Northern Lebanon s Taylor Smith (24) absorbs a hard foul from Elco s Celeste Shimp on Tuesday night during a key Section Three hoops battle in
Northern Lebanon s Taylor Smith (24) absorbs a hard foul from Elco s Celeste Shimp on Tuesday night during a key Section Three hoops battle in Fredericksburg. Smith led a valiant effort by an injury-depleted Vikings squad with 14 points, but Elco still came away with an important 44-37 victory. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)
FREDERICKSBURG - The Elco girls' basketball team is currently engaged in a fight for its playoff life.

And because they are, the Raiders simply cannot afford to waste time feeling compassion for any rival combatants that are more battered and bruised than they are.

In a matchup dripping with postseason implications - and one that was both marred and yet enhanced by the absence of four combined starters because of various physical ailments - injury-hampered Elco outlasted injury-ravaged Northern Lebanon, 44-37, in a key Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three battle at Northern Lebanon High School.

The victory pulls Elco (12-8, 9-5) to within a game of second-place Northern Lebanon (13-7, 10-4) for the final L-L playoff spot with two games to play and essentially puts it in the driver's seat for a league berth since it now owns the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker after sweeping its two meetings with the Vikings.

The win also provided a needed boost to the Raiders' hopes of securing a District Three Class AAA playoff spot.

In the end that was because Elco, which was without one starter in senior guard Kady Yoders because of a possible ACL tear suffered a few games back, was healthier and more resourceful when it mattered most.


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It was not because Ken Battistelli-coached Northern Lebanon didn't put up an extremely admirable fight despite missing three starters of its own - Emily Brandt, Mariah LiBrandi and Morgan Phillips - due to knee injuries (Brandt, Phillips) and a foot ailment (LiBrandi).

"It was exactly what I expected, to be honest with you," said Elco coach Ashli Shay. "They (the Vikings) have been playing inspired for the last how many weeks now. This game, I was nervous the whole time. Even though they lost three really good players, they play like Kenny coaches. They're very intense, very fiery, full of energy."

More energy, quite frankly, than anyone had a right to expect them to have.

Having scrapped their way to the brink of an L-L playoff spot despite losing dynamic floor leader Brandt and 3-point shooter Phillips for the season a few weeks back, the Vikings were dealt another crushing injury blow on Friday when senior guard LiBrandi suffered a possible right foot fracture in practice.

But despite having ample reason to do so, Northern Lebanon didn't play the woe-is-us card on Tuesday, battling Elco to a virtual standstill for three-and-a-half quarters before the visitors pulled through down the stretch behind the clutch play of senior point guard Halie Parker.

Elco s Sydnie Parker drives to the hoop for two of her 12 points against the defense of Northern Lebanon s Madisyn Kleinfelter. Parker tallied eight of her
Elco s Sydnie Parker drives to the hoop for two of her 12 points against the defense of Northern Lebanon s Madisyn Kleinfelter. Parker tallied eight of her 12 points in the first quarter to spark the Raiders to a 44-37 win. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS JEREMY LONG)

"The kids played their rear ends off for me, they have been all year long," said Battistelli. "I feel horrible right now. It's a shame, somebody wins and somebody loses. Down the stretch, Elco made a lot of key plays and we didn't. That's basically what it came down to."

Though the Vikings were courageous in defeat behind 14 points from Taylor Smith, four 3-pointers from Morgan Hollis, post presence from Kristen Lessing and inspired play from normally seldom-used reserves Shelby Lemke and Madisyn Kleinfelter, Elco got a big step-up effort of its own from Yoders' replacement in the starting lineup, junior Sydnie Parker.

Excelling in the transition game, Parker totaled eight of her 12 points in the first quarter to send the Raiders to a 15-11 lead after the opening eight minutes.

"Losing Kady was a big blow to us," Shay said. "We certainly miss her, but I thought Sydnie Parker played a heck of a game. Especially the first quarter, she was breaking out and getting those layups. We were getting the ball ahead to her, and that's what she does so well."

That lead would shrink slightly to 24-21 at the half but would have been much larger had it not been for the Vikes' refusal to yield to their own trying circumstances.

Sparked by Smith's relentless play inside and Hollis' 3-point bombs, the Vikings actually took the lead on three different occasions in the second half, the final time at 37-36 on a Smith bank shot with 3:36 left.

But the Vikes would not score again. Cheyenne Hassler, who led all scorers with 14 points, tied the contest with a free throw with 3:27 to go, and Victoria Sweatlock put the Raiders ahead to stay by laying in a nifty feed from Halie Parker with 2:48 to play.

"It sucks," Battistelli said, referring not to his squad's effort but the cruel injury fate that has befallen them. "It sucks so bad, and it doesn't suck so bad because we're not as good as we could be. It sucks so bad, because the kids just keep giving me more and we keep getting punched in the gut (by injuries).

"I mean, how much can you give? I feel so horrible, because they're giving me everything they got. And that would be enough. But it just keeps getting taken away."

Halie Parker, who had a huge impact on the game despite scoring only three points, landed the final punch with a floater in the lane with just under two minutes left and also added an insurance free throw with 23 seconds to play.

That last blow to the Vikings' collective stomach could well be a lethal one as far as their playoff hopes are concerned, especially considering they must still play section leader Lampeter-Strasburg on Tuesday.

But based on what she saw on Tuesday, Shay isn't taking anything for granted. That doesn't mean the view from the driver's seat isn't a pleasant one.

"Considering what they've lost, they're impressive," Shay said of the Vikings. "We know this is a good spot to be in right now, but you never know what's gonna happen. This team we just played, they're gonna battle every night. It doesn't matter who they play.

"We obviously have to hope L-S can help us out a little bit, but the biggest thing we need to do is take care of business ourselves."