Long Reach has proven time and time again over the last couple weeks how far the team has come since the beginning of the season.
The latest example came Friday night against a Centennial squad that had handed the Lightning a 57-48 defeat back in the beginning of December. This time around, in the rematch, Long Reach (11-2, 11-4) flipped the script by building a big early lead on the way to a 49-40 victory and the team’s 10th straight league win.
“You absolutely look forward to these kind of games, especially considering we felt like we didn’t play our best game the first time against them. We wanted the opportunity to make amends,” Long Reach coach Kelli Cofield said. “Every game is important, we talk about that all the time, but I think you definitely get up a little more when you are playing a team that has already beaten you.”
Arguably no one personifies the Lightning growth better than forward Rebecca Ford. After scoring just four points in the early-season loss to the Eagles, Ford came out Friday and delivered her best all-around game of the season with 13 points, nine rebounds, four blocks and four steals.
Her effort, combined with double-digit scoring games from Lyric Swann (19 points) and Jaelyn Swann (10 points and career-high 8 assists), was enough to hold off every Centennial (5-7, 9-8) comeback attempt.
“The first time we played [Centennial], I just focused on what I knew how to do … like just rebounds,” Ford said. “Now I’m doing what coach wants me to do, which is put the ball up more … and it’s working. And just as important, I feel like I’m feeding off my teammates so much more.”
Despite a slow start, falling behind Long Reach 17-3 in the opening seven minutes, Centennial never went away. The Eagles responded with a 16-3 run between the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second to trim its deficit to just one point, 20-19, with 2:49 to go before halftime.
However, as was the theme all evening, Centennial simply never managed to get over the hump.
Brook Anderson scored 14 points, including four 3-pointers, and Rasa Welsh added nine points and 18 rebounds for the Eagles, which trailed by just five points, 45-40, midway through the fourth quarter. But Centennial failed to score again after that.
“I don’t like moral victories in February, but tonight we showed a lot by our response after falling behind against a really good team,” Centennial coach Rob Slopek said. “They played their butts off, attacking and giving ourselves a chance at the end. The score doesn’t necessarily reflect it, but we are a couple made layups or foul shots away from finishing that one off.”
Cofield said that while her team did have its own offensive struggles down the stretch to the tune of making only two fourth-quarter field goals, the defense was consistent throughout.
“For us, playing with the lead, it was all about stops. We can have those offensive droughts, as long as we are giving that continued effort on the defensive end like we had tonight,” she said.
With the Long Reach win, combined with Oakland Mills (11-2, 15-2) beating Wilde Lake and Howard losing to Mt. Hebron, there is now a two-way tie for first place in the county standings between the Lightning and the Scorpions. Howard is now one game back.
Long Reach 49, Centennial 40
LR (11-2, 11-4): L. Swann 19, Ford 13, J. Swann 10, Richardson 5, Thompson 2.
C (5-7, 9-8): Anderson 14, Welsh 9, Dossett 4, Pearson 4, Reese 4, Urquiga 2, Pellegini 2, Molz 1.
Half: 29-24 LR.
Mt. Hebron 55, Howard 52
The Vikings raced out of the gates to an 18-8 lead by the end of the first quarter and then held off a late charge by the first-place Lions to earn the road victory.
Tori Valentine scored a game-high 21 points — to go along with 6 steals, 5 rebounds and 4 assists — to lead the way for Mt. Hebron. But key contributions came from everywhere.
Meredith Williams finished with eight points and 15 rebounds. Eve Chase hit a critical 3-pointer in the fourth quarter with the shot clock running down on her way to finishing with nine points. Then Julia Rodriguez and Erin Dixon each chipped in with seven points apiece as well.
“It was one of those nights where I felt like the critical shots fell for us,” Mt. Hebron coach Tierney Ahearn said. “Those close plays, that haven’t necessarily gone in our direction most of this season, they finally went our way.”
Howard, meanwhile, saw its five-game winning streak snapped. The Lions got double-digit scoring efforts from Anii Harris (19 points), Gabby Scott (13 points) and Camille Malagar (10) but it wasn’t quite enough.
Howard cut its deficit to within one or two possessions several times in the fourth quarter, but Mt. Hebron answered every push. The Vikings ended up shooting 7-10 from the foul line over the final eight minutes to help secure the win.
“A ton of credit to our entire team, but especially our seniors for their effort tonight,” Ahearn said. “Getting this one was absolutely huge. Now I feel like it’s not just words. The girls actually believe now that they are good enough to beat anyone. We proved what we are capable of.”
MH (7-6, 11-8): Valentine 21, Chase 9, Williams 8, Dixon 7, Rodriguez 7, Oliver 3.
Ho (10-3, 14-3): Harris 19, Scott 13, Malagar 10, Russell 8, Sanchez-Henry 2.
Half: 21-17 MH.
Oakland Mills 68, Wilde Lake 18
The Scorpions cruised to the victory behind one of the team’s signature defensive efforts to go along with standout offensive performances from Marley Grenway (23 points) and Jazmine Washington (18). Grenway knocked down a season-high seven 3-point shots.
OM (11-2, 15-2): Grenway 23, Washington 18, Scott-Pearson 10, King 8, Riggs 4, Eldridge 3, McDuffie 2.
WL (0-12, 1-15): Corkeron 11, Swaby-Rowe 4, Zimmerman 3.
Half: 42-9 OM.
Reservoir 67, Atholton 49
Tiffany Hooker exploded for one of her best offensive performances of the season, scoring 25 points with four made 3-pointers for the Gators. Karis Turner also chipped in with a career night, scoring 10 points, grabbing eight rebounds and four assists, and senior leader Emily Dorn had her usual strong all-around game with 13 points, 18 rebounds and three assists.
Reservoir built a 37-20 lead by halftime and never looked back.
Alex Hargrett scored a season-high 21 points in the loss for Atholton. Zhuri Cannon went out with a sprained ankle in the first quarter and did not return.
Re (10-4, 13-5): Hooker 25, Dorn 13, Turner 10, Abunassar 6, Verna 5, Davis 3, Salkeld 3, Bailey 2.
A (2-11, 4-14): A. Hargrett 21, Blair 7, M. Hargrett 7, Ruley 6, Sowah 6, Perlin 2.
Half: 37-20 Re.
Glenelg 48, Hammond 27
The Gladiators broke through for their second county victory, getting a season-high 20 points from senior Olivia LePage. Abby Gillespie and Jenna Hirsch added eight points apiece.
Glenelg opened up a 15-6 lead by the end of the first quarter and increased its advantage from there. The 27 points allowed tied a season-best for the Gladiators.
Jocelyn Fogle finished with a team-high 10 points for Hammond in the loss.
G (2-10, 3-14): LePage 20, Gillespie 8, Hirsch 8, Anderson 5, Salafia 4, Prezelski 3.
Ha (4-7, 8-8): Fogle 10, Allen 6, Julius-Khumbah 6, Liguori 3, Brown 2.
Half: 22-13 G.
River Hill 46, Marriotts Ridge 41
The Hawks won their third straight game and completed the season sweep of the Mustangs, getting double-digit scoring efforts from Saniha Jackson (14 points), Anihya Smith (13) and Maggie O’Keefe (10).
Mallory Conroy was the leader for Marriotts Ridge with 10 points.
RH (9-4, 12-7): Jackson 14, Smith 13, O’Keefe 10, Clark 5, Masker 4.
MR (4-7, 6-11): Conroy 10, Bryan 6, Morath 6, Noll 6, Miller 5, Crawford 4, Kohler 2, Lee 2.
Half: 23-15 RH.
Reach Brent Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports