By Jonathan Pleasant
Logic would dictate that facing an opponent who is smaller, younger and with years less experience on your own home court should be an easy task, but the Sullivan East Lady Patriots knew better than to underestimate the Johnson County Lady Longhorns. Following a near defeat earlier in the season, the Lady Patriots and their Coach Allan Aubrey came out swinging in their second matchup Friday night. I think Johnson County is something else, said Aubrey after the game. Its not a fluke that they are winning games. They are good and they are tough. Coach Whittemore has done a great job with them. I dont want to play them in the tournament and I dont think anyone else wants to play them in the tournament because they are not going to quit. I thought we played very well tonight, we put pressure on them the whole time, but they just dont quit. We never could quite shake them till right at the very end and thats all to his credit. Hes done a great job with them.
Facing a team made up largely of seniors with a group primarily of sophomores, the Longhorns were hard pressed to maneuver around their taller more experienced opponents, costing them some vital points early in the first quarter. Compounding the many factors against them, Johnson County had a generally off night, making only half of their free throws and turning over the ball 27 times. Coming into the game there was also concern that one of the starting players, Brionna Reece, might not be able to compete because of an injury earlier in the day. Fortunately she did get to play and still managed 15 points overall.
Yet, despite everything that was against them, the Lady Longhorns held their heads high and fought for every basket like it was the game winner. The real thorn in the teams side the whole night was Easts phenomenal ability to land the three-pointer. In the first quarter alone the Lady Patriots made six, having not just one shooter, but three that could reliably make their shots count.
The Lady Longhorns have been able to handle teams in the past who had one notorious shooter, but against someone with a pool of talent to pull from the game is much more difficult to defend. According to Coach Todd Whittemore, We tried to make it hard on the shooter but those other girls just stepped up, especially number five, Shaffer. We dared the other ones to beat us and they did today.
The three-pointers made up the majority of Easts score in the first quarter, ending with 22 to Johnson Countys seven. Although the Lady Patriots hit hard and fast in the first part of the game, Johnson County began to figure out some of their strategy coming into the second and actually managed to get more points within the quarter than East, 19 to 17. This held true for the second half as well, getting only a few less points in the third and making the same number in the fourth, even considering a very poor last couple of minutes.
If it had not been for the results of the first period, Johnson County would have been very close if not victorious, but unfortunately there was no overcoming such a large lead so early on. Yet, no matter how well the game started for East there was no point that the team was truly at ease, which Aubrey readily admits. We put 32 minutes of pressure on and we knew we had to attack the basket. That was our game plan and it was a good one but only because we have good players. Although, I never felt comfortable. If we let up I knew they would get back in it and they still cut it to less than 15 a few times, but we tried to be relentless. We crushed them under the boards, because we knew they are going to come back. They do not quit. They totally bought into their coachs program. Their bench is great, theyre enthusiastic. From where they were, its amazing what he has done.
The threes kept flying on into the second half with three back to back in the first two minutes of the third quarter, but they also became the Lady Patriots crutch, making up the vast majority of their overall score. For Johnson County, the goal was to try to get around the defense and get it to the board. Although this meant a hard fight every time, there was still a steady stream of Lady Longhorn baskets, thanks to Brooke Brown, Sarah Swift, and Brionna Reece.
There was also much to be said about the performance of Brandy Dugger, Nikki Farrow, and Freshman Mary Taylor, who did their best to defend against the pressure that East was putting on their team. Not surprisingly the game was abundant in fouls, and although Johnson County didnt do as well as they had been, the sheer number of times at the line stands as a testament to their tenacity. Even with the end in sight and no hope of taking home the win the Lady Longhorns stood their ground making buckets right up to the last second.
Although his team played very hard and earned a great deal of respect despite the loss, Whittemore seemed understandably disappointed with the outcome. We gave up some offense and that just really hurt us. We worked a lot on rebounding this week, but then they got that ten point lead and it was just hard to dig ourselves out of that hole, especially on the road and in this gym. Were very likely to meet this team at the tournament. Were young and we work hard, but tonight we got stuck around watching Brooke versus the press. We have been a much better team and we did not do that well tonight. Weve been playing a lot smarter than that and a lot tougher, but give them credit, they did a great job. They hit their threes tonight.
Sarah Swift 17
Brionna Reece 15
Brooke Brown 12
Mary Taylor 6
Brandy Dugger 3