After trailing most of the first half, top-seeded Glenelg dominated the final 16 minutes against second-seeded Long Reach and pulled out the 65-54 win to claim the 3A East section I title on Thursday evening.
"Honestly, throughout the whole game our whole team kept our composure. I think that's what kept us on fire in the second half," said the Gladiators' Miranda Mattis. "They were making every bucket that they shot. Every shot was just going in, it was out of our reach, we couldn't do anything (but) in the second half we put that behind us. We said, 'This is our half,' and it was basically a tale of two halves and we took over."
Glenelg was down by as many as 11 points during the first half of action Thursday, and even dealt with the loss of one of their top scores in Julia Wolfrey, as she was helped off the court early in the first period after sustaining an apparent knee injury. But Glenelg never wavered, and like it has all season, stepped up its play when it counted and meticulously chipped away at the lead.
"Having Julia go down was hard for her. I hope the best for her, but next girl up mentality," said Gladiators coach Chris Beil. "Kellie Johnson came in and did a nice job. A freshman, Olivia LePage, she came in and played excellent defense. And hey, people stepping up. I'm very proud of my girls."
"During practice we all go through all the positions," added Mattis. "We all know all the positions, so in case something like this tonight happens we know to work around it."
The two teams traded baskets at the start of the game, with Jess Foster (16 points) knocking down a three off the tip for Glenelg, and Long Reach's Lyric Swann countering with a three at the other end. The first quarter saw the score tied on three separate occasions, including three different lead changes.
The Lightning came out aggressive on the offensive end, nailing three shots from beyond the perimeter in the quarter and ultimately netted five trey's in the half, including two each from Kiana Williams and Swann.
"That's what we've been doing all year. The whole team has a green light," said Long Reach coach Kelli Cofield. "Both (Williams and Swann) are really good at creating for themselves and creating for their teammates, so we never put a limit on what they can do. We don't want to take their skills away from them. They create, so we have plays, but we push the ball and we allow them to be who they are. We are an athletic bunch. We're different than a lot of other teams, so we let our athleticism keep us in games a lot. Usually it helps us out in our favor; today we weren't able to get the baskets that we've been getting."
Despite being undersized, the Lightning did an excellent job of grabbing offensive boards, especially in the first 16 minutes of action, which gave them the edge early on.
"They rebounded tremendously in the first half," Beil said. "And it was just us a little lazy, but we started contesting some shots, started boxing out a little bit, going after the ball a little harder – but they did out-rebound us in the first half by a lot."
Chelsea Henggeler played a tremendous game for Glenelg, netting a team-high 23 points and knocking down an important 3-pointer before the first quarter buzzer sounded, which cut the deficit 19-15.
"Chelsea Henggeler had a huge game," Beil said. "I don't know how many points she had today, but she put her team on her back today after Julia went down, led the team to a victory."
Mattis (13 points) then netted a bucket early in the second period, getting the Gladiators within two, but the Lightning responded with a 11-1 run through the following three minutes, which gave them their largest lead, 29-18 at the 4:37 mark.
After the deficit got in double-figures, Beil called a timeout to regroup his team. Foster followed the timeout by hitting a three, ending the Lightning run and propelling a 10-2 advantage to finish out the half, cutting the Long Reach lead 33-28 entering the break.
"We just picked up our intensity, went full-court man. They hit every shot imaginable in the first quarter, second quarter. We had to get out of our zone, but the girls stepped up the whole entire game and didn't go deep today, but the bench support was awesome," Beil said. "Originally we were just going to set it in zone and guard the outside perimeter, but they move the ball real well. In that second half we decided to double-team (Williams) a little bit and switched screens. We actually face guarded (Swann), she seemed to be a key part of her offense. Once we took her out of the game, it was just more on Kiana and were able to secure rebounds, stuff like that."
Kellie Johnson opened up the third quarter with two consecutive buckets, getting the Gladiators within five points with six minutes to play. Then seniors Mattis and Henggeler took over from there. Mattis connected on a traditional three-point play, getting her team within a basket and after a stop on defense, Henggeler followed with a bucket inside, knotting up the game at 37-all. Nearly a minute later Mattis stayed aggressive and attacked the basket once more, hitting the bucket and taking the contact at the rim. She sank the ensuing free throw and put Glenelg up 40-37 – its first lead since the opening minutes of the first quarter.
"I was just keeping my eye on the prize," Mattis said. "This is my senior year. I don't want it to end. My whole team wants to go far and that's just what we kept in our mind."
Long Reach never regained the lead from then on. The Gladiators came out of their zone and pressured the Lightning's shooters, which led to more missed shots from the perimeter. Loose balls that were falling Long Reach's way turned into Glenelg's ball in the second half and it proved to be the difference with the Gladiators limiting Long Reach's second and third chance opportunities.
