The little things can go a long way in winning close basketball games, whether on the offensive or defensive ends of the floor.
For many games this season, the Elk Lake girl’s basketball team has been able to capitalize on such instances, and knew that would have to continue in the first round of the PIAA Class 2A tournament.
Unfortunately, the Lady Warriors were unable to take advantage of some early opportunities, which would come back to bite them in the end en route to a 36-31 loss to Sayre Friday night at Troy Area High School.
“Both teams started slow offensively, but we had opportunities in the first quarter to make free throws that would have helped with offense,” Elk Lake head coach Kevin Tewksbury said. “We had one of their better players in foul trouble, but couldn’t convert at the line. In the end, that came back to haunt us, and we really didn’t take advantage of those opportunities.”
Indeed, Elk Lake struggled at the foul line for the game, shooting 8 for 19 on the night en route to a tie for its lowest point total of the year.
Conversely, Sayre finished 12-of-16, including a perfect 4-for-4 in the final quarter.
Though the Lady Warriors made several trips to the line in the first quarter, their offense opened cold.
“Keri Jones was pretty efficient offensively for the game, but Sayre really honed in on (senior) Justine Johns from the minute the ball went up,” Tewksbury said. “They blanketed her the whole game and made it difficult for her to get to any good looks at the basket, which showed up in the box score. Having her held to just three points was difficult to overcome.”
Thankfully, Elk Lake’s defense did its job, resulting in a slim 3-2 lead heading into the second quarter.
“We made a change defensively,” Tewksbury said of his second matchup against Sayre, which had defeated Elk Lake 48-42 in the second game of its season. “We played a little bit more zone and took away their two leading scorers, so we did a great job defensively. I’m happy the girls for the way they played it, especially since we had schemed it up only about four days before.”
Elk Lake opened up its lead to 8-4 in the second quarter, only to see Sayre close out the half on an 8-2 run.
With the game tied 10-10, Camry Lane hit four straight free throws before a layup sent the Lady Redskins into the half up 16-10.
Sayre then extended its lead to 20-14 before Elk Lake senior Keri Jones mounted her own run to bring back the Lady Warriors.
Jones scored seven consecutive points before a bucket from junior Abby Johns put the Lady Warriors ahead, 23-20.
However, Sayre would gain the momentum back in the fourth behind its offense and a mostly home crowd in the Troy gym.
“It was pretty much three-quarters Sayre fans to a quarter Elk Lake fans,” Tewksbury said. “It was a true away game for us in that sense.”
Molly Ball, who spent much of the game in foul trouble, opened the fourth with a 3-pointer from the corner that turned the tide in Sayre’s favor.
Elk Lake junior Eliza Bosscher connected on a put back at the 5:50 mark to answer, but Sayre would tie the game on the next possession.
A 3-pointer at the 5:03 mark and another bucket gave Sayre a five-point lead before Johns and Bosscher hit buckets to pull Elk Lake back to within one at 30-29.
Trailing by one and with time winding down, the Lady Warriors were forced to foul, and Sayre’s Camry Lane came up huge in the big spot, hitting all four free throws en route to the win.
Jones finished with a game-high 14 points in her final game for the green and white, with Bosscher adding eight and Abby Johns pulling down 12 boards for the Lady Warriors.
“I’m very pleased with the performance of our team overall this year, especially with all the adversity we faced this season,” Tewksbury said. “I think our seniors, in particular Keri, Justine and Whitney (Tyler) really carried us through those tough times and also made a statement for the girls program. No matter what happens, you still need to work hard every day and work on getting better. To be a first-year coach and to have a group of seniors like this, I was pretty blessed to have some outstanding young women and true student athletes.”
Certainly, this year’s team has set the bar high for next year’s squad, which will be on the prowl to win Elk Lake’s first district title since 1998.
“It was a very emotional time after we lost Friday night, but I told the girls that these seniors have set the bar and this is what every underclassmen has to strive for,” Tewksbury said. “They have to come in and work as hard as they did. I told them it was disappointing, but the 2017-2018 starts tomorrow (Saturday). If we want to keep getting back to this level, this is our goal — to be competing for the district championship and get to the state playoffs.”
“That’s why I came back to coaching, to be competing every year for that prize.”
Morning Times sports editor Dave Post also contributed to this story.