what had been an absolutely marvelous high school basketball contest waged between two of the best big-school programs that the mid-state has to offer.
NEXT UP: As mentioned, Harrisburg now moves on to the semifinal round of the district playoffs which sees the Cougars loading up the bus once again and heading off to Berks County when they meet up with the top-seeded Wilson Bulldogs in West Lawn on Tuesday night.
For Cedar Crest, the Falcons now drop into the D3-6A consolation bracket as the Falcons return to the friendly confines of “The Cage” by welcoming the Cumberland Valley Eagles on Tuesday evening as well.