As the Lancaster-Lebanon League girls basketball regular season winds down, Cedar Crest has gotten to the point where it can start checking some goals off its list.
Tuesday night in Landisville, the Falcons moved one step closer to a big one - the successful defense of their Section One title. They knocked off Hempfield 53-44 to clinch at least a tie for first place in the section.
The win also boosted Cedar Crest’s record to a perfect 12-0 in section play and 19-0 overall.
The Falcons can claim the title outright by winning one of its two remaining section games. They host Penn Manor (1-11, 7-13) on Friday and visit Elizabethtown (3-9, 8-12) next Tuesday.
“We set several goals at the beginning of the year,” Cedar Crest coach Jim Donmoyer said. “A section championship was one of those goals. We wanted to repeat as champions. Then comes leagues, districts, states ... it’s all still out there.”
Tuesday’s victory was a good test for a team gearing up for what it hopes will be a long postseason run.
The Falcons cruised through the first half and led by as many as 22 points early in the third quarter, but Hempfield charged back with a 13-0 run in the fourth to cut the margin to 46-42 with two minutes remaining.
The Black Knights’ surge was fueled by senior guard Juliana Clark, who scored seven of her 22 points during the rally. Earlier in the second half, Clark eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau for her career with a bucket to cap a fast break.
Hitting that milestone appeared to settle Hempfield’s nerves. Clark came into the game needing 11 points to hit 1,000, and it looked like she and her teammates were pressing a bit to get her there. Needing just two points to hit the milestone at the start of the second half, Clark missed three straight shots on the Knights' first three possessions - including a gimme layup.
That last miss forced Hempfield coach Brian Rife to take a time out.
“We purposefully didn’t talk about it before the game, because we didn’t want the girls to make too big a deal of it,” said Rife.
When Clark finally hit 1,000 midway through the third quarter, Hempfield was down 35-20 and appeared to be out of the game. But the Knights kept on battling.
“It looked like they relaxed after Clark got her 1,000th,” Donmoyer said. “I thought Hempfield played hard. They had a really good second half. Fortunately, we played very well in the first half and had a big enough lead."
In the end Cedar Crest was able to weather the storm. After Trinity Sumrall’s 3-pointer cut the Falcon lead to four at the two-minute mark, Cedar Crest held Hempfield scoreless until Clark’s two free throws with seven seconds left.
During that same span, the Falcons got a key bucket on a fast break from Ariel Jones and went 5-of-6 from the free throw line. Jones finished with 22 points to match Clark for game-high honors. Alyssa Austin added 12 points for Cedar Crest.
“That was the closest game we had so far this season,” said Donmoyer. “I was happy with the way the kids responded. We were able to get a couple of them to the foul line in a pressure situation, and they came through. At this point of the season, a win’s a win.”
Afterward, Rife had nothing but praise for Cedar Crest.
“They’re 19-0 for a reason,” he said. “Jones is just a really good player. She’s so tough to defend. If you play her close, she’ll blow right past you. If you play off, she’ll pull up and hit a three. And then they have Austin inside - she kills you on the boards, but she can also step out and hit threes.
“Then they’ve got other kids on the perimeter who can hit shots. Usually if you take one or two kids away, you’re in good shape, but they can just roll more people out there. They’ve got a really good package there.”