LITITZ - One word to describe the struggles of this season for the Lebanon High boys basketball team – turnovers.
“It’s been a problem for us. We constantly talk about it and we’ve been making sure we maintain our focus,” Lebanon coach Tim Speraw said. “We try to coach about making better decisions.”
It also didn’t help that the Cedars were going to be without starters Matty Lopez and Allan Escoto due to a violation of team rules.
And unfortunately for Lebanon, the turnovers still continued at their troubling pace,18 total, in fact. That doomed the Cedars early in their rematch with McCaskey from the teams’ regular season meeting – this time dropping their matchup with the Red Tornado, 80-63, in the District 3 Class AAAA 7th Place Game Thursday at Warwick High School.
The game started out as a sloppy, defensive battle with McCaskey leading 3-2 with 5:29 left in the first quarter – but then the flood gates opened, starting with two quick lay-ins from the Red Tornado’s Ricky Cruz off two Cedar turnovers. Cruz’s two baskets started a 17-2 McCaskey run to lead 20-4 after the opening quarter. Cruz finished with 11 points in the big win.
“I’m obviously disappointed. I’m disappointed in our effort and our mental effort in the first half,” Speraw said. “You can’t give McCaskey easy baskets. We just can’t have that, especially in a game like that.”
Kobe Gantz, who finished with 9 points on the night for McCaskey, says defense is always a first priority.
“Coach always pushes us to play defense,” he said. “It always starts on the defensive end. So once we came together as a team and established that, the game came easy.”
And for the Cedars, things only got worse as McCaskey with big contributions from its bench in the second quarter, outscored Lebanon 25-11.. Jathan Gonzalez, Omar Baskerville, and John Burnside did most of the damage with 11, five, and six points respectively. That opened up the Red Tornado’s lead to 45-15 at the half.
“They came in and played well. They continued off the momentum we started,” Cruz said. “Our first team and our bench is just as good as each other. We go at each other every day in practice, and I expected nothing less from them.”
Randolph Speller led all scorers with 20 points. The Red Tornado had four players finish in double figures for the game – Izaiah Baratta was the other with 12 points.
Lebanon did come out in the second half and fought hard until the end, to its credit. After only being outscored 18-15 in the third, the Cedars then really took it to the Red Tornado for the first time all game in the final quarter, outscoring them 29-7 and fighting back to within 13 at one point.
And that entire second half performance can be something for the Cedars to build off of as they now await for their first matchup in the PIAA Class AAAA tournament next Saturday.
“I thought this group really came together in the second half. We played extremely hard and together and the way I know we can play,” Speraw said. “I was proud of the kids that were here and the effort they gave, especially in the second half.”
The Red Tornado of course, will have a nice amount of momentum heading into the state tournament with the big win.
“We just have to continue to come together as a team and keep our chemistry together,” Gantz said. “If we play as a team and keep working hard, that’s all we can do and we’ll try to get the win every time.”
McCaskey 80 , Lebanon 63
Kobe Gantz 3 3-3 9, Ricky Cruz 4 3-3 11, Izaiah Baratta 5 0-0 12, Greg Nunez 1 4-6 6, Randolph Speller 5 6-8 20, Jathan Gonzalez 3 3-6 11, Omar Baskerville 2 0-0 5, John Burnside 3 0-3 6. Totals — 26 19-29 80.
Daniel Cariacabeur 1 0-0 3, Justin Baker 1 2-2 4, Shaq Ortiz 4 2-2 10, Logan Blouch 4 0-0 12, Dante Vargas 5 4-5 15, Cam Shaak 3 0-0 6, Khalique Washington 2 5-6 9, Luis Aquinos Rios 2 0-1 4. Totals — 22 13-21 63.
Lebanon_4 _11 _15 _ 29 — _ 63
McCaskey_ 20 _25 _18 _7 _ — _80
3-point goals — McCaskey 9 (Speller, 4; Gonzalez, Baratta, 2; Baskerville), Lebanon 6 (Blouch, 4; Vargas; Cariacabeur)