In this corner, the Cedar Crest boys' basketball team, a group completely lacking in playoff experience and hailing from a program that has developed only a smattering of postseason pedigree over the last, oh, three-plus decades.
And in this corner, Lancaster Catholic, a little inexperienced by its own usually lofty postseason standards, but still endlessly steeped in tradition when it comes to producing winning playoff basketball.
The winner is. ... Not the team you would have guessed after reading their respective resumes.
Cedar Crest arrived at Lancaster Catholic on Monday night a complete postseason greenhorn, and departed as a grizzled playoff veteran after upending the perennial power Crusaders, 53-49, in a Lancaster-Lebanon League first-round playoff encounter.
So much for the value of experience when it comes to the high school hoops postseason.
Led by its only two seniors - Killian Klopp and Clay Penchard - Crest, making its first L-L playoff appearance since winning it all in 1976, was completely unbothered by playoff pressure while bounding out to a 14-4 lead five minutes in.
And it was even less troubled when the going got tough and a lead of nearly three-and-a-half quarters dissolved into a five-point deficit with a little over four minutes left.
Kind of amazing, but completely true. The Section One runner-up Falcons, a combined 10-34 the previous two seasons are headed to Wednesday's L-L semifinal round opposite Elizabethtown, a 47-43 winner over Lampeter-Strasburg. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Hempfield High School, with a berth in Friday's league title game up for grabs.
"I'll tell you what, this group's cool and calm," said Cedar Crest coach Tom Smith, following the Falcons' 10th win in 11 games. "And they embraced it, they wanted this. I think they came out strong just like that, and as the game wore on emotions wore off.
"Give credit to Lancaster Catholic, they fight and they're scrappy. They started to turn us over, but not once did our kids quit.
No Falcon was throwing more haymakers than senior guard Klopp, who poured in a game-high 22 points and helped Cedar Crest punch its way out of a 45-40 hole with 4:02 remaining.
Klopp nailed five 3-point buckets- most of them from well beyond the arc - and none was bigger than an ice-water-in-the-veins left-wing bomb with 3:46 left that sparked a game-ending 13-4 spurt.
Penchard, who tallied 16 critically important points that supplemented junior center Andrew Eudy's huge night (12 points, six blocks) in the paint, picked up the torch from his fellow senior from there, eventually dropping in the go-ahead points on a floater in the lane with 2:05 left.
"I personally don't get nervous, but I definitely felt some jitters before this game," said Klopp, who ended up Smith's breaking own Cedar Crest career 3-point record on Monday. "But as soon as the tip-off (was over) and we started getting some offensive and defensive possessions we all settled down. I think the pressure and the crowd got to us at the end, but we finally overcame that."
"My two seniors all year long have just made big play after big play after big play," Smith said of Klopp and Penchard. "Tonight was no different."
The way they started, it didn't look like the Falcons (15-8) would need their seniors to make big plays down the stretch.
Sharp and poised from the get-go, Crest jumped out to that aforementioned 14-4 five minutes in, and was still up 23-13 after a Klopp '3' with 6:07 left in the half.
"They shot a high percentage early and they executed really well," said Lancaster Catholic coach Joe Klazas of Crest's strong start. "We're fairly inexperienced playoff-wise with this group that we have, but I thought they handled it (the playoff atmosphere) a little better than we did."
But the Section Four champion Crusaders (16-7) clawed back to within 27-21 at the half thanks to relentless perimeter defense that knocked the Falcons off stride a bit.
Catholic made further inroads in the second half, getting to within 38-35 after three quarters.
The Crusaders then fully asserted themselves in the first four minutes of the fourth behind rangy center Omar Lopez and scrappy '2' guard Erik Goldbach, who posted a team-high 11 points apiece.
Goldbach appeared to have inserted the dagger with a bucket that put Catholic up 45-40 with 4:02 left, but instead ended up lighting a fire under the Falcons.
A very calm, under control fire sparked by Klopp's gigantic, momentum-changing '3'.
"We were definitely on our heels there," Klopp said. "I just wanted to get the crowd to settle down, so I tried to get that shot and quiet them down. That got my team settled and then we made a push."
Did they ever. A Lopez jumper put the Crusaders back up 47-43 with 3:36 left, but Klopp responded with yet another '3 to slice the deficit to one with 3:10 left.
Randy Speller hit two free throws with 2:48 left to keep the Crusaders in front, 49-46, but that would be the last points the home team would score, with Penchard's gorgeous floater in the lane with 2:05 left providing the last points needed to secure victory.
Also, a bit of breaking news: The Falcons are not your typical postseason newbie that's just happy to be there. They didn't act like it on Monday, and don't expect to on Wednesday, either.
"We want our candy," Smith said with a smile. "That's the great thing about this group. They're not satisfied, they're still hungry."
And playoff rookies no more.
CEDAR CREST 53, LANCASTER CATHOLIC 49
CEDAR CREST (53)
Penchard 8 0-1 16, Klopp 7 3-4 22, Eudy 5 2-4 12, Horn 0 0-1 0, Daubert 1 0-0 3, Black 0 0-0 0, Bucher 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 5-10 53.
LANCASTER CATHOLIC (49)
Goldbach 4 2-2 11, Schneider 1 2-2 4, Speller 2 3-5 8, Lopez 5 1-3 11, Purvis 4 0-1 8, Kenney 1 1-2 3, Heise 0 2-2 2, Schedleski 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 11-17 49.
Cedar Crest 16 11 11 15 - 53
Lancaster Catholic 10 11 14 14 - 49
3-point goals - Cedar Crest 6 (Klopp 5, Daubert), Lancaster Catholic 2 (Speller, Goldbach).
Total Fouls - Cedar Crest 16, Lancaster Catholic 14
Other Quarterfinals Results
Donegal 60, Lebanon 47
McCaskey 105, Lancaster Mennonite 68
Elizabethtown 47, Lampeter-Strasburg 43
Donegal vs. McCaskey, at Conestoga Valley H.S., 7 p.m.
Cedar Crest vs. Elizabethtown, at Hempfield H.S., 7 p.m.