BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – The fine line between close losses and tight wins is sometimes indiscernible. A single play. A touch of experience. An ounce of courage at the right time.
On a Wednesday night when the Lebanon girls’ basketball team wasn’t necessarily on top of its game, Lauren Chambers had just enough of what it takes to make a difference for the Cedars. Chambers’ daring drive and floater in the lane with 38 seconds remaining proved to be the decisive score, as Lebanon High shaded Governor Mifflin 35-29 in a non-league affair.
Out of the Cedars’ spread offense, Chambers darted into the lane with her right hand and knocked down a seven-footer. Then four seconds later, Chambers came up with a steal and drained two resulting free throws that put the Cedars up four, and made it a two possession game with 20 seconds to go.
Twelve ticks later, Chambers’ running mate Brittany Ulrich pulled off another steal and hit the two charity tosses that iced it.
Had ’em where they wanted them all the time. Not quite!
The tight triumph was Lebanon’s second this season. The Cedars are now 2-1 overall, after dropping nine one-or-two-point decisions last season.
Governor Mifflin fell to 1-2.
“We were trying to spread them out,” said Lebanon head coach Ben Brewer of Chambers’ drive. “We told them, ‘look to reverse the ball and if you can attack the middle do it.’ She took a pretty courageous shot. She doesn’t know what fear is. Unfortunately she doesn’t fear me either.
“That’s a senior,” Brewer continued. “I’ve told the girls, ‘we’ve got to play with grit’. And Lauren is the epitome of grit. That’s what you need to take a shot like that at the end of a game. And sometimes you need to bottle it up.”
Thanks to some sloppy ball handling, the Cedars couldn’t protect the 25-20 lead Chambers had given them with a hard drive to the basket at the end of the third quarter. Governor Mifflin opened the final quarter with a 9-3 burst that gave it a one-point edge.
Ulrich tied the game at 29 courtesy of a charity toss with 1:52 remaining, and set the stage for Chambers’ heroics.
“I think the effort was why I said at halftime, ‘We can’t play any worse, but we’re still winning,'” said Brewer. “The passing turnovers were inexcusable. The rebounding was pathetic. I told the girls to come to practice tomorrow ready to work on rebounding. Each of us is not going to grow five inches.
“We won, and we’ve got to play a lot better to keep winning,” continued Brewer. “Governor Mifflin played their butts off. We won at home. We won a tight game. We’ve just got to get better.”
On an evening when defense ruled and points were at a premium, the Cedars snapped a 17-all third-quarter draw with a modest 6-0 run. Kianna Graves converted a lay-in, before 6-2 junior Maddie Rakow scored on back-to-back inside buckets.
“We needed to win this game,” said Brewer. “Our intensity is there. Our effort is there. Right now our execution and confidence isn’t. Individually, we need to get better. But I’m not worried, and I’m not going to let them worry.”
With 13 points, Chambers led the Cedars in scoring, while Rakow added nine critical points. By going 12-for-18 at the charity stripe, Lebanon High outscored Governor Mifflin by six points there.
But the Cedars were guilty of 19 turnovers.
“That’s what we’re looking for out of Maddie Rakow,” said Brewer. “We’re looking for her to contribute in the post. She turned and looked, and got to the rim. She was tough. If she continues to improve, she’s a difference maker.”
Rakow was in the middle of things in the second quarter, when the Cedars first initially established a lead. A Shaela Shellehamer stop-and-pop preceded a Rakow inside move and a pair of free throws from the junior, and when Ulrich threw in a charity toss, Lebanon High had a 17-11 cushion.
“Now near the end of the game, that was maturity a little bit,” said Brewer. “But I thought they (his players) were tight, and then they got scared. There was no confidence. I looked at their faces and there was a blank stare.
“But we matured in the second half, not being nervous and making adjustments,” Brewer added. “One of our big pressing things is our ability to adapt. They did the adjustments and it helped us.”