Elco outlasts Mounts, 35-26
BY MIKE GROSS, Sports Columnist
Mike Garman saw this coming.
Ephrata's girls' basketball coach attributed it to post-championship hangover.
It caused the Mounts to struggle through three sluggish, offensively-challenged quarters and then a fourth-quarter collapse, as gutsy Elco eased to a 35-26 win in the Lancaster-Lebanon League quarterfinal playoffs at Ephrata Middle School Tuesday.
It means the Raiders (15-8), Section Three runners-up, advance to the semis against Section Four champ Lancaster Catholic Thursday. That game will tip off at 7 p.m. at Warwick High School.
After the game both coaches, Garman and Elco's Ashli Schwab, talked as if the unbeaten Crusaders were a semifinal lock. Turned out Catholic barely got past Hempfield Tuesday, but still.
"We played them really well,'' Schwab said of her club's 72-58 loss at Catholic Jan. 11. "We had (the deficit) in single digits most of the way. We can't go in being afraid.
"We're not the most skilled team, but we're one of the hardest-working.''
Garman's club has shown similar grit in fighting to a Section Two title, winning eight straight before Tuesday, including a playoff defeat of Cocalico Friday for the section trophy. This despite the Mounts tearing more ligaments than an NFL team, including a season-ending ACL tear to superb point guard Jolesia Harvest back in August.
"This group has been like clockwork,'' Garman said. But he also said Monday's practice was his team's worst of the year.
"I could see it,'' he said. "They weren't ready to play like they can play.''
The result was, to put it mildly, a defensive struggle.
Elco's matchup zone was very good, and Ephrata caused trouble for the Raiders when it was able to set up its trapping, full-court press.
But the Mounts had to score to get the press set up. That was an issue. They managed eight field goals.
Neither team made a three-pointer with one exception: A 30-foot heave by Elco point guard Halie Parker that barely beat the halftime buzzer and banked in to give her team an 18-17 lead.
"That was the first time all year we had one of those,'' Schwab said. "That was awesome.''
But it really didn't break the ice. Elco still led by just one through three quarters. Ephrata took the lead on a hustle play, Sarah Haddon digging out the rebound of a teammate's free-throw miss and turning it into two makes at the line with six minutes left.
But then Ephrata had nine straight empty possessions, seven of them turnovers.
Elco turned those miscues into a game-ending 11-0 run, a Parker layup off a steal and a follow inside by Cheyenne Hassler (14 points) the key plays.
The Elco guard improved against the pressure down the stretch, and the Raiders were able to spread the floor and run out the game.
"We weren't moving to the basketball,'' Schwab said. "We kept talking to them about it, and we finally got it figured out.''
Parker scored nine and Victoria Sweatlock eight for Elco. Doesn't sound like much, but in a game like this …
It was Elco's first L-L playoff win since it won the league title in 1999, and the first appearance in the playoffs under Schwab, an Elco grad who played at Penn State, now in her third year at her alma mater.
Ephrata got 16 points from Haddon, but only 10 from everybody else.
Sounds like for the Mounts, a week or so off before the District Three playoffs might not be such a bad thing.
"They were so high, because of what they had accomplished,'' Garman said. "It's been a great year. They've done great things. This, tonight, was totally not who we are.''