BY JEFF FALK
Forget self-enrichment. Perhaps the most beneficial thing that can come from scholastic athletics is self-discovery.
On Wednesday night, the Elco girls’ basketball squad discovered a little about itself, both as individuals and collectively.
In the opening round of the Lebanon High Holiday Tournament, the Raiders sneaked by the host Cedars and secured a one-to-grow-on 37-35 victory. After trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half, Elco got two key treys from sophomore Cheyenne ‘Cool Hand’ Hassler down the stretch to take the lead for good.
But the win wasn’t secured until Elco got a stop on LHS’s last possession of the game. With time running down, Raider center Celeste Shimp bothered Cedar Shaela Shellenhamer enough under the basket to make her game-tying attempt go awry.
Not only did the triumph move Elco to 3-4 on the year, it also propelled it into Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. championship game of the tournament. The Raiders will take on Lebanon Catholic, which dismissed Cocalico 47-32 in the other opener.
Lebanon dropped to 1-6 overall and into the consolation contest, opposite the Eagles.
“I think we are still trying to figure it out,” said Elco head coach Ashli Shay. “We’ve been mixing it up on offense and defense. We’re trying to find out one or two things that we do good and go from there. Technically, we only have one kid who had varsity expereince last year. So it’s a matter of finding combinations.”
“It’s definitely a lot easier walking out of the gym when you know you left it all on the court,” said Lebanon head coach Ben Brewer. “They’re (his players) always talking basketball. And we’ve grown. We’ve definitely grown as a team and a family. And I think indvidually we’re buying into the fundamentals. We’re going to turn this around and win some games.”
After trailing 25-16 at the break, the Raiders owned the second half. While holding Lebanon without a point for a stretch of six minutes of the third quarter, Elco tallied 11 unanswered points and took a 31-27 advantage on a jumper from Carissa Mehaffey.
Then with momentum squarely in their corner, the Raiders got those three-point daggers from Hassler to assume a 37-32 margin with 1:49 remaining.
“In the second half, we got some great stops, we got some nice rebounds and we hit some big shots,” said Shay. “We stepped up when we needed to.
“We weren’t rebounding in the first half,” Shay continued. “They (the Cedars) were missing some shots and getting some rebounds. I told the kids at halftime, ‘If you rebound, play good defense and get some rebounds, we’re going to win this game.’ It’s the little things for us.”
“They’re similar to us,” said Brewer of the Raiders. “They’ve got some girls who can shoot. They hit a bunch of 12-foot jumpers. They’re fast, and they’re well-coached. She (Shay) has a great team for the next couple of years.”
Hassler’s 17 points led all scorers. Shellenhamer came up with 12 points for the Cedars.
“Last year she (Hassler) scored more than that as a freshman,” said Shay. “This was a good game to get her out of a little slump. She’s a pure shooter. I think she’s been thinking about it too much. I tell her, ‘Let the game come to you. Don’t try to find it.’
“I thought Haily Parker also played well,” Shay added. “She’s quick. She can hit seams. She hit some big shots too. She’s a tough player to guard.”
“Number 25 (Hassler) for them had a heck of a game,” said Brewer. “But we competed again. They (his players) did what we asked them to do. We made some shots in the first half. But what we didn’t do in the second half was finish the game.”
After Elco notched the first four points of the game, the Cedars hit it with an 11-0 run highlighted by Lauren Chambers’ banked three-pointer that ended the opening quarter. Lebanon opened a 16-6 bulge three minutes into the second period when Shellenhamer converted a more conventional three-point bucket.
“We know we lost two games we shouldn’t have lost,” said Shay. “But we’re not looking back. Sitting at 3-4 after a win tonight, we feel pretty good. But we also know we have an excellent opponent (Lebanon Catholic) tomorrow night.
“Obviously it (a win) would be a big confidence builder,” continued Shay. “It would show we can play, we can compete and we can play for 32 minutes.”
“I thought we played better in the first half,” said Brewer. “We got thrown off by that 1-3-1 (zone defense). We didn’t execute agains that. Part of it was them (his players) and part of it was me.
“I think this loss hurts a little more because it is our own tournament, it is on our home floor,” said Brewer. “Plus we didn’t get a chance to play against Lebanon Catholic. I felt pretty good coming out of halftime with a nine-point lead. But we just couldn’t stem the tide.”