Momentum builder: Lady Mounts start strong, hold on to down Comets

By on December 19, 2018
Ephrata’s Reagan McCarty drives to the hoop during Friday’s game vs. Solanco. Photo by Travis Boyd

Ephrata’s Reagan McCarty drives to the hoop during Friday’s game vs. Solanco. Photo by Travis Boyd

Monday night looked like it would be an easy night for the Ephrata girls basketball team.

The Lady Mounts jumped out to a big 27-12 half-time lead and appeared to be in cruise control at home vs. Penn Manor in a Section One-Two crossover game at the Ephrata Middle School.

However, that was before senior guard Kandice Liebl left the game with an injury early in the third period and did not return. And that was before Penn Manor, led by talented freshman Morgan Miller, stormed nearly all the way back, cutting Ephrata’s seemingly insurmountable lead to just one (43-42) with 3:45 to play.

But in the end, several role players stepped up down the stretch, sank some big free throws, and the Lady Mounts finally put away the pesky Comets, 50-45 for the much-needed victory.

“I was hoping not to have to sweat this one out, the way we started,” first-year Ephrata Coach Brian Cerullo said. “But it’s how we are going to have to win…we got to scrap them out.”

That’s exactly what occurred after the Comets (1-1 Section One, 1-4 overall) did a complete 180 from the first half when Ephrata (1-1 Section Two, 2-4 overall) played stellar defense and cashed in at the other end to earn the big half-time lead.

Liebl, who led a balanced Ephrata attack with nine points, got six of them on her team’s first two offensive trips, sinking a pair of three-pointers to take command. Ephrata increased the advantage to 12-2 with 3:15 to go when sophomore center Maddie Groff converted off a nice drive and dish from Carly Holochuck.

But the Comets closed the gap to 13-9 by the end of the quarter as Miller’s three-pointer, the first of three for the game, sparked a 7-1 Penn Manor run.

Ephrata, though, cranked up the “D” once again the second quarter, forcing three early turnovers to fuel a quick 9-0 run of it’s own to open up a 22-9 advantage.

At the offensive end, Reagan McCarty (7 points) scored the first five points in that stretch, swishing a pair of free throws before knocking down a trey. Then after a Miller three-pointer, which turned out to be the lone points of the quarter for the Comets, Ephrata stiffened on defense once again and turned Penn Manor over five more times to gain the big 15-point half-time advantage.

“I think our team strength is we have some athletic kids, some speed, so we want to play a little more uptempo (defensively),” Cerullo said. “That seemed to work in the first half. We just have to continue to do a better job taking care of the basketball in the second half, but I definitely think our uptempo game is our strength right now.”

What was built in the second quarter all but evaporated in the third as the Comets went to more of a fast-paced attack and it sparked a rally.

After Ephrata’s Jocelyn Umana converted a lay-up nine seconds into the third to up the advantage to 17 points, things changed as the Comets went on a 10-2 spurt to cut the Ephrata lead to single digits.

Ella Hart, who scored 10 points in the contest, had eight of the 10 during that five-minute stretch. Also during that run, Liebl stepped in to take a charge on Penn Manor’s Kate Levato and was injured on the play. She would not return.

After a Brooke Ludwig lay-up momentarily slowed the Comets’ run, another quick 6-0 spurt by Manor made it a five-point game heading to the fourth.

Playing without leading scorer Gabi Gerola-Hill (knee), in addition to Liebl, Ephrata desperately needed someone to step up down the stretch. And Ludwig and Hannah Plowmaker did early in the fourth. Ludwig converted a quick lay-up to open the period, then stole the inbounds pass and cashed in again, despite being fouled. Her ensuing free throw was off the mark, but Plowmaker got the rebound and sank her putback attempt to suddenly give Ephrata a 41-30 advantage.

But the Comets kept coming, led by Miller, who scored 12 of her game-high 22 points in the fourth. At one point, she scored 10-straight points, the last being her lay-up to get her team to within one.

Thankfully for Ephrata’s sake, that was as close as the Comets would get. In the final minute with Ephrata up two, Holochuck made one of two free throws to make it 48-45. Then, after a key turnover and a technical foul called on Penn Manor, Umana made a pair of free throws in the final 20 seconds to clinch the five-point win.

“We had to relax and get the ball in good positions and not turn the ball over and not get too jumpy out there,” Cerullo said. “When we relaxed, we made the right plays and good things happened.”

In addition to Liebl’s nine points, Ludwig, Plowmaker and Groff each had eight points to lead a balanced scoring attack from Ephrata. Defensively, Ephrata forced 24 turnovers.

The bad? The Lady Mounts had 21 turnovers themselves, and made just 13 out of 36 free throws on the night.

Those things are correctable, and Cerullo is hoping those numbers get better with time.

“Hopefully they can build off this momentum,” Cerullo said. “We were hanging on, we had to play a lot of different girls, and a lot of them don’t have a lot of varsity experience so that was good for them. And now we got to continue to build on it.

“We have a lot of room for growth,” he continued. “We’ve been unfortunate where we’ve lost multiple girls due to injury. In fact, the girls who are injured are our leading scorers so it makes it even harder. As a team we are going to have to scrap together and find somebody new to step up every night and make plays. I still think we are finding out what we are capable of, but like I said we just need to keep building on it.”

In addition to Monday’s contest, Ephrata also was in action last Thursday night at home where they dropped a 50-30 decision to visiting Solanco.

The Mares jumped out to a hug 28-8 half-time lead and coasted the rest of the way.

Jess Cabrera had a game-high 17 points to lead Solanco. Holochuck had six points to pace Ephrata in the loss.

Friday night at Hempfield, Ephrata led 24-17 after three quarters before the Black Knights stormed back in the fourth to claim a 30-27 win.

Jessica Weinholdt scored nine points to pace the Black Knights. Umana had eight for Ephrata in the loss.

Up next, Ephrata returns to action Wednesday night at home against Cedar Crest. The Lady Mounts also are in action Friday night on the road at Manheim Township.

Both contests begin at 7:30 p.m.

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