WRIGHTSVILLE -- For those wondering what was ailing the Eastern York girls' basketball team after a slow start, the answer is quite simple -- nothing, anymore.
Despite high preseason expectations, the Golden Knights got off to a 3-4 start under first-year head coach Cheryl Land.
Now that the brutal seven-games-in-11-day gauntlet is a thing of the past, Land's team is starting to resemble the squad that many thought could challenge for a York-Adams League title this season.
The Knights battered a small, but gritty Cedar Crest side in the second contest of the Wrightsville Rotary Club Holiday Tournament Thursday night. Shepherd University-bound Liz Myers did the bulk of her 20-point, 12-rebound damage in the first quarter, when the senior scored 12 points. That quick start (Eastern led 21-12 after one quarter), combined with a pressure defense that forced 20 turnovers, was the perfect recipe for what turned out to be a 51-35 triumph over the Falcons.
Eastern will face Susquehannock, a 47-39 winner over Kennard-Dale, in Friday's finals at 7:30 p.m. at Eastern York High School. K-D will face Cedar Crest in the consolation game at 6 p.m.
"People were shaking their heads wondering 'what's wrong with Eastern?,'" Land said. "Well ... there's nothing wrong with Eastern. It's a transition year and we had seven games and we had seven tough opponents. Our record certainly wasn't what we expected, but we're improving every game."
Myers feels the early stretch was grueling, but ultimately will bear fruit.
"It was exhausting," she said. "It was seven games in 11 days. And it was not easy opponents. But I think we grew from it."
Land gave credit to some advanced scouting, as well as some much-needed practice time, for the team's second victory in a row and third in the last four contests.
"We shored up some things on defense," she said. "We played smarter. It was a better unit defense than we had been playing."
Quickly, the conversation turned back toward Myers, the team's standout post player who definitely played up to expectations Thursday.
"I think Liz had a good game," Land said. "We knew we had an inside advantage there and we pounded the ball -- smartly -- inside."
While the Knights led throughout the contest, the visitors didn't just roll over.
"Cedar Crest is a nice team," said Land, whose team evened its record at 4-4. "They're gritty, they're scrappy. They hit the boards. They made it interesting."
The Falcons pressed at times, forcing 13 turnovers in the middle quarters. The Knights, however, only turned the ball over twice in the first and fourth quarters.
"There were a couple of times where it got a little sketchy," Myers said. "But overall I think we handed it pretty well. We stayed composed."
Morgan Thomas scored 13 points for the Knights.
Now that Land and her team are back to .500, they'll look to keep the momentum going against a Susquehannock squad that's on a roll. The Warriors improved to 7-1 after defeating their rivals from Fawn Grove Thursday. Both Myers and Land know it will be a challenge, albeit an interesting one, against Coach Dave Schreiner's club.
"They love to run that full-court press," Land said. "And we're very familiar with Shannon (Druck). I actually (coached) her in AAU this summer. But it's not just about Shannon. They have a nice balanced team."
Druck will likely get the task of guarding Myers. The two were teammates on that same AAU team that was coached by Kevin Bankos last summer.
"She's very smart," Myers said. "She has that outside, step-back jump shot down pat. To stop her I think we'll just need to play pretty smart team defense. Get in her face and make sure she doesn't have any easy shots."
Warriors rally for win: K-D coach Jeff Stratmeyer thought his team had Susquehannock just where he wanted it, with the score tied 33-33 heading into the final period. K-D outscored Susquehannock 14-10 in the third period.
The Rams, however, were held scoreless for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter and never recovered in dropping their second contest in a row. K-D still had chances. The Warriors converted on just 9-of-16 free throws over the final eight minutes. They were just 15-for-31 overall.
"We had a real nice comeback there in the third," Stratmeyer said. "And they missed some free throws, but we couldn't capitalize on them."
Most of that was the result of a pressing defense that seemingly suffocated the Rams at times in the fourth stanza. Schreiner pointed to the foul differential (13 for K-D, four for Susquehannock) as a reason his team was able to be so aggressive that late in the contest.
"We weren't in foul trouble," he said. "We weren't anywhere close to getting them in the 1-and-1 so we could still be as aggressive as possible. One of the things that I wanted to do was pressure their guards."
Druck drew the assignment of guarding K-D's Sara Tarbert, the York-Adams League's leading-scorer, and did a nice job, holding her to 14 points in the victory. Offensively Druck finished with a game-high 16 points, 12 of which came on four shots from beyond the 3-point line.
"Shannon never picked up her third (foul) in the entire second-half," Schreiner said. "And she plays real tough. She had to play Sara all night and I think that was one of the keys."
-- Reach Ryan Vander sloot at sports@yorkdis patch.com.