Stats lie sometimes. This time they would have made even a compulsive fibber shake their head in disgust.
Believe it or not, Elco 33, Lebanon 31 in the championship game of the LHS Holiday Tournament was a highly entertaining, classic battle of wills that encompassed just about everything that is right about high school sports.
In the end, though, it was the endlessly scrappy, rapidly maturing Raiders who enjoyed the contest a little more than anyone else after erasing a 26-16 halftime lead to capture their first championship together.
Yeah, it was "only" a holiday tournament title. But you wouldn't have known that after witnessing Elco's gleeful postgame celebration and the red-rimmed eyes of dejected host Lebanon.
They're two teams that have a lot of things to work on. Caring enough isn't one of those things.
"It was emotional both ways," said third-year Elco coach Ashli Shay of what turned out to be the biggest win of her tenure in Myerstown. "Both teams fought really hard. We knew it was gonna be a game. We both wanted it. You could see the tears in their eyes after the game and we would have been the same way if we had been on the other end of it. A great, hard-fought game."
"Both teams love playing basketball," said a disappointed but far from despondent Lebanon coach Ben Brewer. "The hearts are totally into it. That's what's cool about watching a game like that. That's what makes it hurt the kids more, but it makes it easier on me. Because we just watched two teams compete. No one lost that game."
But it certainly looked like the Raiders (5-4) would be the defeated team after Lebanon completed a 19-point second quarter with a Brittany Ulrich 3-pointer in the closing seconds to pull ahead 26-16 at the break.
But it wasn't game over at that point, despite both their 10-point lead and the Cedars' energetic, focused play led by perpetual motion machine Lauren Chambers, who led all scorers with 12 points.
Although not that long ago in a game involving this group of Raiders, it would have been. But this Elco team is different, and not prone to packing it in when times get tough.
That was certainly in evidence after intermission. A few tweaks to a matchup zone that Lebanon pierced with regularity in the first half, and some clutch play from tournament MVP Halie Parker and leading scorer Cheyenne Hassler (11 points) reversed the Raiders' fortunes in a big way.
And sent Lebanon's plummeting to the tune of just five second-half points and a 7:35 scoring drought to start the third quarter.
"We kinda talked about it at halftime with the coaches, and decided that we needed to have ball pressure on their shooters," said Parker, who was a steadying presence at both ends of the court in the second half. "Because they were making a lot of 3's. Once we got that pressure, we held 'em to two points in the third quarter and three in the fourth. That was really big for us."
"This team, I don't get nervous with them anymore," Shay said. "I really believe that every game we have a great chance to win. We've been down nine, 10 points a couple times this year and come back and won. It doesn't really make me nervous."
The Raiders rewarded Shay's faith in them with a 10-2 run through the third quarter, tying the game on a Hassler jump with 40 seconds left in the period.
Lebanon (4-5) finally got on the board and reclaimed the lead with 25 ticks left in the third on a Shaela Shellehamer jumper, but by then Elco was fully engaged in the fight and smelling victory.
The Raiders defended - obviously. They controlled the boards, much to Shay's delight, thanks to the blue-collar effort of post players Celeste Shimp and Victoria Sweatlock. And, most importantly, they fought off a Lebanon team that never stopped trying to find a way to win.
"It was very scrappy," Parker said of the intense nature of the contest. "They're really tough and athletic, just like we are. It was a really close matchup the whole game. It was really intense. They made a run, then we made a run. We just had to try and keep our cool the whole time."
Mission accomplished there, although not without plenty of anxious moments.
Hassler gave Elco its first lead since the first quarter at 30-28 with 6:42 left, only to see the lion-hearted Chambers answer with a '3' of her own 20 seconds later to put Lebanon back up one.
But those were the last Cedar points. Parker tied it with a free throw with 2:35, and Hassler scored 10 seconds later to put the Raiders ahead for good after she corralled a missed Parker free throw following a scramble for the ball.
The Cedars had a couple excellent looks to tie or go ahead in the last few minutes, but were denied every time.
"We just had a bad half," Brewer said. "And it's not like we played that much worse. I actually thought we played better defensively in the second half, and offensively we still moved the ball around and got it inside. We just didn't finish and we didn't make shots."
That was more than OK with Elco, though.
"That was a big thing for us," Shay said of the significance of winning a championship, any championship. "We're starting to get on a roll here, we're gaining some momentum. Our defense just really stepped it up in the second half. And tonight we rebounded the ball like I haven't seen us rebound before. I think that's what I'm proud of."
Notes: Joining Parker on the all-tournament team were Raider teammates Hassler and Sweatlock, as well as Lebanon's Chambers and Alicia Haitos, and Lebanon Catholic's Abby Shay...Shay dropped in 17 points to lead Catholic past Twin Valley, 60-39, in the consolation game. Helene Reist added 15 points, Catherine Gross 11, and Holly Marinkov 10 as the Beavers rolled to a 31-12 halftime lead and never looked back.