BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – It wasn’t a belated Christmas gift as much as it was an early New Year’s resolution.
The Lebanon girls’ basketball team isn’t necessarily headed in any new or different direction. The Cedars are just more resolved about their commitment to the old one.
On Saturday night, Lebanon High captured the championship of its own Christmas Tournament, appropriately enough by playing Cedar basketball. The Cedars played in-your-face defense, executed some good court balance and overall were the more aggressive squad, as they downed Elco 39-24 in the title tilt.
Lebanon High hit the Raiders with a quick start. Then after Elco clawed its way back into the contest, the Cedars used another gear to pull away from their guests for good.
For the Cedars, it was their third straight victory and it lifted it them to 6-3 on the year. Elco, the defending tourney champion, slipped to 5-4 overall.
“We’re absolutely headed in the right direction,” said Lebanon head coach Ben Brewer. “You’re going to have times in games when you get sloppy, but those times are getting shorter for us. I think the last three games we played our style of basketball. We dictated the game.
“For a guy who does scouting and watches a lot of tape, that was as good as it gets defensively,” Brewer added. “The coaching staff came up with a game plan and the kids executed it to perfection. Other than our rebounding, it would’ve been perfect.”
Elco head coach Ashli Shay declined an opportunity to comment to Lebanon Sports Buzz after the contest. After being approached for a post game interview, Shay walked away and told assistant coach Earl ‘Skeeter’ Thomas, ‘Tell him I don’t want to talk to him.’
“She (Shay) doesn’t want to talk to you,” Thomas told this reporter. “I know we weren’t allowed to talk to you, but the article (about former player Hayley Witmer transferring from Elco to Lebanon Catholic) was very one-sided.”
At that point, Thomas was asked for permission to interview one of the Raider players. To which Thomas responded, ‘Nope!’.
To view the article in question, click on the following link: http://lebanonsportsbuzz.com/2013/12/20/does-hayley-witmers-punishment-match-her-crime/.
Last night’s outcome was very much in doubt after the Raiders had sliced a double-digit deficit down to 15-13, on an inside move from Victoria Sweatlock mere seconds into the second half. But after that, it was pretty much all Cedars.
Lebanon High responded with an Alicia Haitos bucket and a three-pointer by Lauren Chambers that sent the Cedars on an 11-0 run. A Madison Rakow put back and a couple of drives from Brittany Ulrich later, Lebanon High was sitting on a 26-13 cushion.
“I’m pretty proud of them,” said Brewer of his troops. “There were a couple of different swings in the game. I didn’t pull the ball out (in the spread offense) not to be aggressive. I did it to try to create space to drive to the basket. Once we started taking it to the rim, it showed we can create things.
“We had a shoot around earlier in the day and we talked about the things we wanted to do to take them (the Raiders) out of their offense,” Brewer added. “They do a great job of running their sets.”
The result was also very much about match-ups. Elco had no defensive answer for Cedar point guard Brittany Ulrich, who nailed a trio of three-point field goals and poured in a game-high 17 points. Thanks to defensive efforts from Lauren Chambers and Rakow, Raider stars Cheyenne Hassler and Sweatlock were held to five and two points, respectively.
Rakow, who contributed eight points, was named the tournament’s MVP, and was joined on the all-tournament team by Ulrich. Kathleen Gilbertson, who netted 11 points, and Sweatlock represented the Raiders on the honorary squad.
Lebanon High held Elco to single-digit scoring in each and every quarter.
“She was unbelievable,” said Brewer of Ulrich. “She’s got the biggest heart out there. In the second half, she showed she had the ability to get into the lane. Look at the job she did troubling their point guard.
“She’s so tough to defend in the open floor,” Brewer added. “When she gets her shoulder past you, and when she throws that floater up there, she’s so hard to defend. We score more points being patient, because they’re better shots.”
The Cedars aided their cause by limiting Elco to a single point over the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. During that time, Lebanon High opened a 35-18 margin, on a lay-in from Rakow.
“I think coming in our goal was to really pressure their point guard,” said Brewer. “We allowed Madison and (Kiana) Graves to play off the ball. I think in the long run, that paint presence was the key for our defensive pressure.
“We did what we wanted to do,” Brewer continued. “We’ve got some time off here. But this is great momentum.”
With it nursing an early 5-4 edge, Lebanon High tallied the next ten points. Ulrich collected eight of those points, while Chambers maneuvered inside for a deuce.
But in the face of a Raider switch to a match-up zone, the Cedars went without a point over the final 7:12 of the first half.
“They’re tough. They’re scrappy,” said Brewer of the Raiders. “We couldn’t box Gilbertson out. They do a great job of doing what they’re good at. I love county basketball. I wish I could put together a county tournament at LVC.
“There’s tradition in this tournament,” Brewer concluded. “Great teams. Local rivalries. The boosters do so much for all of our sports teams.”