HARRISBURG - While some early anxieties had many of those stuffed inside Kimber Gymnasium thinking Wednesday night’s District 3 Class AAAA scrap was going to be over quickly, a Lebanon squad flush with self-belief obviously felt otherwise.
And once Tim Speraw’s Cedars weathered those opening jitters and finally got themselves plugged in, the Lancaster-Lebanon League’s Section 2 champs began to execute a remarkably sound game plan at both ends of the floor.
Speraw’s bunch also began to knock down looks, growing more and more confident as the 32-minute exercise played out.
When it was over - thanks to 20 points from Dante Vargas, 15 from Allan Escoto and 14 from Shaq Ortiz - the giddy 11th-seeded Cedars were celebrating a 65-56 triumph over No. 6 Harrisburg in a first round upset.
Up next will be No. 14 Wilson, a 78-58 victor over third-seeded Northeastern, in Saturday’s quarterfinals at Giant Center at 10 a.m.
Wednesday’s victory also propelled the Cedars into the state playoffs.
“We just played our game,” said Vargas, who netted 14 first-half points.
Chris Whitaker, Tony James and Shaquon Anderson-Butts uncorked double-digit efforts for Kirk Smallwood’s Cougars (17-6). Out with a foot injury, Whitaker was making his first appearance since scoring 17 on Jan. 9 at Chester.
Harrisburg also played the first half without Anthony “Big Ten” Johnson, who finished with three points, four boards and three blocks. Smallwood said Johnson was inactive due to “discipline” issues.
Bothered at the start by Harrisburg’s quick-handed defense - the Cedars totaled six of their 17 turnovers in the opening eight minutes - Speraw’s outfit fell behind 8-2. By the end of the first quarter, the game was tied at 13-all.
And when Washington bagged the back end of a two-shot look with 4:34 left in the half, Lebanon was in front to stay at 21-20. Back-to-back treys by Vargas in the final minute sent the Cedars to the locker room holding a 33-28 edge.
“We went in there crazy because we didn’t know this game was going to be this close,” Escoto said.
“My teammates were finding me and I was knocking down shots,” Vargas said. “Shaq and Allan were getting to the rim, Khalique was posting up hard. And we just knocked down a lot of free throws (14-for-18). That’s all it is.”
Yet while Harrisburg was able to stay within one or two possessions of the plugged-in Cedars, Lebanon remained committed to its active 2-3 zone.
“We studied the tape and we did everything we were supposed to do,” Smallwood said. “We just didn’t execute and make shots. They did.”
And when the Cougars tried to apply pressure of their own, the Cedars attacked when the opportunities materialized, throwing the ball over the top or going at defenders off the bounce, especially Ortiz and Escoto.
“This is probably the best game we’ve played in terms of going to the scouting report and running the stuff to a 'T' the way that we wanted to do it,” said Speraw, whose Cedars shot 54.8 percent from the floor (23-42) and 55.5 percent (5-9) from the arc. “We didn’t gamble on defense and we had issues with that.
“I thought we stayed tight in our zone. We attacked when we needed to attack. We stayed out when we needed to, but how about Dante Vargas?”
Harrisburg pulled within two (56-54) with 2:37 to play when Naasir Johnson sank one of two freebies - a pair of Anthony Johnson blocks that had Speraw pleading for goaltending also helped - but a banked Lopez runner triggered a 9-0 burst that soon had everyone in Lebanon colors sporting wide grins.
“Nobody thought we had a chance,” Vargas said. “Except us.”
Lebanon 65, Harrisburg 56
Danny Caricabeur 0 0-0 0; Justin Baker 1 0-0 2; Shaquell Ortiz 6 2-2 14; Logan Blouch 0 0-0 0; Khalique Washington 1 5-6 7; Matty Lopez 3 1-2 7; Dante Vargas 7 2-2 20; Allan Escoto 5 4-4 15. Totals —23 14-18 65 .
Tony James 5 2-2 12; Chris Whitaker 8 1-2 18; Shaquon Anderson-Butts 4 0-0 11; Tito Flemister 2 0-0 5; Elijah Barrett 0 0-0 0; Christian Ray 0 0-0 0; Naasir Johnson 2 1-3 5; Na’Reece Glenn 1 0-0 2; Damion Barber 0 0-0 0; Anthony Johnson 1 1-3 3. Totals — 23 5-10 56.
Lebanon _ 13 _ 20 _ 15 _ 17 _ — _ 65
Harrisburg _ 13 _ 15 _ 16 _ 12 _ — _ 56
3-point goals — Leb 5 (Vargas 4, Escoto); Harr 5 (Whitaker, Anderson-Butts 3, Flemister)..