HERSHEY - Assuming this brutal winter still has enough misery left in it to delay spring's arrival, it's a little early to be breaking out the baseball terminology.
But the Cedar Crest boys' basketball team managed to work some in anyway during Saturday morning's District Three Class AAAA quarterfinal clash with Cumberland Valley at Giant Center.
The third-seeded Falcons pitched a first-quarter shutout and held No. 6 CV without a single point for the first 10 minutes and change on the way to a defense-fueled 47-35 triumph that secured both a spot in Tuesday's semifinal round and the program's first state playoff berth since 1989.
Given the 10 a.m. start time and the fact that they were making their first-ever appearance on the spacious Giant Center floor, it wasn't surprising for the Falcons to be a little disoriented early on.
But it didn't figure to be because of that big fat zero on the scoreboard that wouldn't go away until 5:18 was left in the first half.
By then, the Lancaster-Lebanon League champs were up 14-0 and on their way — although things did get interesting in the second half – to a return trip to the Giant Center for a 6:30 semifinal clash with Central York on Tuesday night.
Central York, which bested Crest in OT in a non-league encounter in December, punched its ticket to the finals by upending Carlisle on Saturday.
"We came out, ran our offense and played awesome defense," said junior guard Josh Bucher, who helped key the swarming early defensive work and also tallied a team-high 13 points via four 3-point buckets. "We kept scoring the basketball and before you knew it we looked up and it was 14-0. None of us knew (what happened). It was a surprise, but we were excited."
Battling a stomach bug that left him drained, Cedar Crest head coach Tom Smith didn't have much cause to be upbeat on Saturday. But had he not felt so ill, the Falcons' defensive work early on would have had him bouncing off the Giant Center walls.
With Bucher and sophomore catalyst Evan Horn's active hands leading the way, the Falcons (24-4) forced six first-quarter turnovers, made CV (18-6) rush the shots at the basket they did get and generally forced a deer-in-the-headlights look onto the Mid-Penn Commonwealth reps' faces.
"It was a surprise because, No. 1, they're a very good basketball team," Smith said. "They got to the foul line and missed some shots (CV was 0 for 4 from the line in the first) and the ball wasn't bouncing their way early. But that was awesome. Holding the number (six) team in the district to zero points in a quarter is pretty outstanding."
The Falcons were equally impressive in holding off the inevitable comeback bid by CV.
Gray Kline finally got the Eagles on the board with 5:18 left in the half, and CV eventually got the deficit down to 18-11, before a Nick Miller "3" at the buzzer boosted Crest's lead back to 24-13 at the half.
But CV kept coming in the third with the Falcons' offensive stagnating a bit and center Andrew Eudy on the bench in foul trouble.
"I hate to say it, but we're kinda known for coming out slow in the beginning of the third," said Bucher. "We gotta fix that, because teams are gonna get better. They're gonna take advantage."
The Eagles took advantage to a degree, pulling to within 27-24 on a Matt Tamanosky free throw with 2:16 left in the third, only to see the Falcons assert themselves again behind Horn's superb all-around play.
First, Horn punctured CV's 2-3 zone with both an old-school three-point play and then a runner in the lane in the closing seconds of the third to bump the lead back to 32-26.
In the fourth, his dribble penetration set up two 3-pointers apiece by Bucher and Zach Gristick (10 points) that kept CV at bay. Bucher's final "3" with 2:07 left served as the dagger, making it a 44-35 game at that point.
"He does it all for us," Smith said of Horn. "He makes the right plays down the stretch, he knows when to score and he knows when to kick (the ball out). When we get to the three-minute mark with an eight-point lead I love having 33 (Horn) on the floor."
Smith will get to see a lot more of Horn, and the rest of his deep and talented squad this season, starting Tuesday.
And at the rate Cedar Crest is going, the end, though it will inevitably come at some point, appears to be nowhere in sight.
"We met so many goals in the past week," Bucher said with a grin, of Crest capturing the L-L title, earning a trip to the Giant Center for districts and now qualifying for states. "I'm so excited for our team. We've worked so hard in the past years and the coaches have worked so hard and they finally got here. Coach Smith was sick today, but I know he's still enjoying this. This is awesome."