Up 48-42 with four minutes left, the Falcons were done in by turnover woes and fell to Governor Mifflin 57-50 in the district semifinals on Friday night.
HERSHEY - It was all going so well.
So well, in fact, that the Cedar Crest girls basketball team seemed to be headed for a date with mighty Cumberland Valley in Friday night's District Three Class AAAA championship game.
And then, suddenly,stunningly, agonizingly, it was not.
Up 48-42 with a shade over four minutes left in Tuesday evening's Class AAAA semifinal clash with Governor Mifflin at Giant Center, the Falcons completely imploded with help from the Mustangs' pressure defense, turning the ball over on seven straight possessions at one point in a game-ending 15-2 run that led to a soul-stinging 57-50 defeat.
Now 22-4, Cedar Crest was on the verge of a return trip to Giant Center on Friday night after Rachel WItherite nailed a 3-pointer for the aforementioned 48-42 lead with 4:07 left.
But that was the last productive possession the Falcons would enjoy as way too many of their 23 turnovers would follow and produce an ending no one saw coming midway through the final period.
Now, instead of a coveted shot at the gold on Friday night, the Falcons are relegated to a third-place game on Thursday against Harrisburg at a site and time to be announced.
"I don't feel like we lost, I feel like we gave it to them," Cedar Crest coach Jim Donmoyer said as invisible steam poured out of his ears. "It's one thing to lose, it's one thing to get beat - I'm not saying they're not good, I'm not saying they didn't play hard - but for (28) minutes we were fine. We had 23 turnovers and I bet we had 10 of them in the fourth quarter."
"The last three minutes lost it. I don't know how else to put it. Everything up to then was fine."
Not perfect, but Donmoyer's point is well-taken.
Led by 25 combined first-half points from Alyssa Austin and Ariel Jones, Crest led by as many as five before the break and was looking at a manageable 31-28 halftime deficit.
And thanks to three second-half 3-pointers from Sky Yancey and some high-level defense of its own anchored by Austin's nine blocked shots, Cedar Crest owned the first 12 minutes of the second half, leading by as much as 45-38 on an Austin put-back with 5:20 to play.
"I told the kids at halftime that defense was gonna win the game," Donmoyer said. "We average giving up like 40 (points a game) and we gave 'em 31 in the first half. Come on now. There was a lot of olé defense being played."
But for the Falcons, there was no avoiding Mifflin's defense when it mattered.
Led by 14 and 13 points, respectively, from the Martin sisters, Jennifer and Melissa, the Mustangs (27-1) seemed to have six players on the court down the stretch, knocking Cedar Crest completely out of sync and taking the lead for good on Melissa Martin's steal and layup with 2:58 still to play.
It didn't get any better for the Falcons, who didn't score again until Jade Rolon's two free throws with 12.7 seconds remaining.
"We couldn't hold onto the ball," said Donmoyer, who opted not to call any timeouts during the frenzied final four minutes. "Every time we got a rebound we threw it away. You're gonna have this in high school basketball, I guess."
Although there was a note of finality in the air, Cedar Crest still has at least two games to play and recent history on its side.
Last year, after bowing to Palmyra in the district semis, the Falcons regrouped and pulled off an opening-round state tournament victory over Downingtown East.
"It's just deflating," Donmoyer said. "But we get to play another game. Obviously it's not the same as coming up here Friday to play Cumberland Valley. But we've had a great season, we've done some good things this year. But the sun will come up and everyone will be alive and well tomorrow."
Governor Mifflin 57, Cedar Crest 50
Cedar Crest (50)
Ariel Jones 6 1-2 15, Gracen Donmoyer 0 0-0 0, Skyanne Yancey 4 0-0 12, Caitlynn Albright 1 1-6 3, Alyssa Austin 6 2-2 15, Rachel Witherite 1 0-0 3, Jade Rolon 0 2-2 2, Sage Bartal 0 0-0 0, Kelsey Guth 0 0-0 0, Raven Morgan 0 0-0 0, Alaze Merkey 0 0-0 0 Totals — 18 6-12 50.
Governor Mifflin (57)
Ta'Shonna Wright-Gaskins 1 0-0 2, Melissa Martin 6 1-3 13, Madison Koehler 0 6-6 6, Kylie Herman 2 0-0 4, Emonie Reviere 2 4-8 8, Jennifer Martin 5 4-7 14, Kyra Hartman 4 2-2 10, Hailey Payne 0 0-2 0 Totals — .20 17-26 57
Cedar Crest _ 11 _ 17 _ 12 _ 10 _ — _ 50
Governor Mifflin _ 16 _ 15 _ 7 _ 20 _ — _ 57
3-point goals — CC: Jones 2, Yancey 4, Witherite, Austin, GM: None.