BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – One local club is improving and getting better. The other is improving and winning.
On Monday night, two Lebanon County boys’ basketball squads headed down the same evolutionary path met in a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three-Four crossover tussle. And while those two paths intersected and intertwined for three quarters, it was Elco which nosed ahead at trail’s end.
The Raiders defeated Annville-Cleona 52-45 on their home floor to lay claim to the unofficial title of Lebanon County’s ‘most improved team, in the very early going of the 2013-14 season. Elco turned up the defensive pressure near the end of the third quarter, took care of the ball a little bit better than the Little Dutchmen and connected on their clutch free throws.
Following a season-opening loss to Lebanon High, last night’s win was Elco’s third straight and moved it to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. The setback dropped Annville-Cleona to 1-4 on the year and 0-2 in Section Four of the same L-L.
“The big similarity is that we’re both Lebanon County teams,” said Elco head coach Brad Conners. “I’m always looking at Lebanon County teams and following how they’re doing. It’s a county rival, so it’s big for our kids. Getting that win was really big.
“Maybe Lebanon is even better than we thought,” Conners continued. “I think the kids come every day willing to work. They want to win. The last couple of games were steps in the right direction. We started to play more as a team. I’ve seen even more team ball. I’ve seen a lot more change, but it’s still very early.”
“I was talking to Coach (Conners) before the game and we were trading secrets about other teams,” said Annville-Cleona first-year head coach Chris Bradford. “We have a lot of similarities. Number 30 (Elco’s Colton Lawrence) is a very good sophomore. I think it’s going to be very important how our young guys bounce back from this. I’m going to be interested to see how they respond, because our sophomores are going to have to play a role.
“For the older guys, the seniors, everyone owes them some winning,” continued Bradford. “We’re not going to be happy until we win. I’m not going to look at this game as a complete loss, but we do owe it to the older guys. We are headed in the right direction.”
Following a handful of ties and a number of lead changes, sophomore Matt Light gave Annville-Cleona a 35-30 lead with a steal and lay-in midway through the third quarter. But thanks to some intense Raider full court pressure, that would be the last point that the Little Dutchmen would net over the next 5:54.
During that span, Elco was scoring a dozen points and taking a 42 35 lead on a couple of free throws from Lawrence. Lawrence had five other points in the decisive run, while senior guard Derek Miller added a conventional three-point play and Caleb Buchmoyer contributed a deuce.
Elco’s advantage reached 48-38 with 2:25 to go on a Derek Miller lay-in.
“The difference was we went to the basket,” said Conners. “We stopped settling for jumpers. Look at all that stuff in the paint. We spread the floor, cut and found each other. We had lay-ups. We’ve got to make those lay-ups.
“Our kids like to mix it up defensively,” added Conners. “They like to get up and pressure the ball, and I like doing that. I think we were able to force them (the Little Dutchmen) into something quick. Without (injured senior guard Paxson) Hayes, he (Bradford) did a great job of getting them ready to play.”
“They mixed it up a little bit at the end,” said Bradford of the Raiders. “They got us thinking. It certainly slowed us down when we were getting some run-outs. I thought we handled it OK. I don’t think we threw it away too much.
“I felt like we left a lot out there,” Bradford added. “We had a lot of missed opportunities. They (the Raiders) were able to attack. They were able to make their free throws.”
Lawrence, an emerging tenth-grader, poured in a game-high 21 points, while Derek Miller struck for 16 Raider points. In Hayes’ absence, sophomore Matt Light led Annville-Cleona with 17 points, and senior teammate Derrick Sanders notched 11 points.
Elco did not connect on a three-point field goal in the game, but it did out rebound the Little Dutchmen 31-24.
“We can ride him a little bit,” said Conners of Lawrence. “But Derek Miller has really shown some senior leadership the last couple of games. Derek is really starting to step up on the floor, and lead on the floor.”
“He’s our leader on the floor,” said Bradford of Hayes, who was seated next to him on the bench. “I had to yell more tonight because he wasn’t on the floor. But I thought Matt Light did as much as I could’ve asked of him.
“Sanders is a very physical kid,” Bradford continued. “He’s the kind of kid I like to coach. He hates to lose.”
Elco assumed a 16-10 second-period lead on a drive to the hole by Derek Miller. But the Little Dutchmen went to halftime with a 25-24 edge thanks to a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Light.
“I really like our defense,” said Conners. “It’s been our strength throughout the season. It’s been good. We’ve been doing some things differently. We have some athleticism and I think some of our kids played bigger than they are. For as big as he is, Colton (Lawrence) is a monster. He plays bigger than he is.
“Free throws, that’s what stands out to me,” said Bradford. “That’s the first thing I’m looking at when I get home.
“We were leaning on some guys who hadn’t given us a lot of minutes,” continued Bradford. “We can’t use the fact that our senior point guard went down as an excuse.”
Kreamer 0 3-4 3, Hermanson 0 0-1 0, Wizar 3 1-3 9, Light 6 4-6 17, Hall 1 0-0 2, Sanders 3 5-8 11, Owusua 1 0-0 2, Bush 0 1-2 1. Totals 14 14-24 45
Du. Miller 0 0-0 0, De. Miller 7 2-2 16, Davis 3 3-5 9, Buchmoyer 1 2-4 4, Lawrence 8 5-8 21, Smith 0 0-0 0, Starry 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 12-19 52
Annville-Cleona 9 16 10 10 – 45
Elco 12 12 12 16 – 52
3-point goals – Annville-Cleona 3 (Wizar 2, Light)
Total fouls – A-C: 16, Elco 22
Fouled out – Elco: Lawrence