Ricky Cruz led the Red Tornadoes with 25 points Tuesday, supported by 13 from Kobe Gantz and Greg Nunez
At one end, the scratch of a scalp. At another, a vacant stare. And in between, a punishing rub of the eyes sandwiched between two heads hung in bitter disappointment.
The Cedar Crest boys basketball bench was not difficult to read late Tuesday night. The embodiment of painstaking defeat rarely is.
Leading for the final three and a half quarters, McCaskey handled the Falcons, 63-42, to sweep the regular-season series between the Section One rivals and move into a tie for first place. Cedar Crest (14-3, 10-2 Lancaster-Lebanon) had a 10-game win streak snapped by its porous transition defense and a half-court offense dogged by the Red Tornadoes' 3-2 zone. McCaskey (12-4, 10-2) followed the exact same blowout recipe that furnished a 29-point win in the teams' first meeting on Dec. 16, even replicating a game-high scoring mark from junior Ricky Cruz.
"We have too many players that can score at will, I think," said Cruz, who racked up 25 points. "And (defensively), we just moved too quick for them. We know they like doing that horseshoe pass when they go baseline. We just cut that off, we got a lot of tipped passes and a couple steals that led to fast-break layups."
The Red Tornado controlled the game from start to finish Tuesday night and left "The Cage" with a 63-42 win. John Buffone
Cruz' first transition layup fell not four minutes after the opening whistle, drawing both a 7-2 lead and timeout from Falcons coach Tom Smith. Smith's stoppage hardly slowed the Tornadoes, however, as McCaskey needed only a single outside shot amid many layups to roll to a 14-point lead by period's end. Meanwhile, an unusually lethargic Cedar Crest endured a scoring drought of nearly six minutes, which its headman could not explain.
"No idea," Smith said of the 18-4 first quarter.
While the energy eventually picked up, the results were slow to follow for the Falcons, who were kept at a three-possession distance through intermission. Red Tornado center Greg Nunez (13 points) further strong-armed his hosts at the end of the half, dropping in consecutive layups for a 27-15 lead.
Cedar Crest captain Evan Horn (16 points) then went to work offensively after the break, converting two of his misses into makes over the outset of the third. Horn then connected on his lone 3-pointer of the night to draw his team back within five midway through the quarter. Yet McCaskey again managed to hit the gas in transition, speeding to a 13-2 run led by its own leader, senior Kobe Gantz, who almost assuredly enjoyed Tuesday's victory most of all.
"I didn't like the taste it left in my mouth last year," Gantz said of three losses to the Falcons a season ago. "Losing those games to them, they were a great team. They're a good team this year, very well coached. And our attention every time is to come out and win, no matter who it is. But this is big."
Big was the only way to describe the growing Red Tornado lead over the fourth, which caused Smith to pull his starters at a little more than two minutes remaining. Working through his own defeated feeling post-game, his message to them was simple:
"We are essentially entering a four-game playoff here, where if we want to be champions, we've got to win," Smith said. "The good thing is we still control our own destiny. The bad thing is we can't play like this, or it's not going to happen."
McCaskey 63, Cedar Crest 42
Izaiah Baratta 2 0-0 4, Ricky Cruz 11 1-2 25, Kobe Gantz 6 0-0 13, William Joseph 1 1-1 3, Greg Nunez 6 1-3 13, Randolph Speller 1 3-4 5. Totals — 27 6-10 63.
Cedar Crest (42)
Evan Dissinger 1 1-2 4, Raymie Ferreira 2 0-0 4, Evan Horn 6 3-3 16, Cole Laney 3 0-0 6, Dylan Miller 1 0-0 3, Blake Thomson 2 1-1 5, Iziah Trimble 2 0-0 4. Totals — 17 5-6 42.
M_ 18_ 9_ 17_ 19 _ — _ 63
CC_4_ 11 _ 13_ 14 — _ 42
3-point goals — M 3 (Cruz 2, Gantz), CC 3 (Dissinger, Horn, Miller)