Long Reach girls basketball entered its playoff game against Reservoir averaging nearly 70 points per game. The Lightning were 18-2, and all but one of those wins came by double digits, including two blowout victories over the Gators.
None of those statistics held true Thursday, as Long Reach was locked in a low-scoring affair with a Reservoir team that would not go away. Whenever the Lightning seemed to gain momentum, the Gators countered. With multiple chances to clinch a victory, the Lightning faltered.
But none of those miscues mattered, coach Kelli Cofield told her team, as long as it figured out a way to escape its home gym with a victory.
“All we need is to win by one,” she said. “Get one more stop than they do.”
That’s exactly how the final moments played out in the Lightning’s 47-46 overtime win in the 3A East, Section I final. After missing a 3-pointer on one end, the Lightning forced a contested game-winning attempt — albeit from just a few feet away — grabbed the defensive rebound and ran the clock out, bringing them one win away from a regional title.
The Lightning will host Chesapeake in the 3A East final on Saturday.
“You just stay poised, stay composed, because this is the playoffs and anything can happen,” Cofield said. “Every moment, you don’t want to mess up, you don’t want to miss a shot, you don’t want to be the one to miss the assignment, but I thought our experience helped out a lot.”
Plagued by missed open layups and free throws, Long Reach still received 15 points from Arianna Briggs-Hall and had two other players — senior Kiana Williams and junior Lyric Swann — score in double figures. Each player missed plenty of shots but came through with timely baskets throughout the win.
Junior forward Emily Dorn did all she could to keep Reservoir in the game, but her 21-point, 19-rebound, three-block performance wasn’t quite enough for the Gators to pull the upset over the top-seeded Lightning.
However, coach Deb Taylor thought her team’s battle with one of the best teams in the area showed how far it has come since its early-season struggles.
“I couldn’t be prouder of their heart, their fight,” Taylor said.
Taylor sensed her team could hang with Long Reach based on the second regular season meeting when they held the Lighting to one of their lowest scoring outputs of the season in a 58-36 loss. Turnovers cost Reservoir in that game, Taylor said, so if the Gators took care of the ball against pressure Thursday night, she believed the result could be different.
It took the Gators a little while to find their rhythm — evident by their 12-3 deficit late in the first quarter — but Dorn, Hooker and senior forward Nia Powell ensured Long Reach did not pull any farther ahead.
The second period belonged to Dorn, who scored on layups, putbacks and even a step-back 3-pointer that drew a roar from the visiting crowd. When the Lightning went up, 22-14, with about three minutes left before halftime, Dorn responded with two straight buckets. She scored 11 of the team’s 14 points in the period as the Gators went into halftime only trailing by five.
“Emily and Nia are terrific players, especially Emily,” said Williams, who finished with 12 points. “She gets to the basket, gets fouled and hits her free throws. Our main thing was to try and keep her out of the paint, and if she did come into the paint, have help. We kind of slacked on that a bit but we held her. She fouled out, so that was good.”
Dorn would eventually be sidelined, but not before continuing to torment Long Reach throughout the second half. Combined with Hooker, who drilled three 3-pointers in the third quarter, the Gators pulled ahead late in that period and traded baskets the rest of the way.
But had the Lightning converted their opportunities in the final moments, there would not have been overtime. First came a botched layup with the game tied and just under a minute to play. Then Briggs-Hall missed two foul shots. The Lightning got the ball back on Williams’ steal — prompting Dorn to commit her fifth and final foul to prevent the game-winning layup — but still could not close out the game.
Williams clanked both of her free throws off the rim and then missed an open 3-pointer to secure overtime.
But in the extra period, she put Long Reach back ahead with a bucket, and the Lightning made enough defensive stops to pull out a rare close victory.
Long Reach (19-2) — 47, Reservoir (15-9) — 46
LR — Briggs-Hall 15, Williams 12, Lyric Swann 11, Thompson 5, Streeter 2, Jaelyn Swann 2.
Re — Dorn 21, Hooker 13, Powell 8, Abunassar 2, Bailey 2.
Half: 26-21, LR
Reach Kyle Stackpole at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @kylefstackpole