With the PIAA state playoffs on the horizon, the Elizabethtown Area High School girls basketball team was hoping to build momentum with a win in the final district postseason game. Unfortunately for the Lady Bears, iffy play down the stretch caused them to come up short.
The team traveled to No. 4 Spring Grove on Thursday, Feb. 28, for the seventh-place game in the Class 5A playoffs for District 3. Elizabethtown began the game strong; a 10-0 run gave the Lady Bears a 10-2 lead midway through the first, thanks to a pair of layups from senior Sydney Pierson, a banked 3-pointer from sophomore Emma Blyler and a jumper from senior Marena Lonardi.
Spring Grove fired back, scoring 10 straight points of its own to tie it at 12-12. With the clock winding down in the first, Lonardi found sophomore Elise Hassinger in the corner, who banked in a long 2-pointer at the buzzer to give the Lady Bears a 14-12 lead. Both sides went back and forth in the second, trading the lead multiple times before Pierson converted a layup to put Elizabethtown up 27-25 before halftime.
However, the Lady Bears took a step back in the second half, turning the ball over repeatedly as a result of Spring Grove’s full-court press. They would score just 4 points (all from Lonardi) in the third. Meanwhile, the Rockets surged ahead on offense, knocking down three 3-pointers en route to taking a 44-31 lead into the fourth.
Elizabethtown tried to keep itself in the game during crunch time, cutting the lead to single digits on two different occasions. But the Rockets answered at every turn, hitting enough free throws to eventually pull away and win 57-45, leaving the Lady Bears in eighth place for districts.
“We played well in the first half,” head coach John Myers said. “We had a size advantage with Sydney down low, so we wanted to give her a lot of looks, and she was converting. We banked in a couple of shots, so luck was on our side. In the second half though, they turned up the full-court defensive pressure, and that was the tale of the game. We didn’t handle it as well as we should have.”
Lonardi carried Elizabethtown at times, ultimately finishing with a game-high 22 points, including 14 of the 18 Lady Bears points in the second half. She also had 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocks. The point total puts her at 1,342 for her career, just 11 away from passing Jen Williams (Class of 1993) for the all-time program record, all the more impressive considering that she missed the majority of her sophomore season due to a knee injury.
“It’s on our mind,” Myers said. “We’ve talked about it in practice, and it’s something Marena deserves. She’s been working on it for four years, and the fact that she’s missed almost a full season … we want her to get it, and that’d be a good thing for our program.”
However, it was a tale of two halves for the Lady Bears elsewhere. They had 6 players enter the scoring column in the first two quarters, but only Pierson (12 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks) and sophomore Macy Seaman (2 points, 2 rebounds) scored in the second half. Blyler (5 points, 2 assists), Hassinger (2 points, 5 rebounds) and sophomore Carly Sedun (2 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) filled the rest of the box score.
“Even against a full-court press, just because they don’t get a steal in the backcourt, it still gets you too sped up for the full possession,” Myers said. “We were getting chased down and trapped a lot. We struggled to handle their pace and ball pressure.”
Meanwhile, the Rockets put forth a balanced scoring attack. Sophomore Ellie Glass led the way with 15 points, doing most of her damage from the foul line (8 for 10 shooting). Sophomore Lexi Hoffman (14 points) and freshman Ella Kale (12 points) were threats from beyond the arc, combining for four 3-pointers. Elizabethtown handled them defensively in the first half but didn’t do the same during the third and fourth quarters. The Lady Bears had to go with a seven-player rotation instead of their normal eight due to the absence of freshman Jade Love-Morris, who missed the game due to illness.
“It’s fatigue,” Myers said. “We play hard defense, and not having Jade hurt. We get tired in the third and fourth, and when you’re tired, you make more mental mistakes.”
The first round of states is quickly approaching; Elizabethtown is set to play District 1 champ Villa Maria on Saturday, March 9, at Spring-Ford. At 24-4 on the year, the Hurricanes figure to be one of the favorites heading into the Class 5A tournament. But the Lady Bears have plenty of fight left in them, and the goals of getting the first state playoff win in program history and pushing Lonardi past the scoring record loom large.
“We’ve never won a state game, and we’d love to see Marena get the record,” Myers said. “Those are the two big things that we can still gun for. Right now, we’re taking a four-day break, because we’ve played a lot of tough games, and the legs are tired. At this point of the season, you are who you are 28 games in. It’s just getting your mind right, so we’ll be ready next Saturday.”