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Oh so close…Mounts’ bid to chop down Cedars falls just short
As a sizable underdog, Ephrata’s second-year Coach Charlie Fisher would have taken the scenario that played out Monday in the L-L League quarterfinals nearly every time.
Down two points at Section One champion Lebanon with a chance to win it in the final seconds, Ephrata was right where it wanted to be.
Yet, when Dilyn Becker’s three-point attempt from the corner at the buzzer was too strong, and the Cedars held on for a 52-50 victory, there was a feeling that the Mounts let a golden opportunity get away.
“What are you going to do?,” Fisher would say later. “We had them.”
The Cedars (19-4) survived and advanced to Wednesday’s semifinal opposite Section Three champion Lancaster Mennonite, which knocked off Manheim Township 77-70. That game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Cedar Crest.
As for the Mounts (16-8), they’ll look to rebound from this strong effort when they open up Districts Monday night. Ephrata, the 10th seed, will face a familiar foe when the Mounts travel to seventh-seeded Lampeter-Strasburg (7 p.m.) for the opener.
“I told them it doesn’t get much harder than this,” Fisher said following Monday’s tough loss. “League playoff game, nice crowd, (playing) the best team in Section One…now we have (Section Two champion) L-S on Monday, and it’s circled. We’re ready. I wish we would have less time to prepare for L-S because that means we would have won tonight but it’s next game up and playoff time, and you just got to focus on the next thing.”
The Mounts, who started slowly in an eventual 43-39 win over Columbia Friday in an L-L play-in game at CV, played a near flawless first half Monday in building a 24-15 half-time lead. Ephrata turned it over just three times in the initial 16 minutes and held the Cedars to a dismal 3-for-16 first half shooting performance from the field.
“It was a totally different mindset today,” Fisher said. “The nerves were out, the playoff win was out…a totally different mindset. We played fearless. We knew coming into this game we were the underdog, and we knew expectations, but we also knew we had a chance. We played them (Jan. 23) and it was probably eight to 16 (point deficit) the majority of the game, but we knew what we could do.”
The only downfall in the first half for Ephrata was foul trouble, and it plagued the Mounts midway through the third quarter when senior Micah Krauter and sophomore Xavian Rodriguez both went to the bench when they were whistled for their fourth fouls.
Ephrata led 29-19 at the time, but without those two key starters, Lebanon went on a 17-6 run to actually take a 36-35 advantage.
The Cedars’ 1-2-2 press forced three key turnovers, and Camryn Shaak, who scored just one first-half point, led the charge with 11 of those points during that key stretch (including three treys) and would finish with a game-high 20.
“We knew they ran a 1-2-2, but it just shell-shocked us,” Fisher said. “It’s one of those things where it shell-shocks you, and with (Krauter & Rodriguez) on the bench, they got active, got some energy, got a couple steals…we knew they were going to go on a run.”
Becker did momentarily stop the momentum when he drained an NBA three at the third quarter buzzer to give the Mounts a 38-36 lead. And Ephrata appeared to right the ship as the Mounts maintained slight lead for most of the final stanza.
Brad DaBella, who led the Mounts with 17 points, hit three crucial treys in the final eight minutes. His second three pointer of the quarter put the Mounts up 47-44 with 3:15 to go. But Lebanon’s Shaquell Ortiz answered that with a rare three at the other end to knot it again at 47-apiece.
“That was (Ortiz’s) second three all year…what are you going to do? He misses that and you are up three with the ball,” Fisher said.
After Ortiz hit one of two free throws to give the Cedars a one-point lead, DaBella knocked down his final trey with 1:41 to go to put the Mounts back in front at 50-48.
But Shaak seemed to have every answer offensively for the Cedars in the second half, and his three-ball with 1:22 left put his team back on top, 51-50. Ephrata did have a chance to tie or go in front with 48 seconds left but Krauter missed a key front end of a one-and-one.
