READING — For most of Spring-Ford's historic boys basketball campaign, the Rams have ridden their Big Three of Nick Stanek, Drew Kakareka and Gary Hopkins to victory.
In Saturday night's PIAA Class AAAA Tournament opener, though, Cedar Crest locked down that terrific trio more effectively than a prison.
The District 3 runner-up Falcons totally took the District 1 No. 7 seed Rams out of their game in the second half in pulling away for a 66-52 victory at Reading High's Geigle Complex.
Andrew Eudy, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, scored a game-high 17 points for Cedar Crest (24-5), which advanced to Wednesday's second-rounder against District 12 No. 3 seed LaSalle College (a 64-58 winner over District 1 No. 3 seed Conestoga).
The Pioneer Athletic Conference champion Rams, who got a team-high 11 points from senior center Alex Epps-Ortiz, saw their best season in program history end at 24-5.
Cedar Crest, which went 10 deep to maintain its hounding defensive pressure throughout, limited the Stanek-Kakareka-Hopkins trifecta (averaging more than 40 points combined heading into the game) to just 17 total points.
Stanek, averaging 17.8 per game and coming off a career-best 31-point performance in the District 1 seventh-place, finished with 10 points while being plagued with foul trouble. Kakareka, who was shut out until the fourth quarter, scored five points. And Hopkins was held to two points.
"Everything was contested,' first-year Spring-Ford coach Chris Talley said. "We didn't get many easy looks, and the easy ones didn't go down.'
"That's where our game starts and ends, at the defensive end,' said Cedar Crest coach Thomas Smith. "I think our depth plays a big part of it.
"We pressured the point guard (Kakareka) from the time he touched the ball. We wanted to pressure him early, keep him off the pick and roll as much as we could and jump double to get the ball out of his hands, and the kids did a great job. ' 40' (Stanek) is a heck of a basketball player, but him getting in foul trouble helped us out.'
Spring-Ford, making its first PIAA tourney appearance, fell behind 19-10 before Epps-Ortiz and fellow reserve Cameron Phillips ignited a nine-point run that drew the Rams even at 19-19.
Cedar Crest went up to stay at 27-25 on a basket by Dominic Garloff with 1:20 left in the second half, then Jim Kern banked home a runner to send the Falcons into the locker room with a four-point lead.
The Rams got as close as 30-27 on a Hopkins hoop 1:09 into the second half, but the Falcons answered with a nine-point run capped by Eudy's drive that made it 39-27 with 3:28 left in the third.
"They just dictated the pace,' Talley said. "And that hasn't happened to us, if at all, this year. They had a great defensive game plan and they stuck to it. They were more physical than us. They deserve a lot of credit. They were the better team tonight; they were way more physical than us and stronger 1 through 10.
"We could just never get in the flow, even when it (the deficit) was manageable.'
Nick Miller (13 points), Josh Bucher (12) and Evan Horn (11) also hit double figures for Cedar Crest, which was making its first PIAA appearance since 1989.
"In the first half, we hung around and did what we needed to do,' said Epps-Ortiz. "The second half, their defense locked us up and they got plenty of offensive rebounds. They were doing everything.'
"They had good ball pressure and good help defense,' echoed Stanek. "For us, the shots just weren't falling. We just weren't hitting.'
The disappointing finish didn't diminish what Spring-Ford accomplished this year, according to Talley, who bid farewell to eight seniors — Stanek, Kakareka, Hopkins, Ryan Cass, Epps-Ortiz, Josh Tupper, Matt Foley and Noah Collins.
"That's what we talked about afterwards,' he said. "It hurts now, but in a couple days, a couple months, or however long it takes, they'll reflect back and be glad everybody was part of it.'
"It sucks to end this way, but we had a great season,' Stanek said.
"It was awesome; just an amazing season,' Epps-Ortiz said. "We really broke the glass this season.'
Stanek finished with 507 points this season, 66 shy of Mike Siuchta's school record set in 1997-98. ... The Rams were an atypical 18-for-31 from the foul line while Cedar Crest shot 18-for-25. ... Junior Mike Olsen scored eight points and Epps-Ortiz and Hopkins had six rebounds each for Spring-Ford.
Cedar Crest 66
Cedar Crest: Daubert 0 2-2 2, Kintzer 0 0-0 0, Bucher 4 3-6 12, Gristick 1 2-2 5, Frost 0 0-0 0, Miller 5 3-3 13, Kern 2 0-0 4, Livering 0 0-0 0, Garloff 1 0-0 2, Eudy 6 5-7 17, Horn 4 3-5 11, Ferrera 0 0-0 0, Eberhart 0 0-0 0, Gonzales 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 18-25 66.
Spring-Ford: Epps-Ortiz 4 3-6 11, Kakareka 1 2-3 5, Phillips 0 4-8 4, Cass 1 0-0 3, Gnias 1 0-0 3, Olsen 3 2-2 8, Foley 0 0-0 0, Hopkins 1 0-2 2, Tupper 0 0-2 0, Wagner 1 2-3 4, Matthews 0 0-0 0, Freedman 1 0-0 2, Stanek 2 5-5 10. Totals: 15 18-31 52.
Cedar Crest 14 15 12 25 - 66
Spring-Ford 8 17 7 20 - 52
3-point goals: Bucher, Gristick; Kakareka, Cass, Gnias, Stanek.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.