L-L LEAGUE BOYS' BASKETBALL SEMIFINALS
Tornado, Crest still standing McCaskey hands Tribe first defeat BY ED GRUVER, Sports Writer
The most anticipated L-L boys' basketball game in years?
It exceeded the enormous expectations.
"It was big," McCaskey guard Aaron Swinton said. "Big stage called for big performances."
There were certainly enough of those on both sides in the Red Tornado's entertaining 72-65 win over previously undefeated Donegal in Wednesday night's L-L semifinal before an overflow crowd at Conestoga Valley.
Swinton scored a team-high 17 points, seven in the final 97 seconds, Devonne Pinkard added 16 points and six assists, Keyon Cowan 14 points and four blocked shots, and Shaki Staten nine rebounds.
Cowan and Pinkard punctuated McCaskey's 22nd straight win with thunder jams as the reigning league champion Red Tornado rolled into their third straight L-L title game.
McCaskey (22-2) faces Section One rival Cedar Crest (16-8) Friday night at 7 at Manheim Township. The Falcons edged Elizabethtown in double-overtime.
McCaskey beat Crest twice en route to the section title -- 99-48 on Jan. 7 and 81-65 on Feb. 1. The latter stands as the Falcons' lone loss in their last 12 games.
Dylan Houseal, whose hot shooting from the perimeter and slashing left-handed layups forced McCaskey to do something it almost never does -- abandon its proud man-to-man defense in favor a 3-2 zone -- scored a game-best 25 on spectacular 11 of 13 shooting from the field.
"Seemed like this is his court," Cowan said in admiration.
Backcourt mate Jason Dietrich scored 15 despite drawing defensive stopper Diante Cherry, and brother Martin Dietrich netted 11. Houseal and the Dietrich brothers tied for game-high honors with three made 3-pointers apiece.
"I'm proud of our kids the way they fought," said Indians coach Ryan Butt. "Our kids never gave up."
Donegal (23-1) led once, at 4-2. But this showdown -- one veteran onlooker called it the most anticipated L-L boys' game since McCaskey-Lebanon in 1978 -- didn't lack for drama.
Hundreds of fans were turned away as attendance in Rill Gym reached capacity long before tip-off.
"It definitely lived up to the hype," said Cowan. "Probably the best game I've played in."
Within the team matchups were intriguing one-on-one battles: Cherry and Jason Dietrich on the perimeter; Cowan and Matt Foltz in the paint. The latter hauled down a game-high 11 rebounds as Donegal won the battle of the boards, 26-25.
Feeding off the intense atmosphere, both teams were white-hot from the field in a furiously-played first quarter. Amid a near breathless pace, Donegal hit 9 of 11 from the floor; McCaskey 11 of 12.
"I told the kids it was going to be a great game," said Tornado coach Steve Powell, who didn't substitute as freely as usual and not at all in the second half.
"(The Indians) are a well-coached team and they can shoot. The first half, they shot the lights out."
The Tornado countered each time as both teams rained down threes and hit a remarkable 13 of 20 in the first 16 minutes.
McCaskey led 25-21 at the close of the first quarter and rode a 10-3 run to its largest lead of the night, 47-38, at the break.
The Tornado game plan was evident early on: Feed the big guys.
"We've got some beasts down low," Swinton said. "When we need a bucket, that's where we go."
"They took advantage of us inside," said Butt.
The Tribe adjusted, switching from its man defense to a 2-3 zone. It was enough to allow Donegal to outscore McCaskey 17-9 in the third and cut its deficit to 56-55.
Swinton's three-point play and Pinkard's slam made it 66-59 McCaskey with 1:14 left. Clutch corner treys from the Dietrichs kept the Tribe close, but late layups by Swinton, Cherry and Cowan closed the deal.
"We weathered the storm," Powell said. "This team, they want big games. They want it."