Long Reach ran into a familiar foe and suffered a familiar fate on Thursday night against Frederick in the 3A state semifinals at Towson University’s SECU Arena.
The Lightning, which lost against the two-time defending state-champion Cadets in last year’s title game, were outscored 15-3 over the final six minutes of the first half and never fully recovered in the rematch between the two teams on the way to a 63-44 Frederick victory this time around.
Rose Bubakar (27 points and 13 rebounds) and Makayla Daniels (17 points and 7 assists) led the way for Frederick (24-3). Daniels, who scored a game-high 29 points in the 2018 final, scored 11 of her points Thursday during a first half where the Cadets built a 30-23 lead going into intermission after trailing by five, 20-15, just over a minute into the second quarter.
“I completely trust them and I know that they are going to work, we just had to settle down,” said Frederick coach Ashley Bush, who didn’t call a single timeout during the first half even as Long Reach put together a 13-0 run at one point. “We do the mental toughness, and the mindfulness, but the end goal is you want to compete … it’s always exciting to get back to this night.”
Bubakar ended up being the second-half star, scoring 21 of her points after the break, for a Frederick team that advances into a 3A state championship match-up against Poly on Saturday at 8 p.m. The Engineers defeated Aberdeen in the other semifinal Thursday, 65-27.
“[For us] it means that our hard work is paying off and it’s paid off for all the years that I’ve been here,” Daniels said.
Long Reach (18-5), which had secured the program’s second straight region championship last weekend with a victory over J.M. Bennett, had the Cadets on their heels during the middle of the first half. Lyric Swann led the team statistically with 18 points overall, while Jaelyn Swann and Haley Thompson chipped in with eight points apiece, and the Lightning held a 16-13 lead at the end of the first quarter. That lead grew to as many as five early in the second period.
But once Frederick seized control of the game in the late stages of the opening half, and then carried that momentum over by opening the third quarter on a 6-0 spurt, Long Reach never managed to get itself closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“I saw that leadership and that experience from Frederick in the third quarter, as they were able to extend that lead. We had answered their run early, and I knew we would, but in the second half they gained that separation that was just a little too much,” Long Reach coach Kelli Cofield said. “I thought we played them well for about three quarters overall, but that one quarter of basketball between the end of the first half and the beginning of the second was the difference in the game.
“They showed tonight why they are defending champions.”
Frederick sprinted out of the gates on a 9-0 run behind seven points from Daniels in the first three minutes of the game. But, after a timeout, Long Reach rattled off 13 points of its own to take the lead.
Lyric Swann scored nine of her points in that first quarter push.
“There were a couple times during the season where we’ve had rough starts like that, so none of us were worried. We knew we were going to make a comeback,” Lyric Swann said. “So when that comeback happened, we just kept that energy going.”
A 3-pointer by Jaelyn Swann gave the Lightning a 3-point lead at the end of the first quarter and then a layup by Malaya Streeter a minute into the second quarter gave Long Reach its largest lead at 20-15.
That’s when Frederick made its push to retake its advantage, however. And this time, the Cadets never looked back.
Bubakar became more assertive as the game wore on, crashing the glass and finishing around the rim. She had five offensive rebounds in the second half.
“I realized that in the beginning of the game, I should have started [being more aggressive],” she said. “So in the second half, I needed to get more rebounds, move on the floor and be more active on offense.”
On Saturday against Poly, the Cadets will have the opportunity to join some elite company when they go for a third straight crown. The last team to win three straight Maryland girls basketball state titles was Calvert in 2A between 2011 and 2013.
Bush says her team isn’t focused on the run of championships, though, only the pursuit of this one.
“Everybody is talking about the third state championship, but that’s not our focus and it’s never been our focus all year,” she said. “We’ve been focused on just trying to get better as a team each game … not getting caught up in the hype.
“When we come in here on Saturday, we are going to enjoy the moment, but we are still competing at the same time.”
While the season ends for Long Reach, Cofield said afterward that the imprint left behind by this group of seniors will live on forever.
“I’m just proud of them. They’ve deserved everything and they’ve come out and competed for four years,” Cofield said. “You want to exit as a champion, but to exit among the final four teams playing out of the state, I can’t write a better story than that.”
Frederick 63, Long Reach 44 (3A state semifinals)
F (24-3): Bubakar 27, Daniels 17, Montgomery 5, Hall 5, Dorsey 5, Layman 2, Boyd 2.
LR (18-5): L. Swann 18, J. Swann 8, Thompson 8, Streeter 4, Richardson 4, Ford 2.
Half: 30-23 F.
Reach Brent Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports