Heading to the playoffs

By on January 30, 2019
Ephrata players celebrate in the final moments of their huge 48-43 victory over Warwick last Friday. Photo by Kirk Neidermyer

Ephrata players celebrate in the final moments of their huge 48-43 victory over Warwick last Friday. Photo by Kirk Neidermyer

Lady Mounts clinch L-L berth with 48-43 win over Warwick

Ephrata Coach Brian Cerullo said he didn’t have to remind his team of the stakes that were on the line Friday at home against Warwick.

He certainly knew, and they also were well aware of how big of a game this was.

“We were well aware,” Cerullo said. “We didn’t want to put on any pressure so we didn’t say anything to them. (But) they knew it was a big game.”

Up for grabs was Section Two’s second and final L-L berth, and the Lady Mounts locked it up with a 48-43 victory, overcoming a 43-36 deficit in the final 6:32 of the fourth quarter.

Sparked by an effective half-court trap, Ephrata forced seven Warwick turnovers during that late rally, enabling the Lady Mounts to come all the way back.

Carly Holochuck’s hoop with 2:11 to go put Ephrata ahead to stay, and Jocelyn Umana’s bucket in the final 10 seconds sealed the Warriors’ fate.

“We just wanted it,” Umana said when asked about her team’s fantastic finish. “We were down and we knew that, but you can’t start letting up. That’s when you really have to kick it up and we had plenty of time so we had to just make our key points, make our key plays and not force anything…and it worked out.”

The win improved Ephrata to 6-4 L-L (7-12 overall), while Warwick fell to 4-7, 6-11. But even if the two teams finished the regular season tied, the tiebreaker would go to the Lady Mounts, who also beat Warwick 38-37 on Jan. 8.

“We battled and I think that we understood what was at stake,” Warwick Coach Danny Cieniewicz said. “Again, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. All year, it hasn’t been for a lack of effort where I think we’re coming up just short. It’s a matter of really just executing down the stretch.”

The Warriors were executing nicely during an 8-0 stretch to start the final stanza, turning a 36-35 deficit into a 43-36 advantage with 6:32 left. Reagan Longridge opened the run with a “three,” then Emily Williamson buried two foul shots, and Lauren Pyle, who finished with a game-high 20 points, knocked down the last of her four treys.

But Ephrata turned up the heat with its pressure defense, forcing seven fourth-quarter turnovers by the Lady Warriors, who ended the game shooting 0-for-8 from the field.

“Momentum was going the wrong way for us,” Cerullo said. “We have been working on something in practice, something we had at the beginning of the year and scrapped. That group that was in there, they run it a little better, a little half-court trap, and I think at that point in the game we needed something different because it wasn’t going the right way. We said we are going to try this and try to force some turnovers and get some easy buckets, and it worked.”

Kandice Liebl’s two free throws brought Ephrata within 43-41, and a steal by Umana leading to a fastbreak lay-up tied it 43-all with 2:27 left. Gabi Gerola-Hill paced the Lady Mounts with 14 points and Umana chipped in with 11.

“We were up (early) but it was slowly going the other way,” Cerullo said. “And Pyle was incredible. She made some long shots, some tough shots…I thought she played a heck of a game. Fortunately we had kids in there at the end who made the right plays and helped us get out of here with a win.”

In addition to Holochuck’s and Umana’s key buckets down the stretch, Gerola-Hill scored seven of her 14 points in the opening frame, including a “three,” as the Ephrata girls took an early 18-10 lead.

Pyle, though, scored eight points in the second, including a 3-pointer with :37 left in the half to cut the Warriors’ deficit to 28-25 at the break.

Gerola-Hill and Pyle traded ‘threes’ in the opening 1:21 of the third, and then a putback by Longridge got Warwick within one, 31-30. Umana answered with a lay-up, but a three-point play by Longridge tied it 33-all with 2:57 left in the quarter.

Umana’s “three” put Ephrata back up 36-33, and then Pyle sank two free throws, which cut Warwick’s deficit to 36-35 going to the fourth. However, Ephrata cranked up the defensive pressure down the stretch and earned its biggest win of the season.

“I think this will be a big confidence booster,” Umana said of the victory. “We knew this was a key game and we won it, so now we just want to win the rest of them and go as far as we can.”

More than likely, that’s as far as they advance in the L-L League playoffs since they are currently sitting 17th in the Class 6A power ratings. The top 12 teams will advance to Districts.

Up next, the Lady Mounts will close out the regular season in the next week, starting off with Wednesday’s home game vs. McCaskey. They’ll also be in action Friday night at CV before finishing up next Tuesday at home vs. first-place Elizabethtown (6-4, 13-6).

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