The Long Reach girls basketball team just got some company in its quest for a Howard County championship.
No. 13 and host River Hill staked its claim as a contender for the crown by defeating the previously undefeated Lightning, 74-60, in Clarksville last night.
The Hawks improved to 15-1 overall and 13-1 in the county. Not only did they hand No. 7 Long Reach (15-1, 13-1) its first loss of the season, but they also avenged the only blemish on their schedule - a 61-52 loss to the Lightning on Dec. 17.
"This is for a county title," River Hill senior guard Ashley Thomas said of the team's victory. "We had to win. We had to beat them to get a part of it."
In a rivalry that has neared a boiling point this season, River Hill was intent on defending its home court.
"We were determined not to let them win here," said junior center Brittany Gordon. "Some words were exchanged before and after the game. We just had to let them know that they weren't going to win here."
Adding injury to insult, Long Reach played much of the game without senior forward Whitney Ward, who injured her left knee three times during the game. The final fall with 16.8 seconds left in the third quarter forced Ward - who could have the knee evaluated as early as this afternoon - to the bench for the rest of the night.
But even with Ward, the Lightning would have been hard-pressed to match River Hill's depth. Thomas scored a team-high 18 points and collected nine rebounds and four assists, while Gordon posted 17 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks.
Sophomore guard LaKeisha Eaddy notched 17 points, seven steals and five rebounds and senior guard MarchM-i Westray added 10 points and three steals.
Long Reach, which never led in the game, made a series of runs at the Hawks, shaving the lead down to three points on three occasions in the first half.
But the Lightning's last run, which trimmed the lead to 27-24 with less than two minutes left in the second quarter, prompted River Hill to score nine of the game's next 10 points and enjoy a 36-25 advantage at halftime.
Senior guard Timisha Gomez led all scorers with 23 points and also recorded 11 rebounds and five steals, and sophomore forward Carlie Nethken chipped in with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
But Long Reach coach Kevin Broadus said he thought his team was too timid.
"I really felt that River Hill was the aggressor tonight," said Broadus, whose squad - like the Hawks - has six regular-season games left. "For one of us to share the title, both teams better take care of business."