SENECA — The Earlville-Leland Raiders came into Seneca's gym on Thursday night expecting a tough battle against a strong defensive team, but one couldn't blame them for coming away from the nonconference contest thinking there were actually six or seven Lady Irish defenders out there instead of five.
In a battle of two of The Times area's best clubs, Seneca's manic, hard-pressing defense took hold right at the very start, forcing three E-L turnovers in the very first minute of the game and 12 in the opening quarter to help the home team to a 21-8 lead after that period. The margin was stretched to 31-13 with under three minutes left in the second, and though the Lady Raiders bounced back just before the half and later cut that deficit to single digits on a few occasions, clutch shooting by SHS and E-L's mounting turnover total kept the visitors at arm's length in a 58-42 Seneca victory.
Abriana Jashari led the Irish by netting a game-best 15 points, including a pair of 3-pointers in the opening stanza and a couple of key drives that led to points in the fourth, and by spearheading a defense that induced 32 turnovers, many in the fullcourt and the rest by harassing the ball-handlers on the perimeter in the halfcourt to deny the taller E-L posts the ball.
Pacing the Raiders was Alex Koontz with 13 points and seven rebounds, the latter figure matched by sister Kylie Koontz. However, their 32-23 edge on the boards was negated by turnovers and the Irish's sizzling 60 percent shooting (12-of-20) in the latter half.
"(The Raiders) were physical and gave us a heckuva game, the type of game that in the past we haven't played really well in, to be honest," said Seneca coach Ted O'Boyle, "and I was proud of the way we matched their physicality, matched the effort.
"The press is what it is. You get tired of having to break it over and over and over again, and if you can get some easy baskets out of it, that's the goal of it. Our halfcourt defense was pretty good for the most part. There were stretches like the end of the second quarter when we fell asleep, and that was a turning point in the game.
"I felt like we were a couple of baskets away from running away with it and we were feeling good about ourselves, then we let off the gas a little bit and let them back in the game. ... They got a shot in the arm and that (run) cost us a lot right there, but we did a nice job of responding, of battling, of showing effort in the third quarter."
The Irish took the lead on the strength of two Abriana Jashari treys, but led just 10-8 before reeling off the last 11 points of the first period, four by Arberita Jashari and capped by a Brooklyn Giertz steal and lay-in with 15.6 seconds left. Abriana's free throw at the 2:50 mark of the second widened the gap to 31-13 before the Raiders snapped out of it.
A 3-ball from Taylor Weymouth, two Julia Niles free throws and a deuce by Weymouth with 5.6 seconds to go suddenly cut the Seneca lead to 31-20. A triple by Alex Koontz to start the third stanza made it eight, and later a 3-pointer by freshman Elizabeth Browder with 5:01 showing sliced it to seven.
However, 10 more E-L miscues and four points each by Lexi Greve, Abriana Jashari and Madison Bromberek, the latter on two buckets in the final minute of the third, set the advantage back at 15.
The Raiders made one final run, netting nine of 10 points early in the fourth to make it a nine-point game again, but Abriana Jashari's dish to Greve for two, her drive down the lane and, with 43.8 seconds left, her steal and layup closed the door.
"The girls fought to the very end, and that's all I can ask for," said E-L coach Wayne Koontz. "That's been the story of our season. When the shots are falling, it's great. If they're not, it gets out of hand.
"Seneca is a talented team, good ball-handlers, good shooters, and the officials let them play tonight. We needed to embrace that and make adjustments, and they did, and it got better as the game went on. ... Turnovers killed us, especially in the first quarter. Seneca was overplaying everything, and we needed to make adjustments on that, and it took us time to do that.
"The girls get a little frantic at the speed of a game like this one, and they end up pushing themselves further and further out, and that's not our game. Our goal is to get to the basket, and when we did that, it looked great ... but we'd battle back and get it to single digits and they'd hit a shot. Credit Seneca for that."
Seneca 58, Earlville-Leland 42
(Key: FG-FGA FT-FTA TP)
EARLVILLE-LELAND (42) — A. Koontz 5-10 0-0 13, Weymouth 3-12 0-0 7, K. Koontz 2-6 0-0 4, Browder 3-11 2-3 9, Niles 2-5 2-2 7, Meloy 1-2 0-1 2. Totals 16-46 4-6 42.
SENECA (58) — Greve 5-12 0-0 10, Ab. Jashari 6-11 1-2 15, Baker 3-4 1-2 7, Ar. Jashari 2-7 2-5 7, Alley 1-2 0-0 2, Giertz 3-4 1-2 7, Bruno 0-2 1-2 1, Bromberek 3-4 0-1 6, Cade 1-2 0-0 3, Winsor 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-48 6-14 58.
Earlville-Leland (16-5) 8 12 11 11 — 42
Seneca (16-4) 21 10 15 12 — 58
3-point goals — Earlville-Leland 6-19 (A. Koontz 3-5, Niles 1-1, Weymouth 1-6, Browder 1-7), Seneca 4-6 (Ab. Jashari 2-4, Cade 1-1). Rebounds — Earlville-Leland 32 (A. Koontz 7, K. Koontz 7), Seneca 23 (Baker 8). Turnovers — Earlville-Leland 32, Seneca 18. Total fouls (fouled out) — Earlville-Leland 12 (A. Koontz), Seneca 13.