That forced the Mounts to foul, and it worked as Sabu Pereyra was sent to the line and made just one of two to give Ephrata one final chance with 25 ticks left.
After the ball went off Lebanon with 4.6 seconds left, Fisher called a time-out and drew up one final play. Krauter inbounded to Becker in the far corner, and the junior point guard got a good look, although he was a bit too strong with it, and the Cedars rebounded as time expired.
“We knew it was going to be a tight game,” Fisher said. “I thought we battled. When (Lebanon) went on their run, I thought, ‘that’s playoff basketball.’”
In the end, Lebanon did much of its damage on the line, hitting 17 of its 22 free throws. Conversely, Ephrata had just five attempts from the stripe, converting three.
Despite the loss, Fisher reiterated that his team, which won three basketball games a year ago, made another huge step in its progression.
“I thought the guys played great,” he said. “I thought when we took Micah out (with four fouls), the underclassmen played great. I thought different guys stepped up at different points in the game. I really did. I thought it was different guys at different times.
“We said we needed a chance to win at the end. And we did. In the playoffs, all you need is a chance at the end, and you either make it or you don’t. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way but we were a different team than we were Friday. Friday night we were nervous, we were antsy, we were excited. But totally different tonight.”
While DaBella led the Mounts with 17, Becker scored nine key points while senior Larson Kopp added eight points off the bench.
For the Cedars, in addition to Shaak, Ortiz finished with nine while Pereyra added seven.
Friday night, in the L-L play-in game vs. Columbia held at CV, Ephrata overcame a slow start with a big second quarter performance.
Then, with the Mounts holding a nine-point lead heading to the fourth, they held off a late flurry by the Tide to secure the 43-39 victory.
With the Mounts up two (41-39) with 9.6 seconds left, Krauter stole an inbounds pass, flipped it to Kopp who hit a streaking Rodriguez for a lay-up at the buzzer to clinch Ephrata’s first playoff win since the 2005 season.
“I’m just so proud of them,” Fisher said of his squad. “We were nervous as nervous could be at the start. And I said to them, ‘I think I was as nervous as you were.’ But the guys stayed with it and we were able to find a way to get the ‘W,’ which is huge for us.”
Ephrata trailed 7-4 after one quarter but finished the second quarter on a 14-2 run to grab as 21-17 half-time lead. DaBella (8 points) hit a three with 23 seconds left to give the Mounts their first lead, then his rebound off a miss at the buzzer put the Mounts up by four heading to the locker room.
Ephrata kept the momentum in the third as Krauter, who led his team with 12 points, scored off three drives in the period to stake the Mounts to a 32-23 advantage by period’s end.
But the Tide would rally in the fourth.
Ephrata was held without a field goal through the first six minutes of the fourth as the Tide out-scored the Mounts 13-2 during that span to regain the lead at 36-34 on Andrew Sheckard’s clutch three with 2:16 to play.
But Brendan Holbritter, who scored nine points off three treys in the game, canned a huge three-pointer with 1:52 to go to put his team back in front (37-36).
Then in the final minute with the Mounts still up by one, Becker went a perfect 4-for-4 from the line to eventually give Ephrata a three-point advantage (41-38) with 19 ticks to go.
Columbia’s Meleik Crenshaw made one of two free throws with 12 seconds to go, and then Columbia got the ball back still trailing by two with 9.6 seconds remaining. But Krauter was Johnny-On-The-Spot and picked off the inbounds pass to save the day.
“When they got the ball out, I said, ‘pressure the three-point line because we are not losing. If it goes to overtime, it goes to overtime,’” Fisher said. “And our two seniors made an awesome play. Micah got the steal, threw it to Larson, who outletted it to (Rodriguez). It was fitting that our two seniors made the play to get the win.”
In addition to Krauter, Rodriguez also finished in double figures with 10 points. Columbia (16-5) was led by Jaden Neal, who scored a game-high 13 points.