"They got their hand on a lot of loose balls that we didn't get," Cofield said. "They got a little bit more offensive rebounds. They controlled the boards – we didn't get a lot of second attempts, which really hurt us in the second half – which they did."
However, Long Reach never went away. Williams knocked down another 3-pointer before the end of the third quarter and cut the Lightning's deficit 46-44 entering the final eight minutes, but the Lightning couldn't keep its momentum going.
The Gladiators opened up the final period on a 9-0 run, getting ahead by 11 with 5 minutes and 12 seconds remaining.
Long Reach got within five points, but couldn't hit on their free throws down the stretch and ultimately was forced to foul to stop the clock.
"Jess Foster had another amazing game," Beil said. "She was a coach on the court. She did an excellent job of slowing the game down. She knew about that we had a 30-second clock, and we were under 50 seconds to go and she just wasted time. To know that as a player, as a sophomore, is unbelievable."
Glenelg remained calm and confident, netting a 5-of-6 from the line in the final minute, icing the win and claiming the 11-point victory.
Williams finished off an illustrious sophomore campaign with a game-high 24 points, followed by Swann (18) and Devon Williams (10). The Lightning end an upstart season 17-6 overall and only lose one senior – Ifeoma Ezimako – next season.
"Tonight I thought they left it all out on the line," Cofield added. "I think they played with the intensity that we asked them to play with tonight. We had a (heck) of a season. They played hard; we played outside of what anyone expected us to do. We're really young. We're losing one senior, but everyone else is returning. We're going to work in the offseason and get back ready to play…Every game they got a lot of experience, got better – we're not really worried about whether other teams see us, but we're getting better. From last year to this year, game-by-game, possession-by-possession, we're getting better."
Glenelg moves onto top-seeded Stephen Decatur, who defeated Chesapeake 61-54 in the section II final Thursday.
"Long Reach, excellent effort by them. Kiana wouldn't go down, but I'm glad we pulled it out," Beil added. "We're looking forward to (Stephen Decatur), looking forward to a nice road trip down to Ocean City. We got some film on them and we'll prepare hard for them and see what the next stop takes us."
Glenelg 65, Long Reach 54 (3A East section I championship) Thursday, March 1
G (15-4, 20-4): Henggeler 23, Foster 16, Mattis 13, Johnson 6, Hanlon 4, Butera 3.
LR (14-5, 17-6): K. Williams 24, L. Swann 18, D. Williams 10, Joyce 2.
Half: 33-28 LR.
Western 53, Howard 34 (4A North section II championship) Thursday, March 1.
After a thrilling come-from-behind, last second victory in the 4A North sectional semifinal against Paint Branch Tuesday, the Lions were back at it Thursday in the section II finals with their hardest test yet – top-seeded Western.
Howard was in it throughout the contest, but couldn't muster enough offense to keep up with the Doves and ultimately fell, 53-34.
"We had our chances," said Lions coach Scott Robinson. "They are very long and athletic, and the quickest team we played this year. We had lots of open looks we just couldn't convert… we were in the game until the last couple of minutes."
Howard had an uncharacteristically poor shooting night, hitting just 12-of-39 from the field, and accumulated its lowest scoring mark of the season. But despite its shooting woes, the Lions played with Western through the majority of the match.
The Doves got out to an early 19-10 advantage, but Howard managed cutting the deficit 22-17 entering halftime. Western started pulling away in the third quarter, getting out to a ten-point lead at the end of period and extending it to 14 early in the fourth quarter. The Lions remained within reach, but ultimately couldn't knock down enough buckets down the stretch to pull off the rally.
Senior Kyaja Williams netted a game-high 22 points for Western, including sinking four from behind the arc. Sophomores Jasmen Walton (9 points), Cache Waters (6) and Makayla Pickens (6) followed offensively.
As for Howard, Sam Lewis put up a team-high 12 points, while Taylor Addison, Deonna Jones and Emileigh Scott followed with seven, five and five points, respectively.
The county champion Lions end a fantastic season at 22-3 overall and are primed for a repeat another deep run next year, as they return all of their starters and lose just two seniors – Berit Batterton and Sarah Sagi – to graduation.
"We had a great year," Robinson said. "With no seniors in our playing rotation I told the girls to remember tonight and use it as motivation to try to get back there next year."
W (22-1): Williams 22, Walton 9, Johnson 6, Pickens 6, Waters 6, Jackson 2, Walker 2.
Ho (17-2, 22-3): Lewis 12, Addison 7, Jones 5, Scott 5, Kinsey 3, Saunders 2.