Last season, the Elizabethtown Area High School girls basketball team opened the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs with a win vs. Solanco before losing in the semifinals to Lancaster Catholic, who proceeded to win the league championship as well as the Class 4A District 3 and PIAA Championships en route to an undefeated season.
This year, the Lady Bears had another chance to face the Crusaders in the league semifinals. Unfortunately for them, history did not repeat itself.
Armed with a Section Two title, Elizabethtown faced off against Lancaster Mennonite, the Section Five champions, on Saturday, Feb. 9, in Daubert Gym in front of a packed house. Nerves perhaps affected both teams early, as neither was able to hit a field goal until just over three minutes into the game. The Blazers held the early advantage, leading 11-8 after the first quarter.
The Lady Bears captured a 20-19 lead midway through the second quarter, with the game going back and forth until halftime, where they led 25-21 thanks to multiple buckets from seniors Marena Lonardi and Sydney Pierson. Mennonite, meanwhile, was boosted by a trio of 3-pointers from senior reserve Amber High.
The Blazers went on a 7-2 run to start the second half, going up 28-27 midway through the third. They later extended their lead to 35-31 late in the quarter before a Lonardi and-one and a Pierson layup during the final minute gave Elizabethtown a 36-35 advantage heading into the fourth.
However, Mennonite responded by going on an 11-4 to open up the final period and grab a 46-39 lead, one that the Blazers would not relinquish. The Lady Bears briefly cut the score to 48-43 with just under four minutes to go in the game but were immediately stymied when Lonardi fouled out just one possession later. Mennonite sophomore Mariah Wilson nailed several free throws down the stretch, which was enough to push her team to a 58-46 victory.
“We missed some layups in the first quarter and free throws late,” head coach John Myers said. “We just need to get used to being in tight games. Our district game is gonna be the same way. There was a good crowd tonight in a pressure-filled gym. They just played better than we did. They hit shots and executed, so they deserved to win.”
Until bowing out after her fifth foul, Lonardi helped to carry Elizabethtown’s offense, ultimately finishing with a game-high 21 points along with 4 rebounds and 3 blocks. Pierson was stout in the post as well, scoring 16 points in addition to 11 rebounds, 7 blocks and 2 steals. While the Lady Bears did get some contributions from freshman Ainsley Raybold (5 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals) and sophomore Carly Sedun (4 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists), they were undone in the end by a more balanced Mennonite team, which hit seven 3-pointers compared to just 2 from Elizabethtown.
“We wanted to ride our horses in Sydney and Marena,” Myers said. “We got a lot of open looks for Sydney down low, and she was hitting them, but when you score 2 and they score 3, that math doesn’t work out for you. It’s demoralizing when you get a bucket, and they come down and bang a 3.”
Wilson led the Blazers with 19 points, scoring 13 of them in the fourth. She went 9 of 15 from the foul line and nailed two 3s as well. High finished with 14 points, 12 of them from beyond the arc, while senior Chloe King chipped in with 12 of her own. Elizabethtown was able to contain Mennonite’s perimeter shooting early, but fatigue and the absence of sophomore starter Emma Blyler, who suffered a concussion during a practice before the game, were enough to give the Blazers an opening.
“We wanted to press out and extend past the 3-point line because we obviously know they can shoot,” Myers said. “I felt like we did a decent job executing in the first half, but I think we got a little tired in the second half, and with tiredness comes mental errors. We were missing Emma tonight as well, and she’s someone who can hit open shots and run in and out when you’re getting tired, so that didn’t help. To their credit, they still made several contested 3s when we knew that was their weapon, so hat’s off to them.”
The Lady Bears, seeded No. 11 in Class 5A for District 3, will have a total of nine days to prepare for their district playoff game at No. 6 South Western on Tuesday, Feb. 19. The Mustangs are a talented team who have faced equally strong competition in the York-Adams League, so a win will definitely not come easily.
However, both teams have the same amount of wins this season (16), and Elizabethtown technically has more experience when it comes to the postseason; the Lady Bears placed fourth in the Class 6A bracket last season and went to states, while South Western lost in the first round for Class 5A. In any case, it’s do-or-die time now. A win will clinch a berth in states. A loss will signal the end of the season. Myers is confident that the Lady Bears are capable of stepping up to the challenge.
“Mindset heading in is we can play with anybody,” he said. “We’ll play good defense, but we just have to be able to execute against really good teams. Against a York team that’s as good as Red Lion or Dallastown, we got to be able to run our stuff and handle pressure.”