Cedar Crest takes 'super' showdown with Northern Lebanon
Public address announcer Ted Thompson referred to it as the Super Bowl of girls basketball in Lebanon County during pregame introductions.
Judging by the capacity crowd that crammed into the Lebanon High School gymnasium on Tuesday night to see Cedar Crest and Northern Lebanon - combined record of 45-1 - go at it in the Lancaster-Lebanon League semifinals, he was certainly right.
Though often lacking in seamless execution, Cedar Crest-Northern Lebanon was great fun and pretty much what it was hyped up to be, particularly for the still unbeaten Falcons, who improved to 24-0 with a 49-40 triumph over the willing but not able Vikings.
The win lifts Cedar Crest into Thursday's league title game against McCaskey, which upset Lancaster Catholic in the other semifinal. The matchup is set for 7 p.m. at Manheim Township.
Northern Lebanon, meanwhile, drops to 22-2 and goes back to the drawing board until opening the District 3 4A playoffs as the No. 1 seed next Friday.
"I don't know if it was sold out, but it seems like it was sold out," Cedar Crest coach Jim Donmoyer of the big game atmosphere his squad's meeting with NL created. "It's good to have two teams like this battling, Lebanon County teams. Lebanon County has some good basketball teams. Atmosphere was great, great high school basketball game."
The difference in the end was a sizzling 23-point performance from Falcon senior point guard Ariel Jones and a strong Cedar Crest defensive effort against a Northern Lebanon team generally acknowledged as the L-L's best in that department.
"We have some guts," Donmoyer added, when asked what he learned about his team. "They (the Vikings) are an absolutely great team. I told Coach (Ken) Battistelli that afterwards. Great team, he runs a great system, so we knew coming in it would be a 32-minute game. Everybody was telling us about their good defense, and we kinda took that personal and said we can play good defense, too. Last thing I said was, defense was gonna win the game. And I believe defense won the game."
Despite being at somewhere less than the top of its game - Cedar Crest had a lot to do with that, thanks to the 15 points and 5 blocks senior center Alyssa Austin contributed - Northern Lebanon overcame an early 7-3 deficit to grab a 15-12 lead on a Zara Zerman steal and layup with 6:15 left in the first half.
But from there, Jones got cooking, scoring 7 straight points and 10 overall in a 14-5 spurt to close the half that sent the Falcons in front to stay.
Behind 15 points apiece from senior catalysts Zoe Zerman and Megan Brandt, NL would stay in the fight until the end. But it never effectively countered Jones and the Falcons despite valiant efforts from perimeter defenders Cassiah Ray, Liz Voight and Zara Zerman.
"I knew they held teams (in the 30s)," Jones said of the Vikings' defense that came in allowing only 31.5 points per contest. "But I knew if we just played our offense and took our time like the way we know we can, we'd be fine. And we were."
"If we're gonna lose a game, we want the other team to beat us. And we didn't play like us tonight," was NL coach Ken Battistelli's take on the outcome. "That's disappointing. Not for lack of effort, they try. They try so hard. No fun losing. I think we could have played a whole lot better. We played really, really hard but not really, really well. You can't beat a team like Cedar Crest without playing your 'A' game."
Twenty-four times teams have tried to bring their 'A' game to Cedar Crest and failed. And if Northern Lebanon couldn't do it...Well, let's just say the Falcons will be big favorites to be 25-0 by late Thursday night.
"That was the best team we played all year, without a doubt," Donmoyer said. "No disrespect to any team we might play, but Kenny's kids play hard, they play together. To come out here and win this game against a quality team like that...My kids just played a little bit harder."
Cedar Crest 49, Northern Lebanon 40
Northern Lebanon (40)
Ray 0 0-0 0, Voight 1 0-0 2, Brandt 6 3-5 15, Kintzer 1 0-0 2, Zoe Zerman 5 3-5 15, Zara Zerman 3 0-0 6. Totals: 16 6-10 40
Cedar Crest (49)
Jones 9 2-2 23, Donmoyer 0 2-2 2, Witherite 1 0-0 3, Morgan 1 0-0 2, Austin 5 3-5 14, Rolon 2 0-0 5, Guth 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 7-9 49
Northern Lebanon 9 11 13 7 - 40
Cedar Crest 9 17 10 13 - 49
3-pointers: NL - Zoe Zerman 2 , CC - Jones 3, Witherite, Austin, Rolon