EPHRATA – More a discipline than an art form, defense is all about sweat, determination and intestinal fortitude. What makes it an even more difficult proposition is doing it without a break and with no margin for error, i.e. fouls.
It was a proposition which the Elco girls’ basketball team did not back away from last night, but instead one it embraced.
On Tuesday at Ephrata Intermediate School, the Raiders defended the heck out of the basketball, the hometown Mounts and the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs, scoring a 35-26 quarterfinal triumph. Elco held Ephrata scoreless for long stretches of the contest, and when the Raiders did surrender points it wasn’t many.
Few, and far between.
Elco’s most stingiest stretch was a five-minute span in the teeth of the fourth quarter, a time during which the outcome was being decided. In fact, all the Mounts could muster against the Raiders’ combinations of zone and man-to-man defense was a measly one point over the final six minutes of action, and just three during the entire final stanza.
The triumph represented Elco’s first in the Lancaster-Lebanon League tournament in 13 seasons, and made it 15-8 overall. The Section Three runners-up will now challenge mighty and unbeaten Lancaster Catholic, which took care of Hempfield 43-39 in its quarterfinal contest, Thursday at 7 p.m at Warwick.
Ephrata, the champions of Section Two, slipped to 18-6 on the campaign. The Mounts had defeated the Raiders 58-55 in overtime during a non-league game in January.
“Defense is about desire, absolutely,” said Elco head coach Ashli Shay. “There’s very little skill involved with defense. The bottom line is that if you take it upon yourself not to allow the other team to score, you’re going to win. They (her players) played their butts off. I couldn’t be more proud of them.
“Basically, we did all the hustle stuff,” Shay added. “It wasn’t pretty. We knew that coming in, and that’s a testament to these kids and how they work. I think we’re one of the gutsiest teams you’re going to watch.”
Dealing with a short bench and a certain degree of foul difficulty, not only did the Raiders play well defensively, they also rebounded well and came up with more than their fair share of loose balls.
But for three quarters, Ephrata matched Elco’s defensive intensity. Ultimately the difference was that the Raiders turned their’s up a few notches further.
Two free throws from Sarah Haddon gave the Mountaineers a 25-24 edge 1:58 into the final period, but those would prove to be the last points Ephrata would score until 1:03 remained, when Haddon knocked down a charity toss to pull her club to within 32-26.
It was during that time frame that Elco won the game.
Cheyenne Hassler’s stick-back with 5:17 left gave the Raiders the lead for good, and senior Hailie Parker followed that up 47 seconds later for a 28-25 Elco margin. Hassler and H. Parker then knocked down a couple of free throws apiece to create a seven-point advantage – which to that point was the largest of the game.
“We kept talking to them about taking care of the ball, stepping to the ball,” said Shay of her message to the troops during crunch time. “During the last couple of minutes I told them, ‘This is gut-check time.’ They stepped up right there.
“The fact that they (the Mounts) didn’t have a lot of outside shooters really played to our advantage,” added Shay. “Their strength is in the post. We had some nice blocks and we had some good rebounds. It’s worked for us all year, so I figured if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
After Elco had gone without a score for the initial 4:39 of the second half, the Raiders tallied six unanswered points – a stop-pop from Hassler, a steal and lay-in from Sydnie Parker and a drive down the lane by H. Parker – to assume a 24-21 margin.
“We talked about taking Haddon out of the game,” said Shay. “She’s a nice post player. We talked about cutting off the base line and forcing her to the middle.
“This (the L-L playoffs) is something we’ve been talking about for quite awhile,” Shay continued. “We were picked to finish second-last in our section and we finished second. Once we started to win some games, this was the ultimate goal. We needed a consistent effort, and that was the key.”
Elco began and ended the second period with banked three-point field goals. After Hassler knocked one off the glass to give the Raiders a 9-6 edge to open the frame, H. Parker used the backboard to drain a 25-foot trey at the halftime buzzer that sent Elco to the break with an 18-17 lead.
“That was awesome,” said Shay of H. Parker’s prayer. “What a momentum builder. We were struggling. But that shot lifted our spirits and sent us into the locker room on a high. I can’t say that we hit one of those this year, so we were excited.”
Hassler tallied a quiet 14 points to lead the Raiders, while H. Parker registered nine points and Victoria Sweatlock recorded eight. Elco held Ephrata to eight field goals, none of which came from beyond the arc.
“They (the Mounts) did a really nice job on Cheyenne,” said Shay. “They marked her tight, and that makes it tough for us because she’s one of our main offensive threats. But to her credit, she found ways to score. Because she’s so quiet, you don’t always know what she’s thinking.”
Elco trailed 4-0 early, but broke through thanks to points from Hassler, Sweatlock and H. Parker.
“They’ve improved and we lost Katy (Yoders),” said Shay of the impending battled with Lancaster Catholic’s Crusaders. “But the way these kids are playing, you never know. I wouldn’t put anything past them. We’re going to be on a little high.”