Needing a win to extend their season, the Falcons rolled past McCaskey 64-42 in a Class AAAA district opener on Tuesday night.
Not only does the first round of the district playoffs separate the contenders from the pretenders, it also differentiates the teams that still have a burning desire to put on the uniform from those who'd just as soon as hand it in.
The Cedar Crest girls basketball team falls decidedly in the former category.
Playing with focus, intensity and an obvious intention to keep playing for the foreseeable future, the Falcons took apart McCaskey 64-42 in a District Three Class AAAA first-rounder at the Falcon Cage on Tuesday night.
Still smarting a bit from a narrow loss to Lancaster Catholic in the Lancaster-Lebanon League semifinals last Wednesday, Cedar Crest (21-3) took out some of its frustrations on Section One rival McCaskey behind a game-high 18 points from lightning-quick junior Ariel Jones and a big 12-point effort off the bench from Rachel Witherite.
Alyssa Austin added 10 points for sixth-seeded Crest, which used a 9-0 run over the final minute of the first quarter to break the game open and build momentum towards Friday night's quarterfinal matchup with No. 3 Red Lion, a 49-28 winner over Cedar Cliff on Tuesday. The contest is set for 6:30 p.m. at Penn Manor High School, with the winner securing both a semifinal berth and an automatic spot in the PIAA state playoffs.
"That felt good," said a chipper Cedar Crest coach Jim Donmoyer, moments after emerging from the winning locker room. "It felt good from beginning to end. We had a tough game against Lancaster Catholic, but we told them that this is a new season. You lose, you go home. We're not ready to go home yet."
That was plainly evident from the midpoint of the first quarter on, although it would take until the latter stages of the first for Cedar Crest to take the lead for good.
Two Paris Todd free throws had the Red Tornado (15-8) up 11-10 with 1:10 to go in the period, but from there Crest answered with layups from Jones and Witherite, an Austin putback, and a Jones '3' in the dying seconds to make it an 18-10 game heading into the second.
McCaskey hung in for a time in the second, but 10 of Witherite's 12 points helped provide a cushion, and after Sky Yancey buried a '3' just before the halftime buzzer, the Falcons were in charge with a 37-23 lead.
"I told them there's one thing that separates teams this time of year: effort." Donmoyer said. "We gotta come out with effort from start to finish, and they did it. They did it the whole game."
The effort of Witherite was of particular help, providing a third source of points for the Falcons, who normally rely heavily on the one-two punch of Jones and Austin.
The sophomore guard, as noted, did her best work in the second quarter, dropping in 10 of her 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, the last of which made it a 29-18 game with 3:43 left in the half. The Falcons' lead dipped under double digits only briefly the rest of the way.
"The first half, she was on fire," Donmoyer said of Witherite. "And she can shoot like that, it's not like, 'Oh, we're not gonna cover her.' She can shoot. When she's on, you see what she can do."
With the perimeter threat established, the Falcons went to work inside to open the second half, getting six straight points from Austin, four in a row from Caitlynn Albright, and another Yancey '3' to build a 50-30 lead with 2:37 still left in the third.
Donmoyer emptied his bench from there, secure in the knowledge that he'd still have a team to coach for another week, at the very least.
"Everybody contributed in some way, shape or form," Donmoyer said. "It's good when you see kids step up and contribute like that. I'm just happy. Obviously if you don't win the first one you don't play anymore."
Cedar Crest 64, McCaskey 42
Ahnera Parker 7 1-3 15, Paris Todd 3 4-4 10, Briana Perry 0 0-2 0, Jaileen Short 3 2-4 9, Sienne Kemmerer 0 0-0 0, Sylera Welle 0 0-0 0, Precious Reid-White 0 2-4 2, Alize Cherry 0 0-0 0, Alissa Johnson 0 0-0 0, Jaziah Richardson 2 0-0 4, Brooklyn Smith-Jones 1 0-0 2 Totals — 16 9-17 42
Cedar Crest (64)
Ariel Jones 6 5-8 18, Jade Rolon 0 4-5 4, Sky Yancey 2 0-0 6, Caitlynn Albright 1 5-6 7, Alyssa Austin 4 2-2 10, Rachel Witherite 4 2-5 12, Gracen Donmoyer 1 0-0 3, Sage Bartal 1 1-3 3, Kelsey Guth 0 1-4 1, Raven Morgan 0 0-0 0, Alaze Merkey 0 0-0 0. Totals — 19 20-33 64 .
McCaskey _ 10 _ 15 _ 9 _ 8 _ — _ 42
Cedar Crest _ 18 _ 19 _ 17 _ 10 _ — _ 64
3-point goals — M 1 (Short) CC 6 (Witherite 2, Yancey 2, Donmoyer, Jones).