The Crusaders cruised to a 53-32 victory over Elco in a Lancaster-Lebanon League semifinal showdown at Warwick High School on Thursday night.
Lancaster Catholic relied on a suffocating press and rebounding advantage to eliminate Elco and earn a trip to Saturday's L-L League title game. The Section Four champion Crusaders (24-0) will meet Section Three champion Lampeter-Strasburg (22-1) at 1 p.m. at Manheim Township High School. The Pioneers knocked off Manheim Township 41-39 in Thursday's other semifinal.
"Obviously, we knew this was a huge obstacle for us," Raider coach Ashli Shay said. "We played them earlier in the year, and we were lucky enough to keep it fairly close. ... I don't think it's like they came in and were terrified. They're really good and we were tired."
Elco (15-9) lost to Lancaster Catholic 72-58 in Myerstown on Jan. 11. The Crusaders jumped out to a 17-point lead in the first quarter before the Raiders roared back to make it competitive.
On Thursday, the Crusaders once again landed the first blows, although the blue-and-gold never answered this time around.
"We knew we would have to be almost perfect to be in the ballgame. And we were not. We were far from it," Shay said.
Catholic jumped ahead 9-0 to start the night and never looked back.
"We had to increase the pressure a little bit. We knew that from the first time we played them," said 31-year Crusader head coach Lamar Kauffman. "We were up, then we backed off, and they won the last three (quarters). We came in with the idea - no matter what the score was - we were going to press them the whole game."
Catholic's pressure defense generated 27 Raider turnovers, including a pair of 10-second backcourt calls.
Seven different players scored for Kauffman's club. Speller, who dropped 28 in the regular season encounter, was joined in double digits by Danielle Atkinson (14) and Emily Martin (10).
"When you play a team that good, you have to be perfect, and we appeared to be very out of gas from the start," added Shay. We looked tired from the start. It's a long season; we don't go real deep into the bench, and a lot of kids are playing a lot of minutes.
Elco's Victoria Sweatlock netted a team-high 14 points, while top gun Cheyenne Hassler was limited to seven. The Raiders also played a seventh-straight game without heart-and-soul forward Kady Yoders, who suffered an ACL injury on Jan. 19.
"I was extremely pleased that we could control their offense so well, because we couldn't do that last time," noted Kauffman.
Trailing 9-0, Celeste Shimp put the hosts on the board with 3:28 remaining in the first quarter. Sweatlock later closed the frame with a buzzer-beating layup to cut the deficit to 15-7.
Catholic opened the second with a 10-0 run, while Elco missed its first nine shots from the field. Elco's Andria Harpold and Hassler ended the first half with back-to-back baskets for a 31-14 halftime hole.
The Crusaders outscored the Raiders 22-18 in a non-descript second half. Neither team connected for a 3-pointer in the contest.
"I think we just throw this one away," admitted Shay, the Raiders' all-time leading scorer.
Next up, Elco travels to Gettysburg for a first-round District Three Class AA tournament clash at 7 p.m. next Wednesday. The Raiders enter districts seeded No. 12. Gettysburg (18-5) owns the fifth seed.
LANCASTER-LEBANON LEAGUE PLAYOFFS
at Warwick H.S.
LANCASTER CATHOLIC (53), ELCO (32)
Harpold 1 0-0 2, H. Parker 1 1-2 3, Keller 0 0-0 0, Sweatlock 4 6-6 14, Ca. Shimp 0 0-0 0, S. Parker 2 0-0 4, Witmer 0 0-0 0, Hassler 2 3-3 7, Ce. Shimp 1 0-0 2. Totals11 10-11 32.
LANCASTER CATHOLIC (53)
Atkinson 5 4-4 14, Speller 6 3-4 15, Knowlton 0 0-0 0, Werner 0 0-0 0, Holt 1 0-0 2, Martin 2 6-7 10, Veronis 3 0-0 6, Colon 2 0-0 4, Scarff 1 0-0 2. Totals20 13-15 53.
Elco 7 7 6 12 - 32
Lancaster Catholic 15 16 9 13 - 53
3-point goals - None
Fouled Out - None
Other Semifinal Results
Lampeter-Strasburg 41, Manheim Township 39