BY JEFF FALK
ASSUMPTION HILL – There comes a point in every campaign where it becomes a grind, practice turns into a chore and teams’ resolves are tested.
Three-quarters of the way through the 2012-13 season and preseason goals for both the Elco and Lebanon Catholic girls’ basketball team are still within reach, consistency is a reward in and of itself and postseasons are very real possibilities.
And the jury is still out as to whether or not they are good teams.
On Tuesday night on Assumption Hill, Elco was a little better than Lebanon Catholic, by the tune of 49-34. But for as far as the Raiders and Beavers have come, in some ways it seems like that each has at least as far to go.
The keys to Elco’s second triumph over Lebanon Catholic in three weeks were first-half, fast-break points – about 16 to be exact – and the Raiders’ defensive number on Beaver go-to-girl Abby Shay. Shay’s initial points of the contest came with five seconds left in the first half, and after Elco had established a 29-11 cushion.
With the win, the Raiders, who bested the Beavers 53-36 on Dec. 27 in the opening round of the Lebanon High Christmas Tournament, improved to 9-6 overall and 6-4 in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Lebanon Catholic slipped to 8-7 on the season and 4-6 in Section Four of the L-L.
Both Elco and Lebanon Catholic remain very much alive for playoff berths in the league and District Three tournaments.
“I think we are a good team,” said Elco head coach Ashli Shay. “We’re making a lot of strides. We’re continuing to get better. Our objective is to put four solid quarters together and to get better. You can’t change the past, only focus on the present and hope for the future.
“Our goal right now is to finish in the top two in the section,” Shay added. “Absolutely, there’s no reason we should be counted out of that. You never know what’s going to happen. Section three is crazy at times.”
“Relative to who’s out there, yeah we’re a good team,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Patti Hower. “I told them (her players) that besides Lancaster Catholic we can beat everyone on our schedule.
“We’re going to continue to work hard,” added Hower. “I heard someone say this one time: ‘I hate losing more than I like winning.’ That’s how they (her players) have to feel. When people say we’re not really good, that motivates me.”
On the streaky shooting of Holly Marinkov, the Beavers raced out to a quick 8-3 lead. But in the middle of the opening stanza, Elco began to extend its man-to-man defense, apply more pressure to the ball and jump passing lanes.
The results were turnovers, steals and fast-break points for the Raiders. With its defense producing offense, Elco pieced together a 16-1 run that spilled over into the second quarter.
A Victoria Sweatlock lay-in gave the Raiders a 19-9 bulge 2:39 into the second stanza. Then after Helene Reist responded for Catholic, Elco ripped off ten unanswered points – four each by Sweatlock and Katy Yoders, and a drive to the basket from Hailie Parker.
“I think after a little bit of a slow start, we played really well for the last three-quarters of the first half,” said Shay. “We had a lot of nice pressure on the ball, and got turnovers and easy baskets. A win’s a win. Any time you can beat Lebanon Catholic twice in a season is big in itself.
“Those fast-break points were big,” added Shay. “When we put Sydnie Parker in the game we really started getting turnovers.”
“I thought we were horrible in the first half,” said Hower. “But we fought back in the second half and made it a game. The biggest thing was turnovers. We didn’t even get any shot opportunities. We didn’t even get it (the ball) past half court sometimes. I’d say most of their (the Raiders’) points in the first half were lay-ups. Even I can make a lay-up.
“(Once they were behind) I thought had to pick up our defensive intensity,” continued Hower. “But we don’t have a lot of foot speed. That’s why we can’t dig out of it. We don’t have what it takes to play 94 feet.”
Elco’s scoring was ridiculously balanced. Parker showed the way with 13 points, Yoders followed with a dozen, Cheyenne Hassler went for 11 and Sweatlock checked in with 10. Shay popped for 15 Beaver points.
“She’s definitely, I would certainly say, their go-to player,” said Shay of the Raiders’ defensive job on Catholic’s Abby Shay. “We wanted to take her out of the game, as I’m sure most teams want to. She’s certainly their spark plug.
“You’ve just got to try to keep the ball out of her hands,” Shay continued. “Physically, she’s strong. If she does get the ball in her hands, you don’t want to bail her out by fouling her.”
“Every time she touched the ball she had three people around her,” said Hower of Shay. “That’s good coaching on their part. She couldn’t even make a post move.
“She’s pretty much seen everything,” continued Hower. “She’s working hard to get open and she doesn’t get frustrated. That’s where her teammates have to step up. Someone else has to score for other teams to respect us.”
The Beavers performed better in the second half, but despite that fact were unable to make much head way in the third quarter. Elco did experience a bit of a dry spell on the offensive end early in the final period, and Lebanon Catholic pulled to within 41-34 on a jumper from Shay with 1:50 to go.
But the Raiders made six foul shots and got a steal and lay-up from H. Parker to close the deal.
“I would say tonight was fairly similar to the first time we played them,” said Shay. “We got out to a lead and they came back. They (the Beavers) certainly don’t give up, and that’s to their credit. That’s very typical of a Lebanon Catholic team. But I’ll take it.
“I think we’re getting there,” continued Shay. “You always want to see your team peak at the right time. We’re finding ways to win. Tonight obviously wasn’t our best performance, but we found a way to win in a tough gym and against a tough opponent.
“The keys for us are defense and rebounding. We said that from Day One. We know that’s what’s going to make us go.”
“I think with any team, your point guard makes you go,” said Hower. “She (H. Parker) pushes the ball. But they’ve (the Raiders) got a little bit of everything. They’re not outstanding in those spots, but they have some athletes. And their big kids run the floor.”