The Cedars fell behind 30-17 at the half in their league playoff opener and ultimately fell 75-74 in a double overtime thriller.
The Lebanon High boys basketball team played four inspired and inspiring quarters of playoff basketball on Saturday night.
Under normal circumstances, that would have been enough for the Cedars to take some bows while punching their ticket to the Lancaster-Lebanon League semifinals.
On this far from ordinary night, though, four quarters wasn't enough for Lebanon. It needed six. And a better start and for Lancaster Mennonite to play like the .500 team it was heading into the opening-round L-L tussle at Lebanon High.
It was not to be.
Section Four runner-up Mennonite (12-11) staggered Section Two champ and fairly heavily favored Lebanon by jumping out to a 30-17 halftime lead, before surviving a spirited and sustained Cedar comeback bid to pull out a 75-74 double overtime triumph in a memorable battle of wills at LHS.
Losers by a 69-56 count to Lebanon in the Cedars' tip-off tourney opener back on Dec. 4, Mennonite, for all intents and purposes, won the rematch in the first half thanks to 15 of junior guard Richard Rosas' game-high 24 points and a bevy of missed lay-ups and free throws by the not-ready-to-play home team.
Yes, there were two overtimes and a season's worth of drama after that, but the fate of both teams was decided in those first two rather stunning quarters.
"I'm disappointed in our effort in the first two quarters," Lebanon coach Tim Speraw. "Give (Mennonite) credit, they came in with some fire and intensity and gave it to us for two quarters. It's disappointing that we didn't show up in the first half, then came out and played the way we normally do and the way we're used to in the second half."
And to their credit, the Cedars (15-8) gave it back to Mennonite after that, led by the fiery play of senior point guard Matty Lopez (18 points), as well as big-time efforts from Felix Kortright and Justin Baker.
Baker and Kortright combined for 26 points and led a 13-3 spurt over the first 3:09 of the third quarter that put Lebanon permanently back in the game.
Lesser competitors would have crumbled in the face of the Lebanon surge, but Mennonite never did.
"I think the biggest difference from when we played them in December is we were not prepared for the quickness and the pace of play," Blazers head coach Geoff Groff said. "We've been making some strides. I think our guys showed a lot of stick-to-it, taking a pretty good hit and hanging in there. When we stay connected as a group, we're much more effective."
Lebanon appeared to have finally knocked some of the fight out of Mennonite with an 8-0 run over the last three minutes of regulation that turned a 54-49 deficit into a 57-54 lead in the closing seconds.
But Kyle Kerr, showing the range of Steve Kerr in his prime, buried a deep '3' from in front of the Mennonite bench with 1.6 seconds left to send the contest into OT and render Lebanon's intense body of work in the third and fourth quarters meaningless.
"We came out in the second half, and I thought we really responded," said Speraw, who got into his squad a bit at halftime. "I'm proud of my kids, I'm proud of how hard they fought. I hope they learned the lesson that you can't take anybody lightly and not give 100 percent effort all the time. But I'm proud of how hard they fought for two quarters and two overtimes. I can't ask for anything more than that."
Two Rosas free throws with 34 seconds left in the first OT had Lebanon down 65-63, but Shaq Ortiz's bucket with 12 ticks left ultimately forced a second extra session.
Mennonite tallied the first five points of OT No.2, only to see Lebanon storm back with a Dante Vargas '3' and a Lopez steal to tie it at 71 with 1:01 left.
The Blazers then responded with four free throws, the last two coming from Carter Hurst and providing a 75-71 lead with 6.8 ticks to go.
Lebanon still would not die, though, getting another '3' from Vargas with 1.9 seconds to play and a desperation heave from halfcourt by Danny Caricabeur that slammed off the iron as the buzzer sounded.
"It was hectic, it was physical. But if we knock down some foul shots it's a different ballgame," Speraw said of the OTs and the 11-for-23 foul shooting that was his team's ultimate undoing. "Then they've gotta chase us as opposed to us chasing them. It's a different game."
But in the end it was not.
"We need guys to make plays," Groff said. "Thankfully we made one more play than they did tonight."
Lancaster Mennonite 75, Lebanon 74 (2 OT)
Lancaster Mennonite (75)
Kyle Kerr 5 2-2 14, Carter Hurst 5 4-5 14, Cody Hurst 3 6-10 12, Nathaniel Jean-Phillippe 1 0-0 2, John Gillespie 1 1-4 4, Richard Rosas 8 6-7 24, Timmy Stefanosky 2 1-3 5 Totals — 25 20-31 75
Allen Escoto 4 0-1 8, Shaq Ortiz 4 3-6 11, Felix Kortright 5 3-6 14, Matty Lopez 7 4-9 18, Logan Blouch 0 0-0 0, Dante Vargas 2 0-0 6, Khalique Washington 1 1-2 3, Justin Baker 6 0-0 12, Daniel Caricabeur 0 0-1 0, Luis Aquino-Rios 1 0-0 2. Totals — 30 11-25 74
Lancaster Mennonite_ 14 _ 16 _ 12 _ 15 _8 _10 _ — _ 75
Lebanon _ 7 _ 10 _ 23 _ 17 _ 8 _9 _— _ 74
3-point goals — LM: Kerr 2, Rosas 2, Gillespie. L: Vargas 2, Kortright