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CHS girls clip Ephrata in first-place showdown
By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
By most accounts, Ephrata was everyone’s team to beat in Section Two this season. That door was slightly cracked, however, when senior point guard Joelisa Harvest went down with a season-ending knee injury late in the summer.
And Monday night at Ephrata, Cocalico officially cracked the door wide-open as the young Lady Eagles’ squad staked claim to sole possession of first place with an exciting 46-43 victory in this showdown of Section Two contenders.
With the win, Cocalico’s seventh straight, the Lady Eagles (6-1 section, 9-2 overall) jumped one game ahead of second-place Ephrata (5-2, 8-4).
Marissa Gingrich continued her impressive season, leading Cocalico with 17 points in the game. But it was two of the Lady Eagles’ younger stars who made the difference.
Freshman Megan Gingrich, Marissa’s younger sister, made a key three-point play in the middle of the fourth period to slow down an Ephrata surge. Then in the final minute with the Lady Eagles trailing by one, fellow ninth grader Emily White scored the final four points, including a pair of free throws with six seconds left to clinch the win.
Both Megan Gingrich and White each finished with nine points.
"(Ephrata’s Sarah) Haddon was really putting a hurting on us in the second half," Cocalico Coach Tony DiMatteo said. "I put Megan on her, and she did a real good job containing her. (Haddon) still hit a couple shots but she really made her work. And then Megan came to the other end and scored on a big three-point play. She did a super job. And Emily has just been learning and growing. She’s unique because she is big but can handle the ball. (It was a great game) for our freshmen to get that experience to help us down the road."
"It was a great learning experience being a game for first place against a tough team at their place," he continued. "I thought our girls took another step up. We also had a tough game against Lebanon on Friday…We’ve now had two games back to back where our girls really gutted it out. I was impressed."
Ephrata was its own worst enemy in the first half as the Lady Mounts committed 19 turnovers (24 for the game) through 16 minutes of play which led to a 9-2 late run by Cocalico as the Lady Eagles built a 24-17 half-time lead.
The Lady Mounts still trailed, 29-25 after a third but finally got things going early in the fourth quarter. Haddon, who led all scorers with 18 points, in particular, set the tone as she led a quick 5-0 spurt to start the quarter and Ephrata had the lead at 30-29.
Later in the period, after Megan Gingrich’s three-point play, Ephrata’s Sarah Hoffer (6 points) knocked down a jumper in the lane with 3:23 and the Lady Mounts regained the lead at 36-35.
However, Marissa Gingrich swished a three with 2:58 to go, and then 14 seconds later she was fouled by Reimel on a fast-break attempt. On the play, Reimel, perhaps Ephrata’s best defender, went to the bench with her fifth foul.
"That was huge," Ephrata Coach Mike Garman said. "I thought it was a great defensive play by Hannah. It looked like she didn’t even touch her, and they went to the foul line and knock down two big shots."
After Gingrich’s free throws gave Cocalico a 40-36 advantage, Ephrata responded at the other end as Haddon strung together four points to knot the game back up at 40-40 with 1:38 to play.
Natalie Sukanick put Cocalico back up by two, nailing a pair of clutch free throws, but Ephrata grabbed the lead right back as Kelly Liebl (7 points) drained a three with 33 seconds to go.
Cocalico then got the ball in the frontcourt, called time-out to set up the play that ended with White’s huge game-winning bucket with 11 ticks to go.
"We ran a set play for Natalie, and they trapped us," DiMatteo said. "Of course as a defense when you trap and rotate you leave somebody open, and Natalie did a nice job using her back-up dribble, looking for the open girl. Hoffer stayed down low on (Kristen) Boyer, Emily took a step up into the seam and Natalie did a great job finding her and she took the ball to the hole. That was a really good read by Natalie and Emily."
Liebl raced up the floor but lost control of the ball in the lane, and Cocalico got it back. White was then quickly fouled, and she stepped to the line and gave her team some breathing room by converting both.
Ephrata did have one more chance, and almost tied the game when Irene Lascarides fired up a three attempt that clanked off the rim as the final buzzer sounded.
"The White girls really stepped up in the fourth quarter," Garman said. "They stepped up."
Ultimately, Garman pointed to his team’s first-half turnovers as a big key to the game.
"The second half we battled back but unfortunately the first half didn’t help us. It put us in a hole," he said. "We didn’t start out very well and we turned the ball over too much. It was a game we certainly could have won. I just don’t think we played as well as we needed to in the first half. The second half was much better, but we can’t wait until the second half to start playing."
The other factor was Cocalico’s precision shooting from the line. The Lady Eagles went to the line 23 times and made 19 of them.
"We know those are free points, and they are important points," DiMatteo said. "When you go to the foul line and miss, that’s sort of a downer so we make sure we work hard on our free throws every day. I think that was a key. (Ephrata was) 12-for-19 and we were 19-for-23 so that was the difference in the game."
Moving forward, DiMatteo now knows his team will have a target on its back the rest of the way, thanks to it’s surprising vault to the top of the standings.
"We take things in stages and it’s another step forward for us," he said. "Now we got to learn that we are in first place and everybody is going to try and knock us off. There is no more sneaking up on anybody. In our section especially, anybody can beat anybody on any given night. We have to come every day ready to play for the entire 32 minutes. Now we have to learn to play as not the underdog anymore, and people are going to be trying to knock us off. That will be another learning experience for us."
So far so good.
As for Ephrata, Garman’s squad faces another difficult test Wednesday night when they travel to Lebanon. He was asked how he thinks his team will respond.
"I’m not sure but we are going to find out," he said. "We are going up to Lebanon and they are a team that is very young but they are scrappy. They should have beaten Cocalico. They had Cocalico beat but to their credit Marissa Gingrich had a couple threes that were huge. They are a scrappy team and I don’t know how we are going to respond. Bottom line is we have to go forward and we can’t go backward. We are going to have to get better, and keep building upon the things that we keep doing. We can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot with fouls and putting people there. The little things in a big game you can’t do."
In addition to Monday, both local squads were also in action with a pair of games each last Wednesday and Friday.
Last Wednesday in Ephrata, the Lady Mounts shrugged off visiting Elizabethtown with a big fourth quarter.
Leading 27-23 after three quarters of play, Ephrata out-scored the Bears, 17-6 down the stretch to earn a 44-29 victory in a key Section Two contest.
Haddon scored 12 points while Liebl added 10 to pace the winners.
In Denver Wednesday, Cocalico gradually pulled away from pesky CV to down the Bucks by a 44-35 score.
Marissa Gingrich scored 13 points while White chipped in with 10 for the Lady Eagles.
Both Cocalico and Ephrata added hard-fought wins Friday night as well.
The Lady Eagles needed overtime to dispose of visiting Lebanon as host Cocalico prevailed by a 44-42 decision.
Cocalico actually trailed, 22-9 in the contest before mounting the big comeback to earn the win.
Marissa Gingrich had 14 points to help pave the way for Cocalico.
Meanwhile in Ephrata, the host Lady Mounts used a 9-4 fourth period run to pull away from CV and earn a tough 38-33 victory.
Haddon led the way with 13 points while Reimel chipped in with 10 for the winners. More GIRLS, page B-3