Snowy weather forced a number of postponements for the Elizabethtown Area High School girls basketball team before its final three-game stretch of the regular season. That wasn’t enough to slow the Lady Bears down, however. They finished their schedule off by claiming their first section championship since 2004.
The team had an away battle at Hempfield on Friday, Feb. 1, in a game that was originally scheduled to be in Daubert Gym on Thursday, Jan. 31. The Lady Bears had not been able to hit the court for practice time over the previous three days, and it showed earlier on, as the Black Knights took a 10-4 lead midway through the first and finished the quarter up 12-6.
Hempfield threatened to break the game open further in the second, briefly going up 16-8 at the midway point. However, a pair of 3-pointers from freshman Ainsley Raybold helped in kickstarting an Elizabethtown comeback, which eventually forced a 19-19 tie by the break.
“Honestly, chatter at halftime was a lot of positivity,” head coach John Myers said. “We were down 16-8 in foul trouble, and we tied it up. Coming off of three days of no practice, we were trying to shake the rust off. We keep it positive. That was the message; just keep pushing forward with it.”
The Lady Bears adjusted well by the start of the second half, going on a 6-0 run to open the third. Their defense stepped up as well, allowing just 3 points in the quarter (one field goal and one free throw), and the lead would swell to 33-22 ahead of the fourth. To their credit, the Black Knights hung around for as long as possible, briefly cutting the score to 35-27. But nine free throws from senior Marena Lonardi down the stretch was enough to close it out for Elizabethtown en route to a 46-30 victory.
Despite some early struggles from the field, Lonardi was able to lead all players with 24 points, 12 from the foul line. She also had 3 assists and an impressive 8 steals, 6 of those coming in the second half.
With fellow senior Sydney Pierson (4 points, 5 rebounds) dealing with foul trouble for much of the game (she eventually committed her fifth with just under four minutes to go), Myers specifically mentioned the defensive play of the three non-starters for the Lady Bears, sophomore Macy Seaman (8 rebounds, 2 blocks), sophomore Elise Hassinger (3 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal) and freshman Jade Love-Morris (2 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals) as a difference maker in crunch time.
Raybold’s play was stellar as well. She finished with 13 points and 3 assists, nailing 3 shots from behind the arc. That pushed her 3-point total to 9 over the past four games.
“These last two or three weeks, she’s really stepped it up a notch,” Myers said. “And we’ve needed it. She’s been another outside threat for us. I’m happy for her because she’s grown a lot from November until now.”
Junior Sophie Herman led Hempfield with 7 points, with fellow juniors Lindsey Durkota and Molly McGarry not far behind at 6 each.
Elizabethtown had its final regular season home game against Lebanon on Monday, Feb. 4, moved twice from its original date of Tuesday, Jan. 29, on account of snow. Entering the night with a chance to clinch the Section 2 title outright, the Lady Bears came flying out of the gates, scoring 11 straight in the first quarter and going into the second up 17-9.
A run of 10 straight points to open the second followed, with 6 from Lonardi. Elizabethtown held the Cedars to just 4 points overall in the quarter to go to halftime up 35-13. From there, the Lady Bears kept Lebanon at arm’s reach for the rest of the game, eventually winning 61-31 to capture the section championship.
Nine of Elizabethtown’s 11 players scored, with Hassinger getting 8 points off the bench. However, the two senior captains were the stars for the night. Lonardi led all players with 24 points, while Pierson had her first career triple-double, finishing with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks.
“We saw those two coming up through elementary school, so this is not a surprise,” Myers said. “They’re very different players, but they both work hard. They’ve come together with a new group like this to win a section, so I’m really happy for them.”
Sophomore Giahny Correa had a team-high 13 points for Lebanon.
Lastly, Elizabethtown went on the road to Ephrata on Tuesday, Feb. 5, for its final regular season game. The Lady Bears got going early on offense; sophomore Carly Sedun scored 7 of her 9 points in the first, while Raybold knocked down a pair of 3-pointers. Meanwhile, their defense shut the Mounts down, giving them a 21-6 lead ahead of the second.
While 3-balls from juniors Gabi Gerola-Hill and Jocelyn Umana kept Ephrata alive in the second, Lonardi scored 9 of Elizabethtown’s 15 points in the quarter to boost the score to 38-19. Neither team was very active in the third; the Lady Bears scored just 7 but were able to completely blank the Mounts, giving them a 45-19 advantage. That was enough for them to cruise to an eventual 56-36 win.
Lonardi had a game-high 25 points for Elizabethtown, going 11 for 15 from the free throw line. Raybold and Pierson each had 8 to go along with Sedun’s previously mentioned total. For Ephrata, Gerola-Hill had a team-high 15 points, with Umana and senior Kandice Liebl both getting 8.
With a final record of 16-6 on the season, Elizabethtown’s spot in districts is safely secure, though the final seed won’t be official until Friday, Feb. 8. In the meantime, the team will be competing in the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs; they’ll face Section 5 champ Lancaster Mennonite at home on Saturday, Feb. 9. It’ll be the last go-around for Lonardi, Pierson and fellow senior Ashleigh Matter, so there’s an extra sense of urgency for the Lady Bears. However, based on the foundation they’ve laid this year, the future looks bright.
“We’ve grown a lot from November,” Myers said. “It’s gonna be sad to lose these three seniors, but we’ve got very capable players still here, and we’re gonna get keep getting better. It’s a good night. It’s been 15 years.”