In the 3A state final on Saturday at Towson University’s SECU Arena, Long Reach’s girls basketball team found out the same thing its county rival Atholton did almost exactly one year earlier.
The bigger the stage, the better Makayla Daniels and Frederick are.
Daniels scored a game-high 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, following up a 47-point effort in last year’s title game against the Raiders, to help the Cadets pull away down the stretch for a 62-50 victory over the Lightning to secure the program’s second straight state championship.
“I think just knowing that my team needs me and knowing that I have to do what I have to do to help my team succeed [motivates me],”Daniels said. “I actually get more nervous I would say before these type of games, just because the amount of people is a whole lot different than a regular season game … but once that whistle blows, my nerves kind of go away.”
Frederick coach Ashley Bush said Daniels is made for the championship setting.
“She’s a competitor … and a competitor doesn’t shy away when the competition comes for you,” Bush said.
Daniels, who made seven foul shots in the fourth quarter to effectively hold off a Long Reach (21-3) team that cut it’s once 15-point deficit down to four points midway through the final period, certainly didn’t have to do it all herself.
Frederick (26-2) senior Krysten Linthicum did her part as well with 12 points on the night, including a back-breaking 3-pointer with 1:35 remaining that increased the Cadet lead back up to 10. Long Reach never got closer than eight points after that basket.
“My teammates trust me in shooting those threes and, it’s weird to say, but I know when it’s going to go in,” Linthicum said. “Just that feeling of seeing it go through the hoop and the crowd cheering and everyone getting hyped up because we are back up to that 10-point lead … I just get excited and I know my teammates get excited too.”
Bush said that as much as experience in big-game situations helped, it was her player’s mental toughness that she thought made the difference in the final minutes.
“You can have all the experience in the world, but if you can’t lock in mentally and understand that another team is fighting just as hard as you, you wont be able to weather that type of storm,” Bush said. “That is a focus of ours, the whole mental toughness piece, and if we stop doing that we won’t be in this position.”
Frederick ended up out-rebounding Long Reach 44-22 and made 17 of 22 from the foul line.
For Long Reach, a season filled with firsts for the program — including county and region championships for the first time — simply fell one-game short of the ultimate prize. Lyric Swann and Kiana Williams finished as the leading scorers for the Lightning in the championship contest with 18 points apiece.
“I thought it was a well-played game by both teams and I think it lived up to the hype of what it should have been. It was a great prime-time game,” Long Reach coach Kelli Cofield said. “I think our girls, we left it all out on the court. We didn’t come out to be the winner, which of course is what we wanted to do, but I can’t speak enough about their effort.”
The Lightning came out and struck first, getting a 3-pointer from Williams and a layup from Arianna Briggs-Hall (8 points, 8 rebounds) in the first minute to take a 5-0 lead. But Frederick answered with a 15-2 run to steal the momentum.
By the end of the first quarter, the Cadets led 18-13. However, as would turn out to be a theme all game, Long Reach kept answering every push with one of its own.
Sparked by a couple big shots from Swann and another three from Williams, the Lightning took back the lead, 26-24 with 1:31 remaining before halftime.
It was short lived advantage, though, as Frederick countered with a 6-0 run to close the half that made it 30-26 in favor of the Cadets.
Then, after a back-and-forth opening to the second half, Frederick put together another extended push to create its largest lead of the game. A 10-0 run, capped by a Linthicum layup gave the Cadets a 48-33 advantage with 54 second left in the third quarter.
“I think certainly that third quarter was a major turning point. They got a couple of buckets and were able to extend that lead,” Cofield said. “After that, we had to expend a lot of energy to bring it back to even four [points].”
Just as the game seemed to be getting away from the Lightning, they countered with a 12-1 run between the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth that made it a four-point game, 49-45, once again.
“I think what we changed was our energy, we stayed positive because this was our last game and we had to give it our all,” Swann said. “Our goal was to get defensive stops, so we would try to make them get turnovers that we could transfer into points.”
Long Reach was still within five points with just under three minutes left in the game, but that’s when Frederick issued the knockout blow. A layup by Rhiana Hall and then the 3-pointer by Linthicum put the game away.
Daniels said there was no panic in the team, even as things got tight.
“[We were] just communicating to everyone that it was OK and to just stay calm. There was no need to get flustered,” Daniels said. “If we were to get flustered, the outcome of the game could have been a lot different.”
For Williams, the lone senior on this Long Reach team, it was a season — even with the loss — that she will remember for quite some time.
“It feels great, this is going to hurt, but it’s not going to hurt so bad because we made history this year,” she said. “We accomplished goals, we got to the places where we wanted to be. We did come up short, but I’m so happy that we got here.”
Briggs-Hall said that for the rest of the team, making the title game was a great building block for the future.
“I think it’s a great experience to actually get here and feel the environment out. And I just think that next year, we need to know that we need to come out strong from the beginning and not dig ourselves into holes that we can’t really dig out of,” she said.
Frederick 62, Long Reach 50
F (26-2): Daniels 29, Linthicum 12, Bubakar 8, Hall 7, Washington 4, Keene 2.
LR (21-3): L. Swann 18, Williams 18, Briggs-Hall 8, Thompson 4, J. Swann 2.
Half: 30-26 F.
Reach Brent Kennedy at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports