Mt. Hebron kept a slim, but comfortable, lead over Long Reach until the very end of the game. That's when the Lightning struck.
"We're a second-half team," said Alexis Briscoe after Long Reach's 51-48 victory over Mt. Hebron Monday night.
Long Reach has also beaten Centennial, Marriotts Ridge and Reservoir in the closing moments.
"We tend to play better in crunch time," said Imani Sanders. She scored the last six points of the game.
Mt. Hebron led, 48-43, with 1:19 left in the game.
The Vikings' Talhia Tavia made a basket in the lane that would have padded her team's cushion, but the officials decided that she had traveled, which disallowed the basket.
Thirteen seconds later Long Reach's Olivia Callan's lay-up drew the Lightning closer (48-45). Then things got a little crazy.
Mt. Hebron missed a shot and Long Reach sophomore Sanders grabbed the rebound and raced up the court to score.
The Lightning then stole the ball and Sanders got fouled on a 3-point shot. She made her first two free throws and had the ball in her hands for her third shot, when Mt. Hebron was awarded a time out.
"They tried to ice me," she said.
It didn't work.
Sanders hit her third free throw, putting Long Reach up, 50-48, with 23.4 left to play. It was the Lightning's first lead of the half.
The Long Reach defense denied Mt. Hebron a good look at the basket. Kelly Jones' 3-point shot missed and Long Reach got the ball back.
Long Reach's defense keyed on Jones in the second half. Although she had four 3-pointers and a game-high 18 points, she had nothing in the fourth quarter.
With time running out, Sanders was fouled again, this time making just one of her two shots, but that was enough to clinch the victory.
Long Reach (8-4 overall) already has more victories than it has posted since the 2005-06 season when the team went 9-14 overall.
"We're finally finding ourselves this year. We have a lot of girls who have played together in the past year and that has given us more confidence," said coach Kelli Cofield. "You've seen Long Reach in the past and people weren't giving us that respect. Now our girls are coming out and saying that we can play with teams. They're excited. They've tasted victory and they like the way it tastes."
"We're a lot more motivated to win," said Briscoe. "We aren't afraid to get down and dirty when we need to get down and dirty."
Long Reach has more confidence than it has in years, and the players are working well together.
"We know what each other is capable of," said Sanders, who controls the pace of the game. "People are actually recognizing us as a better team than before."
"Now they have to watch our film, and know what players to look out for," Briscoe said.
Cofield wants her team to keep its success in perspective.
"We don't know what it's like (up at the top of the standings), so we'll keep playing like we are on the bottom," she said.
That strategy seems to be working.
Long Reach 51, Mt. Hebron 48
LR - Sanders 15, Callan 15, Briscoe 12, Peterson 3, Ratliffe 2, Romero 2, Gray 2. FT: 20-30.
MH - Jones 18, Doherty 11, Tavia 6, Crump 4, Thomas 3, Rochester 2, Konig 2, Alli 2. FT: 13-20.
Halftime: Mt. Hebron, 24-20.
Oakland Mills 58, Centennial 44
OM - Hill 25, Hight 19, Jones 5, Twardowicz 4, Peters 2, Tullis 2, Brockington 1. FT: 17-23.
C - Benzing 19, B. Anderson 7, Downing 6, Pino 5, Rockefeller 4, Mitchell 3. FT: 8-15.
Glenelg 56, Howard 32
Emily Russo had 18 second-half points in helping Glenelg pull away from a 22-22 halftime tie to beat Howard. Glenelg hit nine 3-pointers in the game.
April Kuhn dropped in 21 of Howard's points.
G - Russo 24, Parker 13, Kittleman 8, Burris 5, Heisig 3, Taylor 3. FT: 5-5.
Ho - Kuhn 21, Butler 7, Biniak 2, Bruzdzinski 2. FT: 2-9.
Halftime: tied 22-22.
Reservoir 53, Atholton 44
Zelor Massaquoi had 23 points, seven rebounds and seven steals as Reservoir defeated Atholton. Megan Fowler chipped in 12 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals and 5 assists for the Gators. Amy Weinberg led the Raiders with 19 points.
Re - Massaquoi 23, Fowler 12, Pickens 9, Rager 6, Bartley 2, Bonner 1.
A - Weinberg 19, Fodel 6, Palmer 6, Caldwell 5, Tinkle 4, Mayhew 2.
River Hill 64, Hammond 3
RH - Jenna Collins 12, Sterling 10, Nichols 6, Umeozulu 6, Arensmeier 6, Masker 6, Jones 5, Rowe 5, Sandler 3, Triplett 2, Jackson 2, Julia Collins 1. FT: 11-20.
Ha - Conley 3. FT: 1-7.
Marriotts Ridge 70, Wilde Lake 12
County standings (as of Jan. 9)
Oakland Mills, 8-1
Long Reach, 7-2
River Hill, 7-2
Mt. Hebron, 5-4
Marriotts Ridge, 3-6
Wilde Lake, 0-9
This story has been updated.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun