BY JEFF FALK
To this point of the season, the Elco girls’ basketball team has yet to harvest the fruits of its labors. Raiders’ head coach Ashli Shay insists that if her charges continue to work hard, the rewards will ultimately follow.
On Thursday night, during the opening round of the Lebanon Booster Club’s girls’ basketball Christmas Tournament, Elco’s work ethic did pay dividends, in the form of a 53-36 victory over Lebanon Catholic. The Raiders were led by leading scorer Cheyenne Hassler, got balanced scoring behind her and slowed the Beavers’ attack with a match-up zone defense.
After establishing a comfortable first-half advantage, Elco met every challenge presented by Lebanon Catholic in the second half.
Now 4-4 on the season, Elco will take on Lebanon, a 55-32 victor over Twin Valley, Friday at 7:30 p.m., for the title of the holiday tourney. Lebanon Catholic, which slipped to 4-4 overall, will meet Twin Valley at 6 p.m. for the consolation prize.
“This is a great opportunity for us,” said Shay. “Tonight we were a little slow. But a win is a win. If we can get on a roll, we can take some momentum into the new year. This is the hardest working group I’ve had. Right now we want to focus, take it one game at a time and stay in the present.
“I do think we are progressing, working towards consistency,” Shay continued. “We’re leaps and bounds beyond where we were last year. I honestly think we should be 7-1.”
“I thought they (the Raiders) played an excellent defensive game,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Patti Hower, “and they took us out of our stuff. We’re not quick, so it may look like we’re disinterested at times. We show some spurts, and then nothing. I don’t know how to get around it. It has to come from within. It’s a personality thing.
“What we need to be better at are things that need to be worked on during the off-season,” Hower added.
With Hassler nailing a trey and then scoring on the inside, Elco tallied eight of the contest’s first nine points, before carrying a 12-5 advantage into the second quarter. The Raiders also notched the final six points of that stanza – on a couple of inside buckets from Victoria Sweatlock and a pair of charity tosses by Kady Yoders – to build a 28-17 locker-room margin.
“The bottom line was we wanted to put pressure on the ball,” said Shay. “We thought if we could put pressure on the ball and make them (the Beavers) give it up, it would create things for us. I didn’t quite see the defense we’re capable of playing, but… I’m proud of them (her girls).
“It’s like a match-up zone,” she added. “We wanted to close out hard on shooters.”
“They’re (the Raiders) much more athletic than us,” said Hower. “Hassler can shoot it. If she gets room, she can make it.
“They’re (her players) not smart,” Hower continued. “They’re not basketball smart. And we’re talking about seniors.”
Hassler connected on a trio of three-point field goals and poured in a game-high 22 points. Led by Sweatlock’s ten points, Hassler was ably supported by the rest of the Raider contingent.
Senior Abby Shay notched 21 of the Beavers’ total of 36 points, and at times single-handedly kept her team within striking distance of Elco.
“Cheyenne was on fire early, and she came up with some big shots at the end,” said Shay. “Victoria Sweatlock scored six key points. Everybody understands their role.
“Abby Shay obviously had a great game in the high post,” added Shay. “It’s (the score) closer if she makes her free throws, but it’s not closer if we get the rebounds. There’s no doubt she played well. But when the shot goes up, we get caught watching. It’ll come. It’s a mindset. And it’s an attitude.”
“Abby Shay is not a vocal senior,” Hower said. “I think she tries to be a leader. But I think it hurts her because she’s trying to do it all. We don’t have a vocal person on the team. I’ve always had players like that, but that has to come from them. I’ve never had to bring it out in them.
“Abby rebounds, offensively and defensively,” Hower continued. “But she’s got to make her foul shots. She’s going to get fouled a lot. She jumps pretty well and she’s physical. She doesn’t mind contact.”
A Hassler three-ball midway through the third quarter made it a 35-21 Elco lead. But with Shay working hard inside, Lebanon Catholic tallied nine of the game’s next 11 points and pulled to within 37-30, 32 seconds into the final stanza.
But the Raiders ended the affair on a 16-6 run, scoring half of those points at the free throw stripe.
“A lot of these kids don’t realized what this rivalry was like,” said Shay. “This used to be ‘The Game’ in the county to be at. Everyone was here. We’re trying to instill that in the kids.
“Obviously they (the Beavers) have a great coach and they have good players,” added Shay. “I just enjoy coaching these kids because they’re really busting their butts. Defense, we know that’s where we make our money. That’s our focus every game, and rebounding.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Hower of the fact that low numbers has put her program in the position of not being able to field a junior varsity squad. “I don’t want to emphasize it. I don’t want to use it as an excuse. It’s something I can’t control. It definitely hurt us this year.
“Our goal is to work hard in practice and improve,” Hower continued. “If we’re going to lose in a tournament, it’s not going to hurt us in the league standings. I remember a team I had that started out 2-10 and won districts. Anything can happen.”