Four takeaways from the latest in Lebanon County high school hoops:
Given that it has just one loss and has wrapped up the Lancaster-Lebanon Section One title, it probably goes without saying that the Cedar Crest girls basketball team is a quality defensive squad.
But on those occasions when the Falcons make a defensive mistake and allow a scorer to get free for a jump shot or a drive to the hoop, they've got the capability to erase that mistake very quickly thanks to 6-foot-1 junior center Alyssa Austin.
To simply say Austin is an imposing shot blocker is like saying we got a little bit of snow last weekend. She's one of those rare players that can dominate a game defensively as well as offensively, something she did again on Wednesday during the Falcons' big win over Manheim Township.
Austin swatted away seven Township shots and altered at least that many while also adding 16 points to the victory.
The Falcons would be a good defensive team without Austin. With her, they're a great one.
"I just do what I know how to do," she said with a shrug, following the Township win.
If she keeps doing it so well, the Falcons could enjoy a long postseason run again this season.
Elco freshman Shuey coming of age
Ryelle Shuey's eye-popping exploits on the soccer field were well-documented this past fall. What you may not know as well is the fact that the Elco freshman is blossoming into quite a basketball player, too.
A starter all season at forward, the rangy, athletic Shuey is really beginning to hit her stride on the hardwood. That was particularly evident on Thursday night during the Raiders' hard-fought loss to now Section Three champ Northern Lebanon.
While some freshmen may have backed off in what was an intense, physical contest, Shuey clearly thrived on the heated competition, dropping in a team-high 14 points while dealing with Northern Lebanon's superb junior forward, Megan Brandt.
It wasn't exactly a shock to Elco coach Ashli Shay, herself a one-time Elco freshman hoops phenom.
"Anybody who's seen her play any sport knows that she's a really competitive kid," Shay said. "She doesn't take to losing very well. She just goes so hard, and she comes up big in big moments. She seems to rise to the occasion big time, and I think she did that in the second half."
Three more years of this kid, Elco fans. Enjoy.
Cedar Crest does not control L-L playoff fate
After losing three straight against section competition, the Falcons at last righted their ship Thursday with a blowout, Senior Night win over Warwick. However, enough damage may have already been done, because they no longer control their own league playoff destiny.
By way of the league's third tiebreaker (record versus section champion), Hempfield (14-6, 11-4) would advance to the L-L postseason over Cedar Crest should both teams finish with the same league record. It's unlikely the Falcons fall in their season finale at Penn Manor, who they haven't lost to since 2012. Therefore, whether Cedar Crest gets its shot at a third straight league title largely comes down to this:
Will Section One champion McCaskey take care of Hempfield at home in its season finale Tuesday?
The Black Knights upset the Red Tornadoes back on Jan. 8, but from this view it's hard to see another surprise unfolding. McCaskey's biggest obstacle this season, mystifyingly enough, has appeared to be sufficient motivation, and I don't believe it will lack come Tuesday. While there is little more for the Red Tornadoes to accomplish, they will soon bid adieu to one of their most talented players in program history, Kobe Gantz.
Gantz, as well as starting guard Randolph Speller, are scheduled to be honored pregame on McCaskey's Senior Night and then play for one of the last times in front of their home crowd. I'd place more confidence in Gantz dropping 30 that night than Hempfield leaving with a victory, but that's by no means a guarantee. After all, not much in Section One has been this season.
Elco and Lebanon do
Win and you're in.
If you're a Raider or a Cedar that's the focus this week.
On Monday night, Lebanon can clinch the Section Two title outright by beating Solanco, having already earned a league playoff spot more than a week ago due to the lack of in-section competition this year. Meanwhile, Elco will have to wait one night longer for a similar trip to Donegal that could decide its postseason fate.
If the Raiders top the Indians, they'll claim second place in Section Three all for themselves and meet McCaskey in the first round of league playoffs on Saturday. They could also secure a berth with any Cocalico loss beforehand, as the Eagles visit Donegal themselves on Monday and Lampeter-Strasburg one night later.
Should Lebanon advance, it would take on Lancaster Mennonite in the first round of the L-L bracket, having already beaten the Blazers handily in its season opener on Dec. 4, before losing to Elco one night later. The only possibility of an Cedars-Raiders reunion would have to come in the league final. However, Lebanon could rematch Cedar Crest in the league playoff semifinals, should the Falcons obtain a berth and defeat Lampeter-Strasburg in the opening round.