It may be that the Elco girls’ basketball team has bigger fish to fry. But at least now the Raiders know how to get their catch into a pan.
Elco has designs on making the championship of the Lebanon High Christmas Tournament a stepping stone. The Raiders claimed that title on Friday night with a nail-biting 33-31 victory over the host Cedars.
The Raiders got it done in comeback fashion, and with their defense. Elco held Lebanon to a mere five points in the second half, after facing a 26-16 deficit at the break.
With neither side backing down and each possession a deliberate one, the winning basket was actually scored by Raider Cheyenne Hassler, with 2:25 remaining, off a scramble that ensued from a missed free throw. In the frantic closing seconds, Elco senior guard and tournament MVP Hailee Parker missed the front ends of two one-and-ones, but the Cedars simply couldn’t take advantage of them.
In fact, the Raiders’ scrambling defense and relentless defensive rebounding held Lebanon scoreless over the final 6:24.
The win pushed Elco to 5-4 overall, while the Cedars fell to 4-5 on the year.
“That was big for us,” said Elco head coach Ashli Shay. “We’re starting to get on a roll, we’re starting to get momentum. We got down ten, but we came back because of our confidence. We really picked up the defense in the second half. We rebounded better than we have all season. That’s the thing I’m most proud of.
“I think the biggest thing is we’re staying together the whole game,” continued Shay. “They’ve (her players) really stuck together, stuck with it. In the past, there was confusion when things got tough.”
“Anytime you can win your own tournament in a new gym, it’s important,” said Lebanon head coach Ben Brewer. “We talked about the history of this place, and we told them (his players), ‘This is one you’ll remember’. They’re (the Raiders) a good team. We just had a bad half.
“I thought in our last three games, two easy wins and a tough, tough loss, we got better,” added Brewer. “I told the girls, ‘It’s not the end of the world.’ Now’s when the real season starts. We’re playing as good as we can.”
When Kady Yoders scored on a drive and Hassler converted an inside move early in the final quarter, Elco had come all the way back from its ten-point deficit to take a 30-28 lead. Lauren Chambers’ answer for the Cedars was a three-pointer, but it would prove to be her squad’s last points.
With 2:35 to go, H. Parker nailed a charity toss to knot the score at 31.
“It was emotional both ways,” said Shay. “Both teams played hard. We knew it was going to be a game. We knew we had to make adjustments at halftime and get out after them. It was a great, hard-fought game.”
“Both teams love playing basketball,” said Brewer. “Their hearts are totally into it. That’s what hurts the girls.
“I can’t say we folded,” Brewer continued. “We didn’t make mental mistakes. We didn’t make turnovers. We just didn’t make shots. We had been getting good shots by letting the girls create.”
With Hassler tallying five points, H. Parker three and Victoria Sweatlock a deuce, Elco scored the initial ten points of the second half. But the big story was a Raider defense which shut out the Cedars for all but 28 seconds of the third period.
“That’s what we talked about at halftime,” said Shay. “We did not need to hit a home run. There’s no ten-point play, eleven-point play. We just needed to chip away.
“At halftime, it was really about Xs and Os,” Shay added. “I don’t get nervous with this team. They’ve done it a million times before. Now if we were down 20, it might have been a different look at halftime.”
“I thought they did a better job of compacting their zone around the lane,” said Brewer. “Making sure we weren’t getting easy looks. Give them credit. Those girls on that team played so hard. It was an evenly-matched game. It was fun to watch. But you don’t win games by scoring five points in a half.
“It’s not like we played that much worse,” added Brewer. “In fact, I thought we played better defensively in the second half.”
Offensive execution and three-point baskets produced Lebanon’s 26-16 halftime advantage. Lebanon knocked down five treys during its 19-8 run through the second period, including one from Brittany Uhrich after holding the ball for the final minute of the half.
“They (the Cedars) really are a great shooting team,” said Shay. “They’re fast and they can get to the hole. They are a match-up problem for anyone they play. But our defense stepped it up a notch.
“I thought they (the Cedars) played well,” continued Shay. “We were struggling to cover all three shooters (Uhrich, Chambers and Shaela Shellenhamer). That’s a tough match-up for anyone. We knew the adjustments we had to make at halftime, and we made them.”
“That (the first half) was the epitome of how we want to play,” said Brewer. “Move the ball around, have patience. That last possession of the first half was one of the coolest possessions we’ve ever had. It doesn’t get any better than that. It was a good microcosm of the entire first half.”
Hassler came on late to lead her team in scoring with 11 points, while H. Parker notched ten. Chambers led all scorers with a dozen points, all of which came from beyond the arc.
In fact, Lebanon made more three-pointers – seven – than it did two-pointers – five. Elco outscored Lebanon 26-10 inside the arc.
The Raiders’ four-for-12 free throwing was only slightly better than the Cedars’ 0-for-four.
Joining H. Parker on the all-tournament team were Raiders Hassler and Sweatlock, and Cedars Chambers and Haitos.
“I thought she controlled the game really well,” said Shay of H. Parker. “Everyone knows she’s left-handed, but she’s hard to stop. She’s quick. She was a very deserving MVP.
“I thought they (the Cedars) did a nice job of taking Cheyenne out of the game,” Shay added. “They went to a box-and-one for a while. But we need to show we’re not just her.”
“Honestly, we just put Brittany (Uhrich) on her (Hassler) and told her to face-guard her and pressure her,” said Brewer. “Hailee Parker and Sydnie Parker did a good job of getting to the rim, and that killed us. They’re (the Raiders) not a one-girl team. That’s why they’re being successful right now.”