BY JEFF FALK
It was a poor ending to a new beginning.
And fortunately for the Elco boys’ basketball team, what it wasn’t was the beginning of an end.
For three quarters on Friday night, the Raiders’ opening to the 2011-12 season went as planned. But Elco’s defense failed it with the outcome on the line, and the Raiders fell to Tulpehocken 71-50 in the opening round of the Lebanon High Tip-Off Tournament.
Certainly the final score did not suggest how competitive Elco was for the first 24 minutes of action. The Raiders actually enjoyed a 45-43 edge late in the third period.
But the loss relegated Elco to the consolation game of the four-team event. On Saturday at 6 p.m., the Raiders will take on Palmyra, which was beaten by host Lebanon in overtime of the other opener.
“No, but unfortunately it did get away from us,” said Elco head coach Brad Conners of the final score. “The kids did play well, but when they think back, they’re going to remember the final score. It’s going to be a rallying cry for us this season. No one expects anything from us. But we’re not about moral victories.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming in,” Conners continued. “I knew we would come out hard. But I didn’t know where the scoring was going to come from. There were some nerves. But we talked about turning that into good energy.”
A buzzer-beating three-point field goal from Tulpehocken’s Wadkins Richardson at the end of the third quarter spelled doom for the Raiders. The Trojans went on to outscore Elco 25-5 in the final eight mintues of play, to win going away.
“I’m not pleased,” said Conners. “Our defensive effort, we just let down from the middle to the end of the third quarter to the fourth. They (the Trojans) were driving to the hole and we weren’t giving help. Defense, as a team and as individuals, we didn’t get it done. And we don’t have any Michael Jordans on the team.”
On five three-point field goals, Elco guard Drew Gerberich led all scorers with 24 points. But Gerberich was just three-for-seven at the charity stripe, and overall, the Raiders went three-for-nine there.
Tulpehocken outscored Elco by 14 points at the foul line.
“It’s frustrating for me,” said Conners. “No one expects anything from us. But we expect better.”
Tulpehocken hit the Raiders with an 11-0 run at the start. But Elco fought back with a 10-2 burst to get to within three at the end of the opening period.
Three of Gerberich’s treys came in the second stanza, as Elco carried a 28-26 deficit to the break.
“Drew started making some of his shots,” said Conners. “And Anthony (Pletz) is capable of making shots as well. But I think we relied on our jump shots. We turned into a perimeter team. We have some guys who can play inside. We started turning it over, didn’t get back on defense and then we started chucking shots.
“We were down and took their punch,” Conners added. “And we were able to come back and take the lead. That was encouraging. Our kids have a lot of guts. That’s something we can take from this. There were some good things.”