Ever since arriving as a coach at Long Reach in 2009, Kelli Cofield has been a believer in trusting the process. Every win and, perhaps more importantly, every loss is part of something much bigger.
So last winter, when her team lost to Atholton in the regional finals, she had faith that the game was just another important part of the journey.
Saturday, in the 3A East regional championship game against visiting Chesapeake, the Lightning got another chance to advance farther than any previous team in program history and made the most of it.
Finishing the game on a 17-3 run, Long Reach pulled away for a 77-58 victory over the Cougars to secure the program’s first region title.
“It feels like such a relief because it feels like every year since getting here in 2009, we’ve taken another step. It was almost like last year God was telling us ‘Not yet, you’re not yet ready for it.’ And that hurt, it hurt the girls and I think they remembered that feeling,” Cofield said. “You keep that in the back of your memory and you don’t want to have that feeling ever again.
“I thought even when it was tight, they never gave up. All week we’ve talked about this being the manifestation of everything [from the last few years.]”
Lyric Swann (22 points), Jaelyn Swann (16), Kiana Williams (16) and Arianna Briggs-Hall (14) all scored in double figures for a Long Reach (20-2) team that advances to play Poly next Thursday in the state semifinals at Towson University’s SECU arena.
Williams, the lone senior on the team, was the first to climb the ladder and cut down a piece of the net after the team was presented with the regional championship trophy.
“We’re making history and to do it my senior year, it means a lot,” Williams said. “I told my girls, I am all 100 [percent] for the rest of the year. And they were with me, so just knowing that they’ve got my back and I’ve got theirs … it’s just like a family.”
Brooke Worrell (game-high 26 points) and Haley Downin (20) finished as the leading scorers for Chesapeake (19-6) in the loss. And the Cougars, which were going for the program’s first region title since 2002, certainly didn’t go down without a fight.
Chesapeake scored the first four points of the game and never trailed by double digits at any point during the first three quarters. Having fallen behind by 28 points at one point during the third quarter when the two teams met in December, the Cougars showed very early on that this meeting was going to be much different.
“It was an intense three quarters, back-and-forth and closing the gap and getting the edge. But we just kept hanging around and kept fighting,” Chesapeake coach Maria Gray said. “I think the jitters got to us a little bit at times early in the game, but we settled in and tried to do our thing. Sometimes you just come up short.”
After a relatively slow start that saw Chesapeake leading, 8-4, four minutes into the contest, Long Reach found life behind the 3-point shooting of the Swann sisters. The two combined to hit four threes over a span of six minutes between the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second to help the Lightning turn their deficit into a nine-point lead, 27-18.
“Eventually when I started making my shots, I was like ‘OK we got this, now I’m making my shots and it can snowball to not just me but other players too.’ They see I’m getting hot and now they’re going to try to get hot,” said Jaelyn Swann, who finished with a team-high 13 points in the opening half.
Chesapeake made a late first-half push behind Worrell and Downin, trimming the team’s deficit to 37-34 at the break. In the process, Long Reach also got in some serious foul trouble with Williams, Briggs-Hall and Haley Thompson (5 points) all picking up three fouls in the opening two quarters.
Things stayed tight through the third quarter, with the Cougars rallying to tie the score at 51 on a Worrell 3-pointer with 55 seconds left in the period.
But Long Reach scored the final four points of that third quarter and the momentum seemed to carry right over into the fourth. Jaelyn Swann buried her fourth 3-pointer of the game to open the period and shortly after the floodgates opened.
In a span of less than three minutes midway through the final quarter, Long Reach scored 14 unanswered points. Even as Thompson ended up fouling out, Malaya Streeter (4 points) stepped in for the Lightning and delivered a couple of big baskets during the run.
By the time Worrell made a pair of foul shots with 1:03 left on the clock, the game was well in hand.
When the clock finally hit zero, Long Reach’s bench and student section stormed the court to celebrate.
“Excitement, just excitement,” Williams said. “This was our goal for my senior year and this is where I want to be at right now and I feel [like we are] in a good position.”
On the other side, Gray said her team accomplished a lot this winter despite the season-ending loss.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the things we’ve done this season,” Gray said. “I mean, they’ve had some big moments along the way with beating Old Mill and knocking off the 38-game in-season win streak. A buzzer-beater at Meade … we’ve just had some amazing moments.”
Long Reach 77, Chesapeake 58
LR (20-2): L. Swann 22, J. Swann 16, Williams 16, Briggs-Hall 14, Thompson 5, Streeter 4.
C (19-6): Worrell 26, Downin 20, Smith 7, Castle 3, Chew 2.
Half: 37-34 LR.
Reach Brent Kennedy at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports