One good thing about having a four-game lead in a division race is that the damage from a late-season hiccup isn’t crippling.
You can just chalk it up as a learning experience and move on.
That’s the silver lining Lebanon can cling to after its 50-47 loss at Hempfield in Lancaster-Lebanon Section I boys basketball action Friday night in Landisville.
The loss snapped the Cedars’ eight-game winning streak and ended their bid for an undefeated run through the section slate.
But the Cedars had already clinched the section title and a berth in the league playoffs, so the defeat did little more than serve as a wake-up call heading into the postseason.
“I told the kids the reason they’re not feeling too good right now is that we lost,” said Lebanon coach Tim Speraw, whose team fell to 12-1 in section play and 16-4 overall. “And we haven’t lost in a while.”
Lebanon’s last defeat came on Jan. 7, when the Cedars fell 75-73 to Palmyra.
Hempfield’s winning basket came with 12 seconds left, when Tyler Hilton nailed a clutch 3-pointer from the corner to end a wild sequence of events in the game’s final minutes.
Lebanon pushed the ball across half-court for a final shot, but never got a good look at the basket.
“When he hit the shot, I looked up and saw there were about 11 seconds on the clock,” Hempfield coach Danny Walck said. “I wanted us to foul, because we only had five team fouls. I figured it would force them to inbound and take some more time off.
“But it was so loud, the kids didn’t hear me. I can tell you now I’m glad they didn’t.”
Hilton’s basket capped a crazy fourth quarter that saw Hempfield rally from a seven-point deficit. Trailing 40-33 with 5:55 left, the Knights put together an 11-2 surge over the next 3:50 to take a two-point lead with just over two minutes to go.
David Martin-Robinson’s 3-point play with 2:05 to go gave Hempfield a 44-42 advantage - the Knights’ first lead since they were up by three in the final minute of the first half.
Lebanon tied the game with a pair of free throws by Luis Aquino-Rios on its next possession, but Martin-Robinson countered with a 3-pointer to make it 47-44 with 1:31 to go. The Cedars answered with a 3-pointer from Dante Vargas, knotting the score at 47 with 1:15 left.
Hempfield held the ball until there were about 30 seconds left, then went into "scramble mode" as Lebanon began pressuring. The ball eventually found its way to Hilton, who knocked down the winning shot.
Hilton finished with 11 points, while Martin-Robinson led all scorers with 19. Camryn Shaak and Kahlique Washington had 13 each for Lebanon, while Vargas added 10.
“It was just a good high school basketball game,” Speraw said. “They hit one more shot than we did, and that was the difference. Not much else you can say.”
Hempfield’s victory kept the Knights (9-4, 14-6) alone in second place in the Section One race. They are a game ahead of Cedar Crest (8-5, 14-6) and Manheim Township (8-5, 12-8).
“This whole week has been a very good test for us,” Walck said. “We had the five-overtime game at Warwick last week (a 90-85 win). Then we went to Cedar Crest and won (59-41 on Tuesday). Now this one over Lebanon. I’m really proud of the kids’ effort.”
Hempfield closes its league schedule at home against McCaskey on Tuesday, while Township hosts Warwick and Cedar Crest visits Lebanon.
The Knights have a game in hand and an advantage in tiebreaking criteria over Cedar Crest, by virtue of their two-game sweep of the Falcons in the season series.
Meanwhile, the Cedars will try to rebound Saturday when they host Hershey in a non-league game before closing its regular-season schedule with Cedar Crest.
Their section championship and their spot in the league playoffs are secure, but Speraw doesn’t want his players to lose their edge.
“We’ve got no time to relax right now,” he said. “Everybody we play is fighting for playoff position at this point. All we can do is get back at it. We need to think about the things we didn’t do tonight and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”