Elco s Cheyenne Hassler grabs a rebounds away from Ephrata s Sarah Hoffer during first-round Lancaster-Lebanon League playoff action on Tuesday night. Led
Elco s Cheyenne Hassler grabs a rebounds away from Ephrata s Sarah Hoffer during first-round Lancaster-Lebanon League playoff action on Tuesday night. Led by Hassler s 14 points, Elco grinded out a 35-26 win to earn a berth in Thursday s semifinal round against Lancaster Catholic. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS CHRIS KNIGHT)
EPHRATA - A more weak-willed, less committed group probably would have thrown up its hands in frustration and disgust at some point and just said, 'Forget it.'

But that's not how the Elco girls' basketball team rolls.

Any team that's faced them this season knows that, whether they're playing well or poorly, the Raiders will give it everything they've got for 32 full minutes and let the chips fall where they may.

It might not be pretty. It might not even be good. But Elco will fight for what it wants, no matter the circumstances.

Just like it did on Tuesday night.

Overcoming a plethora of miscues and missteps with pure determination, the Raiders punched their ticket to the Lancaster-Lebanon League semifinals for the first time since the 2004-05 season with a gritty 35-26 first-round win over Ephrata on the Mounts' home floor.

Despite never finding any kind of flow offensively, hitting just half of its free throw tries (9 for 18) and generally looking uncomfortable for much of the night, the Raiders persevered through it all behind 14 points from junior guard Cheyenne Hassler and plenty of fight from all seven players who hit the floor.

Now 15-8 after its latest scrappy triumph, Elco is now bound for Thursday's semifinal round opposite unbeaten juggernaut Lancaster Catholic, which squeaked by Hempfield by a 43-39 score. The contest is set for Thursday at 7 p.m. at Warwick.

"We don't always make it pretty, but we find a way to win," said Elco coach and former Raider star Ashli Shay after picking up her first postseason win as a head coach.


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"To me, that's a sign of a true team. These kids stick together. So many times they could put their heads down and say, 'Aw, man, we aren't any good.' But they stick with it and keep coming back."

"As a team, we just never give up on each other," said Hassler, who put Elco ahead to stay with a putback with 5:12 left. "We always have each other's backs. When somebody misses a shot, you just pick 'em up, grab a rebound and help each other out.

Elco s Victoria Sweatlock (right) throws a pass from her back after pulling away a loose ball from Ephrata s Hannah Reimel on Tuesday night during the
Elco s Victoria Sweatlock (right) throws a pass from her back after pulling away a loose ball from Ephrata s Hannah Reimel on Tuesday night during the Raiders 35-26 victory in the opening round of the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS CHRIS KNIGHT)
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Elco's fighting spirit was most apparent on the defensive end, where it used its typically smothering zone defense to contain Ephrata's go-to post player, Sarah Haddon, and dare the perimeter-challenged Mounts (18-6) to shoot from the outside.It worked like a charm. Haddon battled her way to a game-high 16 points, but received little offensive support from her teammates.

"That really played to our advantage, I think," Shay said of the Raiders' defensive approach. "We knew, obviously, that their main strength was in the post. The Haddon kid is phenomenal, she is one of the nicest post players I've seen this year. She had her way with us plenty of times, but we had some nice blocks and some good rebounds. It (the zone) has worked for us all year."

And it's a good thing, too, because the Raiders had their share of misadventures offensively.

A painful first quarter ended in a 6-6 tie, and, though it came to life a bit in the second behind some solid interior play from Victoria Sweatlock (eight points), Elco needed an off-balanced banked-in 30-footer at the halftime buzzer from point guard Hailie Parker to take an 18-17 lead into intermission.

But Elco knew what it was getting into after dropping a 58-55 overtime decision to Ephrata in a non-league tussle back in January.

"We knew it was gonna be a tough game in the beginning," Hassler said. "We had a tough battle the last time we played them, we lost by three and it went into overtime. We just knew we had to play with all our hearts."

And so they did, even through another wave of forced and unforced errors in the third.

A couple of those mistakes led to a pair of short jumpers from Hannah Reimel that put Ephrata up 21-18, 1:08 into the second half.

But a Hassler jumper, a Sydnie Parker steal and layup, and a Halie Parker bucket gave the Raiders back some control and allowed them to take a 24-23 lead into the final period.

Two Haddon free throws at the 6:02 mark of the fourth put the Mounts back in front, 25-24, but that would be the Section Two champs' last lead.

Hassler's aforementioned go-ahead putback started a slow but decisive 8-0 run that put the game away, and further validated the Raiders' identity as a roll-up-the-sleeves bunch that is more than happy to win ugly if need be.

"We just make the plays when we have to make them," Shay said, before adding, with a smile. "It's obviously very stressful on some of us. But at the same time, these are the types of games you want to play in.

"They showed a lot of heart and determination and guts tonight, and that's what we've been talking about. I couldn't be more proud of them."

LANCASTER-LEBANON LEAGUE PLAYOFFS
FIRST ROUND
ELCO 35, EPHRATA 26
ELCO (35)
Hassler 4 5-6 14, H. Parker 3 2-5 9, Sweatlock 4 0-1 8, S. Parker 1 2-6 4, Shimp 0 0-0 0, Harpold 0 0-0 0, Witmer 0 0-0 0. Totals12 9-18 35.
EPHRATA (26)
Haddon 4 8-12 16, Reimel 3 0-0 6, Liebl 1 0-0 2, Hoffer 1 0-2 2, Cascarides 0 0-0 0. Totals 9 8-14 26.

Elco 6 12 6 11 - 35
Ephrata 6 11 6 3 - 26
3-point goals - Elco 2 (Hassler, H. Parker), Ephrata 0
Total Fouls - Elco 15, Ephrata 18
Fouled Out - Shimp.

Other L-L Scores û Manheim Township 62, Annville-Cleona 21

Lancaster Catholic 43, Hempfield 39

Lampeter-Strasburg 53, Cocalico 42