Cheyenne Hassler hit her first two 3-point shots of the night as Elco jumped out to a 12-1 first-quarter lead to highlight a 47-36 Senior Night win over Donegal in the Raiders' gym.
But after scoring 16 points in the first quarter, Elco managed just four in the second to let the Indians back in the game.
Then, it wasn't until Hassler hit her fifth 3-pointer on her way to a game-high 17 points that the Raiders were finally able to officially put Donegal away.
The important thing is with the win, the Raiders, who are now 11-5 in L-L Section Three play and 14-8 overall, qualified for the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs. Their previous two wins over Northern Lebanon and Manheim Central, with a little help from Lampeter-Strasburg on Tuesday night in the form of a 61-32 victory over the Vikings, put them in a position few thought they could attain.
NL will face the Section Two champion Tuesday, a race that will come down to a playoff game between Ephrata and Cocalico, teams that finished with identical 13-3 league marks.
The Vikings also have a spot in the upcoming District Three Class AAA tournament, which gets under way Feb. 15. As of Monday, the Raiders were ranked No. 13 in the district.
"It's all positive at this point," said head coach Ashli Shay.
Senior Halie Parker took it upon herself to make sure there was no repeat of the second period by the Raiders. She jump-started Elco in the second half with a fast-break basket, made some clutch free throws in the final minutes and provided the senior leadership that Shay's young club badly needed with some solid ball handling and backcourt composure.
Junior Victoria Sweatlock also had a big game with 15 points, working a high-low give-and-go with Celeste Shimp that infiltrated the Indians' zone defense.
The high-low game was something that Shay worked to perfection during her playing days at Elco and Penn State.
"Yes, we had the high-low game working for a while," she said with a big smile. "I played both the high and the low, but I preferred the low because I got to shoot a lot more."
Shay was pleased with the win, but there were some moments of consternation, as well.
"We got off to a great start," she said, "but then I'm not sure what happened. Donegal was scrapping hard on defense and getting some offensive rebounds that threw off our timing a bit. This game wasn't indicative of how well we can play."
Two quick fouls in the second quarter for starters Sydnie Parker and Shimp also factored into the Raiders' second-quarter slump.
After Donegal tied the game at 18-18 with 2:10 left in the first half, however, the playoffs suddenly didn't seem like such a sure thing.
"We didn't play that well tonight, but we're happy with the win and happy to be in the league playoffs," said Parker, who is headed to Millersville University in the fall to play soccer. "Not many people thought we'd be in the playoffs after we were picked to finish second-last in our section. But here we are, in second place instead."
The Raiders are also doing it without one of their three seniors, Kady Yoders, who suffered a season-ending knee injury a few weeks ago. Like Parker, Yoders is planning to enroll at Millersville in the fall to play soccer.
"Losing Kady was tough, because she was one of our three senior leaders," Halie Parker said. "But my sister, Sydnie, has really stepped up her game to fill in for Kady."
Elco was able to open some breathing room in the third quarter as Sweatlock worked free underneath for seven of her 15 points.
Hassler also nailed two treys in the period, then added her fifth with 4:44 left in the game to push the Elco advantage to 39-29.
Sydnie Parker picked up her fourth foul early in the fourth quarter, which affected the Raiders' ability to pull away. Without Yoders, Shay is lacking depth and experience on her bench.