Four takeaways from the latest in Lebanon County high school hoops


Four takeaways from the latest in Lebanon County high school hoops:

Critical upcoming stretch for Cedars

Three of the Lebanon boys basketball team’s toughest tests this season are right on the horizon.

Scratch that.

More accurately put, they’re square on the doorstep.

Beginning Monday, the Cedars will move through the Section One gauntlet of Hempfield, McCaskey and Cedar Crest, finishing with their annual rivalry game against the Falcons on Friday night. Thankfully for Lebanon (10-3, 7-1 Lancaster-Lebanon), the bookend games will both take place at home, and they’ll be armed with extra motivation heading to Lancaster on Wednesday to take on the Red Tornado.

Last season’s narrow home defeat to McCaskey was marred by certain "extra-curricular activities," which in part prompted Cedars veteran Matty Lopez to say last Friday he personally believes the team’s rivalry with the Tornado has surpassed their cross-town spat with Cedar Crest. While Lebanon’s strong start would indicate some instant classics could be on the way, there is no denying the team is still adjusting to mid-season loss of Cam Shaak.

“You don’t want to lose any player at any time, but we definitely didn’t want to lose him,” Cedars coach Tim Speraw said of Shaak. “My heart breaks for him just because he put in the most work in the off-season, and the kid deserves to play. We all feel for him, but hopefully we’ll rally around him.”

Shaak, who’d showcased as one of the finest shooters in the league, has been lost for the season due to a knee injury. What the updated version of the Cedars looks like, possibly revealed during a balanced effort in a recent 64-57 win over Garden Spot, is still unknown. How fast they can determine a new flow without Shaak, specifically regarding touches, substitutions and scoring, could very well determine their upcoming week and, in turn, the viability of some season-long goals.

Palmyra boys quietly cruising

Trivia time: This boys basketball team, arguably the best in the area, has not lost since Dec. 18 and averaged more than 70 points in its last three contests. Who is it?

I'll forgive your pause, because such is life out in Palmyra, where the lone Mid Penn team in the county continues to calmly roll right along.

At the time of publishing, Pete Conrad’s Cougars (who played York Catholic Saturday night) had won five straight to bounce back from consecutive division losses. Palmyra now rounds the mid-season turn with plenty of balance and weapons, including sharpshooter Austin Yetter and inside-out, 6-foot-4 threat Isaac Blatt. With the likes of Bryant Willis, Braden Vernet and Eric Lynn also serving as scoring options, opponents can hardly afford to devote much attention to one Cougar or another.

Defensively, Palmyra remains as tenacious as ever, and thus competitive in every fourth quarter it plays even when outmatched athletically.

The Cougars will rematch with Bishop McDevitt, the last team to meet Palmyra and leave with a victory, on Tuesday.

Northern Lebanon girls set for Lancaster Catholic test

The headline remains an undefeated season. The underlying storyline, always more pertinent and telling, is that of a great girls basketball team taking its section by storm.

Northern Lebanon stayed unbeaten Friday, more than doubling up Manheim Central to improve to 13-0 overall and 8-0 in Lancaster-Lebanon play. The Vikings are likely to be favored in their next tilt, a Monday date with Annville-Cleona, before a tough trip to Lancaster Catholic on Wednesday. Even if the headline eventually changes, and Northern Lebanon falls against the vaunted Crusaders, its story will stay the same: a team all but guaranteed to do more damage in the postseason.

These Vikings are more than for real. They're a real problem for everyone in their way.

Cedar Crest's "Double A battery" showing no mercy

There's winning, and then there's what the Cedar Crest girls basketball team is doing: winning by obliteration.

In their 11 wins, the Falcons (11-1, 7-1) have beaten opponents by an average of just under 20 points per game, most recently dispatching Penn Manor, 63-42, on Friday night. Juniors Alyssa Austin and Ariel Jones continue to fuel the fire with double-figure scoring efforts on a nightly basis. The duo combined for 38 points against the Comets and 36 the game before against Warwick.

With Cedar Crest jumping back into crossover play against Section Two competition, don't expect its destructive winning streak to slow anytime soon.

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