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Vargas propels Lebanon past Hershey

The home team dropped the first half, but hot shooting carried the day for the Cedars in the second half of a back-to-back as the Lebanon High boys basketball team held on to defeat the Hershey Trojans 55-54 Saturday afternoon, erasing the memories of a disappointing loss the previous evening and maintaining its position in the District 3 Class-6A power rankings.

Senior Dante Vargas led the Cedars’ third-quarter comeback with all 14 of his points, coming on a layup and four three-pointers, before aggressive defense and solid foul-shooting helped Lebanon (17-4) sink the visiting Trojans (11-11).

“I haven’t shot that well since last year,” Vargas said. “I was off in the first half as you saw and I wasn’t shooting well. I was 0-3 from three, turning the ball over. We just came in the locker room and told each other we were going to pick it up. They (my teammates) were finding me (in the third quarter) and I was just knocking down shots.”

Vargas’ first three came with 5:07 left in the third with the Trojans leading 28-21. Before the sizable crowd could blink, Vargas sank another three and followed-up a layup from Shaq Ortiz with two more bombs, the latter from deep, as the Cedars led 37-31 entering the fourth quarter.

“Yeah, it was a heat check,” Vargas laughed, regarding his final trey. “I had to.”

“He’s a shooter; he has a green light for us and when he’s knocking them down it’s a good thing,” said Cedars’ head coach Tim Speraw. “He really gave us a spark. I’m proud of him; he stuck with it.”

As has been the case for the Cedars all season, a rotation of players took turns shouldering the load. In the first half, it was Khalique Washington (10 points) and Cam Shaak (14 points). In the third quarter, it was Vargas and Ortiz.

“I feel I stepped up and did my job to help us win,” Vargas said. “Anybody on our team can step up but it just happened to be me. Some nights it’s Cam, some nights it’s Shaq. (Today), it just happened to be me.”

In the fourth quarter, it was a team effort defensively and at the foul line, with the Cedars shooting 12-of-16 after a 1-for-6 effort in the first half.

“Just made some adjustments at halftime,” Speraw said. “We didn’t knock down foul shots in the first half. (We had) miscommunication on defense. We cleaned it up and played better in the second half.”

Following the Cedars’ first loss within the L-L League on Friday night, perhaps the nonleague contest on Saturday was just what the doctor ordered.

“It’s very important because we lost last night,” Vargas said of the win. “If we would have lost tonight it probably would have dropped us down in districts. We’ve got Cedar Crest on Tuesday; we’ve got to beat them to stay in the number three spot.”

With Vargas hitting 3’s from the sweet spot, however, one might say the Cedars have themselves a pretty fair opportunity of doing just that.