GameTimePA.com's Matt Catrillo and Pat Huggins recap the Lady Falcons' 49-43 win over McCaskey in Thursday's Lancaster-Lebanon League Championship. Matt Catrillo/GameTimePA.com
What the remainder of the season holds for the Cedar Crest girls basketball team is, of course, unknown.
But one thing is for sure: To this point, the Falcons have been absolutely perfect when they've stepped onto the hardwood. And when they've stepped off of it, too.
Cedar Crest continued its dominating, unbeaten 2016-17 campaign Thursday night with its most significant - and toughest - triumph to date, a hard-earned 49-43 victory over McCaskey in the Lancaster-Lebanon League championship game at Manheim Township.
Now 25-0, the Falcons secured their eighth overall L-L crown and second in the last three years behind strong games from senior center Alyssa Austin (16 points) and junior guard Rachel Witherite (13), as well as a key 12-0 run to close the first half.
It wasn't at all easy, as Crest started sluggishly, trailing 8-4 at the end of the first and struggling to put away the pesky Red Tornado throughout with floor leader Ariel Jones suffering through a rare off night.
But who said going 25-0 and winning a league championship was supposed to be easy?
"The kids came out a little flat. I don't think we played as well as we could in the first half," Cedar Crest coach Jim Donmoyer said. "But I thought the kids gutted out. They've done this all year. They play hard, they play together. 25-0, section championship, league championship. I can't say enough about them."
After beating McCaskey (17-8) by 16 and 20 in two regular season meetings, Crest figured to make short work of its Section 1 rival in the title game matchup. But it was not to be, as the Red Tornado, led by 14 points from Ahnera Parker, stood toe-to-toe with the Falcons from start to finish.
Still, tough as McCaskey was, it still couldn't put a smudge on Cedar Crest's perfect record.
"It's great," said Austin,her voice nearly gone from illness but her spirit still strong. "I love my team. I couldn't ask for more, especially my senior year. We woke up and did what we had to do, we were sleeping a little bit at the beginning."
Indeed, it was a difficult start for the Falcons, who found themselves still trailing at 16-12 after an Alissa Johnson steal and layup with 2:45 to go before intermission and struggling mightily to solve McCaskey's zone defense.
But from there, Jones, who still managed 11 points, ignited the aforementioned 12-0 run with a 3-pointer and capped it with a driving layup to send Crest into the break up 24-16. Austin, Witherite and Raven Morgan also contributed points to the much-needed spurt that put the Falcons ahead to stay, albeit with some anxious moments to endure in the second half.
"It wasn't lack of effort, some things didn't go our way," Donmoyer said of the slow start. "And (McCaskey) played better than we thought they would. Our closest game before tonight was nine points, twice. This was legitimately the closest game we've been in all year. This'll help us down the road. It was a good win."
In part, because the Falcons couldn't just rely on Jones by herself to bring it home. Witherite, in particular, came up with some big buckets, hitting a trio of 3-pointers, none bigger than the right corner bomb she hit midway through the fourth and just seconds after Briana Perry had brought McCaskey within 32-31.
Cedar Crest also got nine combined points from starters Gracen Donmoyer and Raven Morgan that would loom large in the outcome, as well as hustling play off the bench from Jade Rolon and Kelsey Guth.
"Ariel is a great player, but she's not our whole team," Witherite said. "We love her to death, but we have other people that can play basketball here. We wouldn't go 25-0 with one player. We need all 12 (varsity players), every single one of them to win these games. We're not worried about individual success, but it does make it nice that every one did something tonight."
"It's a true team approach. They're truly a team," Donmoyer said, summing it all up. "They work hard together, they pull for each other. I'm just happy for them, and to be along for the ride. They take me everywhere."
Cedar Crest 49, McCaskey 43
Parker 6 1-1 14, Todd 4 1-2 9, Perry 3 1-4 7, Richardson 2 2-4 6, Short 2 0-0 4, Johnson 1 0-0 2, Gibson 0 1-2 1, Reid-White 0 0-0 0, Banks 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 6-13 43.
Cedar Crest (49)
Jones 2 6-10 11, Donmoyer 1 3-4 5, Witherite 5 0-0 13, Morgan 2 0-0 4, Austin 6 2-3 16, Guth 0 0-0 0, Rolon 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 11-17 49.
McCaskey 8 8 7 20 - 43
Cedar Crest 4 20 5 20 - 49
3-pointers: M - Parker, CC - Witherite 3, Austin 2, Jones.