Cedar Crest boys  basketball coach Tom Smith hugs his dad, also Tom Smith, after the Falcons pulled out a 78-72 double overtime win against Elizabethtown
Cedar Crest boys basketball coach Tom Smith hugs his dad, also Tom Smith, after the Falcons pulled out a 78-72 double overtime win against Elizabethtown on Wednesday night to advance to their first Lancaster-Lebanon League championship game since 1976. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)
LANDISVILLE - It was supposed to be the 'B' game, the 'other' Lancaster-Lebanon League boys' basketball semifinal.

In another part of Lancaster County on Wednesday night, unbeaten Donegal and perennial league juggernaut McCaskey were tangling in the supposed marquee matchup of the L-L semis.

Little did everyone know that Cedar Crest doesn't do undercards anymore.

Nope, these Falcons, after a mere 37-year drought, are main-event worthy once again.

In a riveting contest that far exceeded its advance billing, the unflappable Falcons survived a fierce and fiery Elizabethtown squad, 78-72 in double overtime in an epic, instant-classic clash at Hempfield High School.

Led by a star-making 27-point performance by freshman guard Evan Horn, Cedar Crest raced out to a 24-11 first-quarter lead then calmly survived repeated bids by the Bears to derail their hopes of securing a league title game berth for the first time since 1976.

That long-awaited championship appearance will come Friday at 7 p.m. at Manheim Township opposite mighty McCaskey, which turned back Donegal, 72-65, in that other semifinal matchup you may have heard something about.

"Wow," Smith said, settling on one word when asked for several to describe what his squad had just accomplished. "Just a fun game to be a part of. That's why you do it. That's why you coach, that's why you play, to be involved in games like this.


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Playing in the final four, playing for the chance to go to a league championship, that's why you do what you do."

It's also why the Falcons' glue guys, senior guard Clay Penchard and fellow 12th-grader Killian Klopp (15 points), stuck around through the hard times of the previous two seasons, during which Crest (16-8) won a grand total of 10 games and reinforced its reputation as an L-L also-ran.

"It's hard to explain how good this feels," said a smiling Penchard, who backed up Horn's breakout performance with 18 points and a bevy of clutch plays down the stretch.

Cedar Crest s Evan Horn goes up for a layup as Elizabethtown s Tyler Koser looks to block the shot during Wednesday s Lancaster-Lebanon League semifinal
Cedar Crest s Evan Horn goes up for a layup as Elizabethtown s Tyler Koser looks to block the shot during Wednesday s Lancaster-Lebanon League semifinal matchup. Horn, a freshman guard, poured in 27 points to lead the Falcons to a thrilling 78-72 double overtime triumph. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)
"These past couple seasons have been so rough, this year we're finally accomplishing what we want to accomplish. Even this year started out rough, but we turned it around and we're on a really good run."

The red-hot Falcons, 5-7 in early January, made it 11 wins in their last 12 outings thanks to Horn's un-freshman-like performance, which featured the Falcons' first points via an early first-quarter 3-pointer and the go-ahead bucket 43 seconds into the second extra session.

In between, the mature-beyond-his-years ninth-grader was only all over the place, making big plays at the offensive end, grabbing key rebounds, playing lock-down defense. You name it, and Horn did it on Wednesday night.

"He is a difference-maker, both ends of the court," Smith said of his senior-like freshman guard. "He's a tough check on the offensive end, and he can play anyone on defense. Tonight he had a job of containing two of the best players in the Lancaster-Lebanon League (Tyler Koser and Lucas Jewell) and I think he did a great job."

Horn didn't really want to hear that, though.

"It was all because of my teammates," Horn said, without even a hint of false modesty. "I played good, but without them nothing else happens. It's a great feeling, but it's all about the team. It's not about me."

There's a lot of truth in that statement.

Though Horn was in the middle of it with 11 points, Cedar Crest was a well-oiled machine en route to jumping out to what should have been an overwhelming 24-11 first-quarter lead.

Cedar Crest s Clay Penchard drives to the hoop past Elizabethtown s Kirby Breault on Wednesday night. Penchard tallied 18 points in the Falcons  78-72
Cedar Crest s Clay Penchard drives to the hoop past Elizabethtown s Kirby Breault on Wednesday night. Penchard tallied 18 points in the Falcons 78-72 double overtime win that advanced them to Friday s Lancaster-Lebanon League championship game. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)

But E-town, paced by Koser's warrior-like 27-point effort, 21 more from Jewell and Mike Kinderwater's four 3-point bombs, refused to back down from the Falcons' forceful opening statement.

By the mid-point of the second quarter the Section Two champions were back within 26-23 and would stay in Crest's hip pocket the rest of the night.

The Falcons and their utter lack of experience in such a frenetic postseason encounter, should have flinched. They did not.

E-town kept coming and Crest kept responding. Even after E-town pulled even at 51 on a Kinderwater '3' late in the third, then went up by a point early in the fourth.

Even after the Bears forced overtime seconds after a missed dunk by Andrew Eudy (11 points) that would have wrapped up the win in regulation.

Even after Kinderwater buried a game-tying '3' with 14 seconds left in the first OT to foil the Falcons yet again.

"We knew they were never gonna quit," Penchard said. "We just had to control our emotions, not get too high or too low. It shouldn't have necessarily went into double overtime, we missed some plays that we should have made. We just knew we had to keep fighting and we did that."

"This team is so mentally strong," Smith said. "They don't ever think that they're out of it. You wouldn't know that this group hasn't been to the playoffs. They're just a gutsy group. They understand the game, they work hard in practice and it pays off in nights like tonight."

The Falcons proved all that in the decisive second OT, and in many different ways.

There was Eudy redeeming himself with a perfect pass to Horn for the go-ahead points.

There was Penchard coming up with a huge block of Koser with the Falcons protecting a 76-72 lead in the final minute.

Koser slammed the ball down in frustration after it went out of bounds off of him, leading to a technical free throw from Klopp that provided a welcome cushion.

There were other less glamorous but no less important efforts throughout the night from role players Seth Daubert, Josh Bucher and Tommy Black, who combined for seven points and probably twice as many floorburns.

It's what a team worthy of its league championship game does.

It's not necessarily what a team that was under .500 midway through the season does, though.

"We were sick of it," Horn said of how the Falcons got turned around so dramatically. "We knew were a good team, and soon as we got to 5-7 we got it turned around. Practice got more intense and we went on from there."

As it turns out, all the way to the L-L finals.