The Lady Longhorns may have played their best and most intense game of the season last week at Sullivan East. Like a high-energy dance, the girls knew their parts and they played them well. An extremely fast paced game that moved fluidly through all four quarters, Johnson County turned a tough conference match up against the Lady Patriots into a race to the finish line. Even though like so many games before, the Lady Longhorns came away with an extremely close defeat, no one who saw the game could contest their ability to play the sport.
I thought we did a heck of a job defensively on them, said head coach Todd Whittemore. I think we controlled the tempo of the game. They want to score 80 and we werent going to let them do that tonight. Im very proud of our girls. It was fun to coach them tonight, they followed the game plan, and I think they did everything they possibly could. I cant ask anything else from these girls. Im not mad at them, Im proud of them. East is a good team. We didnt win but I guarantee you it wasnt fun for them.
The Lady Patriots were the first to get on the board, shooting one of their notorious three pointers. With a lay up following close behind, things did not start off well for the Lady Longhorns, but a newly re-energized Brionna Reece quickly leveled the playing field. With help from Mary Taylor and Brandy Dugger at the foul line, Reece was able to keep her team three points from the lead at 5-8 by the end of the period.
I think Brionna is back, said Coach Whittemore. Shes got some new handgrips, and shes been doing that because her hands are so weak. Now shes has been doing four sets of 100 every day with each hand. I think thats given her some confidence. Shes playing more aggressive like she did last year.
While Reece wound up the high scorer of the evening with 16 points overall, Brooke Brown and Sarah Swift werent far behind at 12 and 10 respectively. Those three players made up the bulk of Johnson Countys offense and helped answer most of Easts advances, but the real story of the night was the Lady Longhorn defense.
Everyone got in on the action as Brandy Dugger, Mary Taylor, Kristin Roark, and Gianna Lay all worked hard to shut down the Lady Patriots and force as many turnovers as possible. After so many close games and tough challenges, the effort was clearly starting to show results, as time and again the Lady Longhorns were able to anticipate their opponents moves and frustrate or trap them before they could get a shot off.
In fact, whether defending the ball or taking it to the net, all of Johnson Countys players looked like seasoned veterans, showing far more control than they did at the beginning of the year. As a result, by the third quarter the Lady Patriots were sweating bullets and pushing harder and harder to keep their lead. Bucket for bucket Johnson County kept up the pace, inching ever closer to taking control of the scoreboard.
An injury to Sarah Swift caused some alarm at the end of the third, but before the buzzer sounded the senior player was back in the game and helping to finally tie up the score at 34 thanks to a shot from fellow senior Kristin Roark. Taking the initiative, the Lady Longhorns finally took the lead at the beginning of the fourth, starting a white-knuckle battle all the way down to the last second. With baskets from Sarah Swift and Brionna Reece, Johnson County maintained their lead for several minutes, before a string of Lady Patriot three pointers shifted the game once again. They hit three in the fourth quarter, said Coach Whittemore. But, heres my big thing. It was a close game and we were 14 of 21 from the free throw line. We need to do a better job on our free throws. Im proud of them, but we just fell short tonight. We missed a bunch of lay-ups in the first half, all were good shots and we kind of cleaned up our act and did better in the second half, but free throws and some early missed lay-ups came back in the end and prevented us from winning this.
With Johnson County trailing by just a couple of points all the way down to the last minute, fans from both sides watched in nervous anticipation. A shot by Sarah Swift tied things up at 46, only to be countered by another Sullivan East three. A foul only moments later pushed the deficit to four and with only seconds on the clock the Lady Longhorns scrambled for any advantage. Every time the East took possession they hoped to eat down the clock and eventually it was clear that Johnson County simply did not have enough time. A foul against Mary Taylor with six seconds could have been the turning point but with neither shot successful, the last score of the evening came down to a buzzer buster by Brionna Reece to close out just two points shy at 48-50.
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