Atholton girls basketball was able to stick with top-seeded Long Reach in the first half of the 3A East Region playoffs on Tuesday night. Raiders coach Julia Reynold praised her team’s defense over that stretch and its ability to slow the game down, limiting the Lightning’s offensive opportunities.
Lightning coach Kelli Cofield said that after nine days off, it took her group about a quarter to settle in to the game environment.
At the break, Long Reach held a 28-23 advantage.
But after halftime, the Lightning’s missed layups turned into conversions and their errant three-point attempts became swishes as they quickly built a comfortable advantage midway through the third quarter. They scored 27 points in the period, then added 24 points in the final frame to put the finishing touches on a 79-42 home playoff win.
“The keys to winning this game were to do what we normally do,” junior guard Lyric Swann said. “Stay composed, run our offense like we normally do, get defensive stops.”
Senior Kiana Williams led all scorers with 25 points, 19 of which came in the second half. Also scoring in double figures were Lyric Swann (22 points), Jaelyn Swann (14 points) and Arianna Briggs-Hall (11 points and 11 rebounds).
Sophomore Kayla Beckwith carried the Raiders with 23 points.
With the victory, Long Reach advances to play No. 2 seed Reservoir in the 3A East, Section I final on Thursday night.
“Atholton, and especially coach Reynold, she does a great job making adjustments and playing to the opponent. Every time we play against her, she does a great job of clogging the middle,” Cofield said. “In the first quarter and the first half, you kind of see where the openings are, who are they playing off of, and she does a great job of disguising the defense. And I think we figured it out a little bit more in the second half, not only in the half court, but we were able to get out in transition to open it up a little bit.”
A back-and-fourth first quarter ended with Long Reach ahead, 15-11, and that lead increased to eight after Jaelyn Swann’s 3-pointer seconds into the period. But even with the momentum on their side, the Lightning could not pull away. Atholton stuck around with layups and 3-pointers. It also benefited from Long Reach missing plenty of open shots close to the rim.
While Cofield thought her team improved its defense on Beckwith starting in the second quarter, the Raiders found other sources of production to hang with the section’s No. 1 seed.
But after intermission, Reynold pointed to early turnovers and defensive rebounding woes as reasons Long Reach extended its lead so quickly. The Lightning scored two baskets to start the third quarter, prompting Reynold to call a timeout. They would outscored the Raiders, 23-11, the rest of the period and continued to dominate from there.
“Long Reach is a very tough opponent, and they have the experience and they made the big shots when they needed to,” Reynold said. “That’s how they’ve been successful the whole year. We just wanted to give them a fight. I’m proud of my girls the way they fought. We gave them a run in the beginning, and they should hold their heads up.”
A big reason for the win was Lyric Swann, who also achieved a personal milestone Tuesday night. With about two minutes left in the first quarter, she converted a layup to reach 1,000 career points.
“For me to get my 1,000th point, in my junior year, meant a lot, and in front of a home crowd was pretty fun,” Swann said. “I had fun tonight with people supporting us. It was a great night.”
“When you see her doing these wonderful things on the court, it’s not by accident,” Cofield added. “It’s a product of the hard work that she puts in. She’s a great kid.”
Long Reach — 79, Atholton — 42
LR — Williams 25, Lyric Swann 22, Jaelyn Swann 14, Briggs-Hall 11, Streeter 5, Thompson 2.
A — Beckwith 23, Hargrett 5, Sowah 5, Bathras 4, Blair 3, Simmons 2, Cannon 1.
Half: 28-23, LR
Reach Kyle Stackpole at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @kylefstackpole