Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
L-L GIRLS' BASKETBALL PREVIEW
Accustomed to adversity, Ephrata ready to play BY JASON FULGINITI, Sports Writer
Maybe they get eliminated in the first round by an Elco team that took them to overtime three weeks ago.
Or perhaps they have what it takes to advance to their first Lancaster-Lebanon League girls' basketball final since 1991.
None of that is certain.
What is certain is that there are few teams in the Lancaster-Lebanon girls' basketball league that are more tested or have dealt with more -- clich' alert -- adversity than Ephrata.
It started with 5-foot-8 bench player Hannah Raezer suffering a season-ending ACL tear in July.
It continued when point guard Jolesia Harvest -- who Ephrata coach Mike Garman, noticing her knowledge of the game and her ability to run an offense, called someone who "becomes like you out there (as a coach)" -- ripped her ACL during a preseason camp at King's College in October.
Another setback came over the holiday break, when junior forward Morgan Fasnacht -- a worthwhile contribution off the bench -- tore ligaments in her ankle while stretching in pregame warmups.
Still, as the Lancaster-Lebanon League girls' basketball playoffs get under way tonight, Ephrata is there.
There because they found a way to win 13 of their last 16 regular-season games. The journey culminated in its 37-28 victory over Cocalico in a one-game playoff for the Section Two crown last Friday, giving the Mounts their first section title since 2009 and their second in program history.
"For us to lose (Harvest) this year and to win the section … it's such a tremendous credit to who these kids are," Garman said. "They have such character and class … they're just a great group of girls. I could talk about them all day.
"I just like our kids," he continued. "They're the kind of kids that, on paper, would be the underdogs and we wouldn't match up (with other teams). But I just like the way they compete. We battle."
The real battle begins tonight at 7 when the Section Two champion Mountaineers (18-5) host Section Three runner-up Elco (14-8) in the first round of the L-L League playoffs.
In tonight's other quarterfinal clashes, Section One champion Manheim Township (19-2) hosts Section Four runner-up Annville-Cleona (14-8), Section Three champ Lampeter-Strasburg (20-1) hosts Section Two runner-up Cocalico (18-5), and Section Four champ Lancaster Catholic (22-0) hosts Section One runner-up Hempfield (17-5).
The winners of tonight's games -- all of which tip off at 7 -- advance to Thursday's 7 p.m. semifinals at Conestoga Valley and Warwick.
The final is set for Saturday at 1 p.m. at Manheim Township.
But to even think about seeing playing time Saturday, Ephrata first has to worry about Elco, a team it trailed by nine points at halftime Jan. 19, before escaping with a 58-55 win in overtime.
Up three with about 10 seconds to go in regulation, according to Garman, the Raiders' leading scorer Cheyenne Hassler was fouled on a 3-point attempt. She made all three, sending the game to overtime.
"We haven't had very many easy games," Garman said.
Despite that, the Mounts -- powered by senior forward Sarah Haddon (15.7 points per game), senior center Sarah Hoffer (7.9), sophomore guard Kelly Liebl (9.2), senior guard Hannah Reimel (7.1) and junior forward Irene Lascarides (2.3) -- enter these playoffs on an eight-game winning streak, which was capped with their victory over Cocalico in last Friday's one-game playoff for the Section Two title.
What lies ahead from here though is anybody's guess.
"Any given night, if you have a group of kids who work hard," Garman said, "you never know."
Meanwhile, what we do know is that -- from Day One -- Lancaster Catholic has been the hands-down favorite to win this tournament.
Aside from the fact that no team in the league has more L-L championships than the Crusaders (10), Catholic returns all but two players from a 30-4 team that won the L-L League and District Three Class AAA titles last year before advancing to the PIAA Class AAA final, where it lost to Archbishop Wood (52-33).
Coming off their third straight undefeated league season and third consecutive Section Four title, the Crusaders enter the playoffs as the league's only unbeaten team -- their closest calls being a 71-59 nonleague victory over Eastern York on Feb. 2 and a 57-47 nonleague win over Dallastown in their first game of the year, Dec. 7.
Most impressive, perhaps, is that Catholic hasn't lost to an L-L team since Feb. 17, 2011, when it dropped a 57-44 decision to Solanco in the L-L semifinals.
But while his girls are, in tonight's first round, again facing a Hempfield team they handled 57-23 in a season-opening tip-off tournament, Catholic coach Lamar Kauffman isn't taking anything for granted.
"We're going to have to have our 'A' game," he said.