Prior to this winter, Long Reach coach Kelli Cofield had visions of what she thought her team would look like on nights where everything clicked.
It took nearly a full two months, but Thursday evening on the road against Oakland Mills, those premonitions came to fruition. Lyric Swann scored a team-high 23 points, Rebecca Ford (8 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists) added one of her best all-around games of the season, and the Lightning led from start to finish en route to a 62-49 victory over the first-place Scorpions.
“This is exactly what I thought we should look like from Day 1, but in hindsight maybe it’s a good thing that it took us a little longer to get here. We’re not playing for December, we’re playing for March, so to see the growth and the focus improving these last few weeks in practice and games has been exciting,” Cofield said. “We are really playing together on offense and defense and tonight it showed between the lines.”
Overall, Long Reach (8-2, 8-4) had seven players score four or more points against Oakland Mills (9-2, 13-2). The Lightning opened the game on a 15-0 run and never looked back, leading by double digits the rest of the way.
It’s only the fourth time this season that Long Reach has won by double figures, all coming this month. Ford, who transferred into the program prior to the season from St. Francis Prep in New York, said that — despite the team bringing back a lot of pieces from last year’s county and regional championship squad — there was still a feeling out process early in the year.
“Early in December we were still trying to build that chemistry and I think those losses that we had, they taught us a lot. In some ways, they might have actually brought us closer,” Ford said. “Since then, we’ve learned a lot about one another, what we like to do and where we want the ball. We’re such a better team now than we were even just a month ago.”
On its way to establishing leads of 17-3 at the end of the first quarter and 37-14 at the half against Oakland Mills, Long Reach certainly looked like the better team in all aspects. Lyric Swann was hitting from the outside (three 3-pointers in the first half), while Ford and Haley Thompson (6 points, 10 rebounds) held things down on the interior.
The Lightning also got a big boost from the return of Arianna Briggs-Hall and Malaya Streeter from injury. The duo, who each have missed four games in January due to a variety of ailments, contributed six and eight points, respectively, on Thursday.
On the other side, Oakland Mills struggled to find a rhythm during the opening two quarters. The Scorpions, who were led on the evening by Marley Grenway (15 points) and Jazmine Washington (12 points), didn’t score a point for the first six minutes and made only four field goals before intermission.
“For whatever reason, that first half, we reverted to that ‘not knowing how to win the big game,’ mentality. It was as if we almost thought Long Reach was going to lay down for us,” Oakland Mills coach Walt Hagins said. “That [Long Reach] team isn’t going to lay down for anyone and they showed that. They were hungry, they were energized, they beat us to all the loose balls, they controlled the paint and they just flat out out-worked us.”
Things changed in the second half, however. Oakland Mills opened the third quarter on a 14-4 run, flipping the script and holding the Lightning without a field goal for more than six minutes. Kobie Scott-Pearson (11 points) got going on the interior and the Scorpions started getting themselves to the foul line by not settling for jump shots.
“That second half, we simply got back to believing in and executing the game plan. It was as simple as that … we made a commitment to changing our narrative,” Hagins said. “We threw the score out the window and just got back to playing basketball.”
But for every push that Oakland Mills made, Long Reach always had an answer. The Lighting went on an 8-0 run late in third and then had a backbreaking 11-0 spurt midway through the fourth to put an end to any thoughts of a comeback.
Jalyn Richardson’s three-point play with 2:21 left put Long Reach ahead 61-38 with 2:21 left in regulation.
“In the locker room, actually before the game even got started, our seniors were in there talking about how there were going to be runs and the importance of not getting rattled,” Cofield said. “That leadership has been integral in our success and keeping us focused on and off the court.”
Long Reach is back in action on the road against Mt. Hebron on Friday, while Oakland Mills will look to bounce back against Hammond.
Long Reach 62, Oakland Mills 49
LR (8-2, 8-4): L. Swann 23, Ford 8, Streeter 8, Thompson 6, Briggs-Hall 6, Richardson 6, J. Swann 4, Watkins 1.
OM (9-2, 13-2): Grenway 15, Washington 12, Scott-Pearson 11, Riggs 9, King 2.
Half: 37-14 LR.
Reservoir 50, River Hill 48
The Gators prevailed down the stretch behind huge offensive efforts from Emily Dorn (25 points, 12 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 blocks) and Tiffany Hooker (19 points, 4 steals), erasing what was at one point a seven-point deficit in the third quarter.
In addition to the offensive leaders, Reservoir coach Deb Taylor also praised several of her role players for their execution in crunch time.
“Jenni Fourney and Karis Turner came in to give us tremendous minutes, particularly with their defense and composure when we were struggling,” Taylor said. “Those two, along with Nat [Verna’s] steadiness at the point, contributed great minutes to go along with Tiff and Emily’s point production.”
Anihya Smith (18 points) and Saniha Jackson (15) led the way for River Hill in the loss.
Re (9-2, 12-3): Dorn 25, Hooker 19, Turner 5, Fourney 1.
RH (6-4, 9-7): Smith 18, Jackson 15, Clark 8, Masker 5, Heitzmann 2.
Half: 24-21 RH.
Mt. Hebron 52, Hammond 48
Season-best efforts from Tori Valentine and Meredith Williams helped the Vikings hold off a tough test from the Golden Bears on Thursday. Valentine had a season-high 26 points to go with seven rebounds, while Williams chipped in with a double-double (14 points and 11 rebounds).
“Mer was so key,” Mt. Hebron coach Tierney Ahearn said.
Nyelle Allen (16 points), Taylor Liguori (13) and Imani Reid (11) all scored in double figures for Hammond in the loss.
MH (6-4, 10-6): Valentine 26, Williams 14, Chase 5, Rodriguez 3, Dixon 2, Oliver 2.
Ha (4-5, 8-6): Allen 16, Liguori 13, Reid 11, Fogle 4, Julius-Khumbah 4.
Half: 32-24 MH.
Atholton 45, Marriotts Ridge 43
The Raiders snapped a three-game losing skid behind a balanced scoring effort that saw Zhuri Cannon (18 points), Natalie Blair (11) and Alex Hargrett (10) all finish in double figures offensively.
Atholton outscored the Mustangs 17-7 in the fourth quarter to earn the come-from-behind victory.
Mallory Controy led Marriotts Ridge with 17 points.
A (2-8, 4-11): Cannon 18, Blair 11, Hargrett 10, Munro 4, Sowah 2.
MR (3-6, 5-10): Conroy 17, Morath 8, Bryan 8, Miller 4, Lee 4, Crawford 2.
Half: 25-20 MR.
Howard 60, Glenelg 29
The Lions raced out to a 40-9 lead by halftime and cruised the rest of the way. Anii Harris (17 points) and Lauryn Russell (16) led the offensive effort for Howard.
Ho (8-2, 12-2): Harris 17, Russell 16, Scott 10, Sanchez-Henry 5, Malagar 4, Denicola 3, Fritz 2, Spalding 2, Peed 1.
G (1-9, 2-13): Tolbert 8, LePage 7, Prezelski 6, Coburn 3, Hirsch 3, Anderson 2.
Half: 40-9 Ho.
Reach Brent Kennedy at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports