Ephrata in a thriller Lady Mounts win playoff over Cocalico to claim sixth section title in program history
By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
If there is one word to be stamped on the jacket of the Section Two champion Ephrata girls basketball team’s season DVD, it should be, "perseverance."
This was a team faced with adversity from the start, beginning with season-ending knee injuries to starting point guard Joelisa Harvest and key reserve Hannah Raezer before the tip-off of the first game. Along the way, they also lost another reserve, senior Morgan Fasnacht, to an ankle injury.
Still, they persevered.
As for the season itself, Ephrata trailed a young and talented Cocalico team for most of the year in the standings, and needed a win over the Lady Eagles in Denver in the final week of the regular season just to give themselves a shot to play for a section title.
They found a way to get that done too.
Which brings us to last Friday’s one-game playoff with the Lady Eagles at Garden Spot to decide the Section Two title, where Ephrata had to overcome once again.
The Lady Mounts scored just two points in a woeful first quarter, but overcame an early deficit with a big third quarter to key the monumental 37-28 win. Leading 12-11 at the half of this defensive struggle, Ephrata went on a 9-2 run in the third which helped open up an eventual double digit lead before holding on for the nine-point victory and their sixth overall section title and first since 2009.
"This is such a credit to this group of girls," Ephrata Coach Mike Garman said following Friday’s monumental victory. "To watch (Harvest) go down at Kings College in October… You could just see everyone’s hearts were broken in half. And for them to regroup, to play with the girls that we had, and to do what we’ve done tonight…It’s just amazing. To fight through all of that adversity. To lose (Harvest), to lose (Raezer), to lose (Fasnacht)…It’s just something you can’t even begin to describe because you don’t know how they are going to react."
"What that does is it talks about this group of girls," he continued. "It talks about their character, it talks about their class, and it talks about who they are as individuals. And that’s why we won. It’s truly a credit to them. You just can’t have a better group of kids, and I can’t even begin to describe how happy I am for these girls. It’s just amazing because they just battled through so much."
Ephrata seniors Sarah Haddon, Sarah Hoffer and Hannah Reimel led the way Friday. Haddon scored 13 points and added 12 boards to pace the team in both categories. Hoffer contributed 11 points and nine rebounds while Reimel scored 10 points and was a thorn in the side defensively to Cocalico’s leading scorer Marissa Gingrich, who nailed a pair of late three pointers to finish with 12.
"It hasn’t really sunk in yet," Haddon said of the championship. "It feels pretty great right now to know that this game is over and we won the section…It’s just an amazing feeling."
Reimel said her team’s play was inspired by the three injured girls, who remained with the team the entire way.
"It’s just great," she said. "I feel like we played for them because they couldn’t do it. We were out there busting our butts for them so they could experience this (title). They have been with us at practices, games, breakfasts…They were with us and they were part of the team, and I’m very happy for them."
While Ephrata was celebrating, Cocalico Coach Tony DiMatteo was applauding his team as well. He saw his team shoot just 9-for-42 from the field and said that probably proved to be the difference in the end.
"Tonight we executed," he said. "I thought we played good defense, and I thought our offense was good. We just didn’t put the ball in the basket."
"It’s a learning experience and this is only going to make us better going forward," he continued. "We took a big step last year, we took another big step this year, and we are not done yet. I told the girls to hold their heads up high. We are going on (to the playoffs), and every game is going to make us better, not just for this year, but the next few years. We got a nice foundation in place."
With Ephrata’s win, the Lady Mounts (18-5) entered the L-L playoffs Tuesday night as the top seed from Section Two and hosted Section Three runner-up Elco. Cocalico (18-5), as the Section Two runner-up, hit the road to face host Lampeter-Strasburg (see stories on right).
Both teams got out of the gates slowly Friday, but it was Cocalico that held a 5-2 edge after one quarter of play. Ephrata shot just 1-for-10 from the field in the first eight minutes, and turned it over three times against a collapsing Cocalico defense that made it hard to get the ball inside.
"We came out kind of flat, but what we said at the end of the first quarter was we needed to start working together and playing our kind of game," Haddon said. "We just said we need to play our game, and do what we do best."
While Ephrata’s offense struggled to get untracked, the Lady Mounts began to wreak havoc on the defensive end in the second quarter. Ephrata forced three-straight Lady Eagle turnovers to start the quarter, and Reimel’s basket in transition gave the Lady Mounts their first lead with 5:05 to go in the quarter.
A Kristen Boyer (3 points) putback off a Gingrich miss, and a jumper by freshman Emily White (9) gave the lead back to Cocalico with 1:36 to go in the half. But a Haddon basket cut the deficit back to 11-10 Cocalico, then two free throws by Haddon actually put Ephrata in front at 12-11 at the half.
Garman said, despite a rough, low-scoring offensive half by his team, to take Cocalico’s best initial shot and still hold the lead at the break was encouraging.
"We just weren’t in a good groove in the first half, and luckily we were up by one," Garman said. "We didn’t play very well and yet we were still up, which was a very good sign.
"I thought were were tentative in the first half, and I thought we needed to look to take it at them (in the second half)," he continued. "We needed to look to get the ball into the post, which we had to do and finally ended up doing."
The third quarter was the difference in this one. At one end of the court, Cocalico went stone cold offensively, going 0-for-10 from the field in the period. Ephrata looked to run off those misses and cashed in at the other end with three transition baskets in the quarter. The Lady Mounts also began having success on the post as a Haddon bucket and two free throws by Reimel led to a 21-13 Ephrata lead after three.
"When we went in at half-time and we realized that Cocalico definitely came out hard we needed to come out even harder in the second half," Reimel said. "The fast break is one of our keys to our scoring game so we just wanted to pick that up a bit. And it worked."
"We couldn’t buy a basket," DiMatteo said. "(Ephrata) pushed the ball up the court, and when they had a good look, they put the ball in the basket. That was the difference."
In the fourth, Cocalico appeared to be set for a run early on as Gingrich nailed a pair of free throws with 5:24 to play to cut it to 23-17. White then made a steal at the other end and appeared on her way to an uncontested lay-up which would have cut it to four. However, Ephrata’s Irene Lascarides, who did not score in the game but was an unsung defensive hero on the night with eight rebounds, ran her down from behind and knocked the ball out of bounds and out of harm’s way.
"Irene was unbelievable," Garman said. "Her defense was tremendous, her rebounding…She went after every loose ball…Irene just played her heart out. She was just so valuable to us."
Hoffer extended the lead on consecutive trips, nailing three out of four foul shots before White cut it to 26-19 with a deuce with 3:48 to go. But transition baskets by Kelly Liebl (3 points) and Reimel made it 30-19 with just 2:09 to play.
The Lady Eagles did make it interesting, however, showing a bit of heart of their own in the final minute in cutting it down to 32-28 with 32 seconds to play after a pair of three pointers by Gingrich. But Ephrata went 5-for-6 from the line the rest of the way to finally salt away the title.
"It was just an unbelievable game," Garman said. "It was hard fought with great defense by both teams…Everybody gave it all they had and we just found a way to get it done."
Reimel added, "It was definitely ugly at times. I think both teams fought really hard and both wanted it really bad."
"It’s fantastic," she continued. "Most of the girls, Sarah Haddon and I, watched when (the 2009 team won the section title), and we wanted to feel that. And (the feeling) is exactly what we expected."
They persevered. More THRILLER, page B-3