During the first month and a half of the season, Long Reach has played more than its fair share of close games.
Three of the four Lightning victories entering its road match-up against Hammond had come by seven points or less, including a one-point overtime win over River Hill earlier in the week. So, with the Golden Bears within a point entering the fourth quarter on Thursday evening, Long Reach knew to stay the course.
In what ended up being one of its best stretches of basketball this winter, the Lightning opened the final period on a 17-4 run and never looked back on their way to a 69-50 victory.
“All of our close games, whether we’ve ended up victorious or not, have taught us lessons and provided experience that we are now able to draw upon. At this point, it takes a lot to rattle this group,” Long Reach coach Kelli Cofield said. “Today you saw them rally together and create that separation, showcasing what our talent has the potential to do.”
Long Reach (5-2, 5-3) has now won three straight games after going 2-3 during the month of December.
“I think a lot of it is just coming together and bringing more effort into the fourth quarter than we have in the beginning,” said Long Reach senior Arianna Briggs-Hall, who finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds against Hammond. “The runs are helping us and defense is playing a part in that, getting stops that lead to us getting out and running. We’re definitely gaining confidence.”
Lyric Swann (22 points, 6 steals) and Jaelyn Swann (10 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds) joined Briggs-Hall in double figures scoring for the Lightning, while Jalyn Richardson chipped in offensively as well by tying a season-high with eight points.
On the other side Hammond (3-3, 6-4), which lost for the second time in as many days, was led by Jocelyn Fogle (18 points and 12 rebounds), Imani Reid (14 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists) and Taylor Liguori (10 points and 4 assists).
The Golden Bears showcased the ability to answer the early pushes by the Lightning, but ultimately ran out of steam down the stretch.
“We got tired … [Long Reach’s] speed started to show, their depth started to show and it got away from us. But I’m proud of the way we hung for three quarters and you could tell the girls were into it,” Hammond coach Ryan Hudy said. “I think a few missed layups hurt us and it kind of went downhill from there because it allowed them to get out and run, which we had done a really good job limiting those first three quarters.”
Long Reach held narrow leads at the end of the first quarter (15-11) and at the half (31-28), however, the Golden Bears hung tight thanks to not allow the Lightning to put together any extended runs. Hammond’s largest deficit in that first half was seven points following a pair of foul shots by Richardson just over six minutes into the contest.
Then in the third quarter, the Golden Bears rallied to retake the lead, 43-42, with 1:08 left in the period following a jumper by Fogle.
Just as the momentum was shifting, however, Lyric Swann made a jumper of her own in the closing seconds of the third quarter to help the Lightning go back in front. From there, Long Reach simply never slowed down.
The final 19-point margin when the buzzer sounded at the end of the fourth quarter turned out to be the largest lead of the game for either team.
“In that third-to-fourth quarter stretch, we started limiting them to one possession and then on the other end we finally started finishing some of those bunnies in transition,” Cofield said. “We are definitely at our best when defense is leading to offense.”
Despite the setback, Hammond is still on pace for the program’s best season since 2001-02. That year the team went 21-7, marking the last time a Golden Bears’ girls basketball team has finished with a winning overall record.
Hudy said it’s important to keep that perspective moving forward.
“I tell the girls after every tough moment we’ve had so far that everything we want to achieve … it’s all still in front of us,” he said. “It’s good for us to get these games against Long Reach, or Reservoir yesterday, because it shows us what we need to work on. Our goals are still right there and we need tests like this to prepare us for those match-ups at the end of the season into playoffs.”
Long Reach 69, Hammond 50
LR (5-2, 5-3): L. Swann 22, Briggs-Hall 19, J. Swann 10, Richardson 8, Ford 6, Thompson 4.
Ha (3-3, 6-4): Fogle 18, Reid 14, Liguori 10, Allen 6, Julius-Khumba 2.
Half: 31-28 LR.
Reach Brent Kennedy at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports