It was do or die for the Elizabethtown Area High School girls basketball team’s season. Down by double digits at halftime against a tough opponent, the Lady Bears had to rally in the second half to keep their season alive. Against all odds, they succeeded in a big way.
As the No. 11 seed in the Class 5A District 3 playoffs, Elizabethtown traveled to No. 6 South Western on Tuesday, Feb. 19, for a first-round matchup. A win would clinch a spot in states. A loss would mean the end of the season. Thankfully for the Lady Bears, they avoided defeat and topped the Mustangs 54-48 with an impressive comeback to move on to the district quarterfinals.
Elizabethtown was actually in control for much of the first quarter, scoring the first two buckets of the game and going up 13-7 by the midway point. However, South Western scored the last eight points of the quarter to take a 15-13 lead into the second.
The Mustangs pulled in front from there, going on a 10-0 run in the second while holding the Lady Bears to just 4 points in the second. That was enough to give them a 30-17 advantage at halftime. With its offense fairly stagnant (seniors Marena Lonardi and Sydney Pierson scored all of the points in the first half), Elizabethtown easily could’ve whimpered away in the second half.
But the Lady Bears stepped up. Lonardi and Pierson combined for the first six points of the third to cut the score to 30-23. Later during the third, they had a 10-0 run kickstarted by back-to-back 3-pointers from freshman Ainsley Raybold, followed by jumpers from Lonardi and sophomore Macy Seaman that briefly gave them a 33-32 lead.
And when South Western went back up after a pair of free throws, Raybold knocked down another shot from beyond the arc to give Elizabethtown a 36-34 lead ahead of the fourth, one that the Lady Bears would not relinquish. They held the Mustangs to just 4 points in the third as well.
“We talked at halftime about having to have others being willing shooters,” head coach John Myers said. “Marena and Sydney were carrying us as they typically do. We came out, they were still in their zone and Ainsley hit those 3s. Once she did that, they went man, and our kids got whatever shots they wanted.”
South Western tried to keep things close early in the final period; it was 42-38 Elizabethtown with just under four minutes remaining. But buckets from Lonardi and Pierson pushed the Lady Bears’ lead up to double digits, and while the Mustangs snuck some points in during the final minute, they simply had no time to mount a serious comeback of their own.
Lonardi led all scorers with 27 points, also finishing with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Pierson had a double-double, putting up 14 points and 14 rebounds, as well as 2 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. All 9 of Raybold’s points came from behind the 3-point line during the third, and the trio combined to score all but four of Elizabethtown’s points, the others coming from Seaman (2 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist) and sophomore Carly Sedun (2 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals).
“Marena played phenomenal, and Sydney had all the boards in the gym,” Myers said. “It was just a great game to be a part of. I’m really proud of the way we came back. To come back down 13 at halftime and outplay them the way we did, it was a great answer.”
The Mustangs saw three of their players hit double figures, all of them seniors: Madi McMaster (14 points), Madison Wisensale (13 points, 9 from 3-point range) and Virginia Tech commit Taylor Geiman (11 points). However, South Western was held to just 18 points in the third and fourth quarters by an active Elizabethtown defense that finished with 9 steals as a team.
“We came out and played man in the second half,” Myers said. “We were changing a lot in the first half, and a lot of their role players were making more shots than we expected. We played man well, and things started going for us. We could’ve folded the tent at halftime, but we kept fighting. The seniors wanna keep playing.”
With a state berth secure, Elizabethtown will next play on Friday, Feb. 22, at No. 3 Gettysburg, a similar team to South Western with arguably more talent. However, the Lady Bears have shown the ability to play with seemingly higher tier teams, so another upset is certainly plausible. For now, though, it’s milestone celebration time: Both they and the boys basketball team will be going to states in the same season for the first time in EAHS history.
“I’m happy for us and for our boys as well,” Myers said. “After this one, we can play with anybody and beat anybody. We know it’s in us. Mindset is to come out, play the same way and see what happens.”