Check out highlights from Friday's L-L boys basketball championship game between Lebanon and Lancaster Catholic. Video by Patrick Blain, for GameTimePA.com
NEFFSVILLE - Given its proud history of success, the bar is always set rather high for the Lebanon boys basketball program.
That being said, the Cedars' appearance in Friday's Lancaster-Lebanon League title game could have scarcely been predicted at the beginning of the season. Making the move up to Section 1 for the first time in many years, the Cedars figured to have their hands full simply trying to make it into the L-L postseason.
But there they stood Friday night at Manheim Township, a section title already in tow and just Section 3 runner-up Lancaster Catholic standing between them and the program's ninth league title.
So close, and yet so far.
Despite a gritty effort led by senior center Khalique Washington, Lebanon couldn't quite close the deal, falling in a heartbreaker, 49-47 in front of an SRO crowd at Township..
Now 20-5, Lebanon overcame shaky offensive execution all night to grab a 47-46 lead on two free throws by Luis Aquino-Rios with 33 seconds left, only to see Catholic's Sean Landis drop in the eventual game-winner with 13 ticks remaining to give the Crusaders only their second league title.
"It's gonna hurt," said a somber Lebanon High coach Tim Speraw after emerging from a disappointed locker room. "You put in an absurd amount of time and energy and just come up two points short. You gotta let it hurt, use it as motivation and the sun's gonna come up tomorrow,
Though Lebanon got 15 points in the post from Washington - 13 in the second half - and 11 key points from frontcourt mate Shaq Ortiz, quality offense was hard to find against the Crusaders, who held Hempfield to just 19 points in their semifinal win. Particularly from the normally dangerous perimeter trio of Cam Shaak, Dante Vargas and Aquino-Rios, who managed just 16 points between them thanks to the defensive work of Catholic guards Jon Ware, Mark Cannon, Chad Wenger and Miles McCaskey.
"I think a little bit of both," Speraw said when asked whether Catholic caused the struggles or if the Cedars did it to themselves. "It seemed like we just couldn't get in sync. I started calling some more set plays, which helped a little bit, but we just couldn't get into a rhythm offensively. I'd say a lot of that was credit to them. They play tough defense, it's kind of a staple of their team and they had it tonight."
"We talked a lot about controlling tempo," Catholic coach Joe Klazas said. "And our guards are really good on-ball defenders, so we felt we could possibly frustrate them a little bit. We wanted to make sure we showed really good presence in the middle and good help side. We did a really good job with that."
The Cedars trailed 12-9 after one quarter, but rallied to take their first lead since early in the first when Ortiz banked in a 3 midway through the second for a 19-17 lead. But Catholic (21-5) would recover to take a 24-21 lead into intermission.
Lebanon would surge back in front 31-28 late in the third, but it was short-lived control as Catholic answered every Lebanon charge with one of its own until Aquino-Rios' final bid to lift Lebanon over the top in the final minute.
The Cedars got a desperation heave off in the end after Landis had delivered the final points, but it was off the mark, leading to an unwanted and unaccepted moral victory for a team that competed like champions but didn't execute well enough on this night to achieve that status
"No, there's no consolation. We don't have moral victories," Speraw said firmly. "We lost the game. I'm proud of my kids' effort, I feel like they always play hard, they always compete. We did that tonight, we didn't quit, we didn't back down. We just didn't score enough points."
Lancaster Catholic 49, Lebanon 47
Lancaster Catholic (49)
Landis 5 3-4 13, Wenger 3 4-6 12, Cannon 3 0-0 7, Ware 2 2-4 6, Bomberger 2 0-0 5, McCaskey 1 2-3 4, Thomas 1 0-0 2, Downey 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 11-17 49.
Washington 5 4-5 15, Ortiz 5 0-4 11, Shaak 3 1-2 9, Aquino-Rios 0 4-4 4, Vargas 1 0-0 3, Pereya 1 1-2 3, Kortright 1 0-0 2, Sierra 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 10-17 47
Lancaster Catholic 12 12 10 15 - 49
Lebanon 9 12 12 14 - 47
3-pointers: LC - Wenger 2, Cannon, Bomberger, L- Shaak 2, Vargas, Ortiz, Washington,