Behind a quick start and clutch play down the stretch from Ariel Jones, the Falcons took sole possession of first place in Section One with a 56-51 win at McCaskey.
LANCASTER - The 14-1 overall record and 10-1 Section One mark his club carried into Tuesday night provided some noticeable clues, but Cedar Crest girls basketball coach Jim Donmoyer still had questions.
Were his Falcons as good as their record suggested or had they had simply benefited from feasting on some overmatched Section Two opponents recently?
Donmoyer now has fewer questions than he had before the night began. His Falcons, meanwhile, have sole possession of first place in Section One.
In the first of a crucial three-game stretch that will decide its section title fate, Cedar Crest answered the bell early and often in a gut-check 56-51 victory over McCaskey on the Red Tornado's home floor.
Sparked by some zone-busting 3-point shooting, the Falcons bolted to an 18-7 first-quarter lead before surviving a frantic fourth quarter behind the steady play of junior floor leader Ariel Jones and her game-high 24 points.
The win, combined with Hempfield upending Manheim Township, gave Crest the top spot in Section One all by itself with four league games remaining. The Falcons host Hempfield on Friday, then welcome Township on Monday to cap the decisive stretch.
"We won seven games coming in here by something like an average of 20 points. How good are we? I don't know," Donmoyer said. "Those games were not competitive. We got here, we knew we were gonna have a (tough) game. We stuck through. I'm happy with the kids' effort. I'm proud of 'em. They worked hard to be (in first place) at this point of the season."
Early on, it looked like the Falcons might be headed for another lopsided win. With McCaskey packing in a zone defense to control Crest junior center Alyssa Austin, the visitors went ahead and busted that zone with four 3-pointers - two from Sky Yancey - to open up the aforementioned 18-7 lead after the opening eight minutes.
Rachel Witherite and Gracen Donmoyer also hit 3s in the period to stagger the Red Tornado (12-5, 9-3).
Jones then dropped in seven of her 24 points in the second and Austin, who finished with 14 before fouling out on a technical foul in the fourth quarter, got untracked with four points to help Crest take a 31-23 lead into intermission.
"We got off to a good start, which was obviously big for us in this game," Donmoyer said. "They doubled Austin in the post, so I told the kids we're gonna have to shoot tonight, shoot 'em out of that zone. The kids had to be willing to step up and shoot the ball, which they were. Especially in the first quarter."
The lead grew to 10 by the end of the third and appeared to be at an insurmountable 45-33 margin after an Austin steal and layup with 5:23 left.
And then, McCaskey, inconsistent and lifeless much of the night, awakened behind Ahnera Parker and her team-high 14 points and Austin's fourth foul and ensuing technical that provided three free points.
The Tornado got as close as three points at 50-47 on a Briana Perry bucket with 1:01 left, but Crest hung on thanks to Jones' confident ball handling and 9- of-10 free throw shooting.
"Last year we were here and up six with two minutes left and folded and lost," said Donmoyer. "And we had six seniors last year. These kids showed what they're made of."
None more than Jones, who was the calm in the eye of the fourth quarter storm.
"She just is our calming force," Donmoyer said of Jones. "She can push the ball with the best of them and she can slow it down when we want to slow it down. She doesn't get rattled. She can absolutely handle the ball and she can absolutely make foul shots."
And because of that and more, Cedar Crest answered some important questions on Tuesday night.
Cedar Crest 56, McCaskey 51
Cedar Crest (56)
Ariel Jones 7 9-10 24, Sage Bartal 0 0-0 0, Skyanne Yancey 2 1-2 7, Caitlynn Albright 1 0-0 2, Alyssa Austin 6 2-3 14, Jade Rolon 1 0-0 2, Gracen Donmoyer 1 0-0 3 Rachel Witherite 1 1-4 4. Alaze Merkey 0 0-0 0 , Raven Morgan 0 0-2 0 Totals — 19 13-21 56.
Ahnera Parker 6 2-4 14, Paris Todd 2 1-3 5, Briana Perry 4 1-4 9, Jaileen Short 4 0-0 8, Sylera Weller 1 0-0 3, Precious Reid-White 1 0-0 3, Sienne Kemmerer 1 4-4 6, Alissa Johnson 0 3-4 3. Totals — 19 11-19 51.
Cedar Crest _18 _ 13 _ 8 _ 17 _ — _ 56
McCaskey _ 7 _ 16 _ 6 _ 22 _ — _ 51
3-point goals — CC: Yancey, Witherite, Donmoyer, Jones, M: Weller, Reid-White
JV score — Cedar Crest 27, McCaskey 21.