LEBANON - Felix Kortright's layup proved too strong. Then Allan Escoto's tap-in was off the mark.
But Matty Lopez's ensuing fallaway put-back, furnished by Escoto's miss and fired just before the halftime buzzer, hit right on the money. Capping a stretch of five Lebanon baskets scored by five different Cedars, Lopez's basket not only proved timely Monday but also symbolic, as his team headed into the break with a cushy lead.
Such has been life for the Lebanon boys basketball team as of late: clutch, balanced and triumphant.
Steadily building a lead that grew as large as 20, the Cedars handled Ephrata, 68-51, for their fifth straight win and fourth in league play. Lebanon junior Shaq Ortiz fetched a team-best 16 points, one of five Cedars to finish in double figures. The Mounts (0-7, 0-5 Lancaster-Lebanon) trailed by as little as four points at one time in each of the first three quarters, only to be pushed away at every turn by Cedar runs.
"It really is amazing," Ortiz said of the Cedars' balance. "Any night, anybody will get their 20-point night or 30-point night. It's just awesome. We're slowly becoming a family, and at the end of the season it's going to be great."
Lebanon's Cam Shaak and Dante Vargas each connected on 3-pointers at the close of the first two quarters, eventually helping to polish off the opening half with a 9-1 run. Offensively, the Cedars were only ever stymied in the early half of the second, as Ephrata flexed into a 1-3-1 zone. But fed by the deft passing of Lopez and their team-wide pesky defense, they managed to break free and later break down different zone looks and the Mounts' man-to-man defense.
"I felt like it was tight until I looked and there was 1:30 left and I could exhale a little bit. They're tough," Lebanon coach Tim Speraw said. "I thought they gave us more looks than they've shown so far. And our kids did a great job getting into the offenses that we needed based on the defense they were playing."
Simultaneously, the Cedars managed to ratchet up a defense that surrendered 20 points over the opening period and a paltry 31 the rest of the way.
Ahead by four at the 4:26 mark of the third quarter, Lopez knocked down a corner trey before helping yield a defensive stop that led to an Ortiz fast-break finish. Unaffected by a follow-up Ephrata timeout, Shaak soon connected on his third 3-pointer of the night for a 10-point lead that never dropped below double digits again.
Escoto supplied a dozen points and a number of defensive stops off the bench, having been recently dropped from the starting lineup with the addition of Ortiz.
"He was a huge spark for us," Speraw said of his senior. "It could be anyone on any night, and that's what I keep telling them ... This is going to be a special group."
"We'll see how the season goes."
So far, so good.
Lebanon 68, Ephrata 51
Bradley DaBella 1 0-0 2, Dilyn Becker 3 1-2 8, Micah Krauter 2 1-2 5, Sam Cable 1 0-0 2, Matt McGillan 6 4-5 16, Zach McGillan 6 1-4 18. Totals — 19 7-13 51.
Shaq Ortiz 7 2-3 16, Allan Escoto 5 1-2 12, Dante Vargas 2 0-0 6, Matty Lopez 4 2-2 11, Cam Shaak 4 1-2 12, Felix Kortright 5 0-0 11. Totals — 27 6-10 68.
E_ 20_ 8_ 13_ 10_ — _ 51
L_ 24_ 14 _ 15_ 15— _ 68
3-point goals — L 8 (Shaak 3, Vargas 2, Escoto, Kortright, Lopez), E 6 (Z. McGillan 5, Becker).