BURTONSVILLE - In Wednesday night’s girls basketball state semifinal, Hereford High met a Kent Island team that mirrored its style, relying on a stingy defense and a patient offense peppered with a lot of 3-pointers.
In the end, however, the undefeated Buccaneers executed their game plan and the Bulls unraveled despite a 15-point lead with nine minutes left as Kent Island rallied for a 41-38 victory in the Class 2A semifinals at Paint Branch in Montgomery County.
The Buccaneers (25-0 overall) will meet another first-time state finalist, Lackey, in the title game Saturday at 6 p.m. at Xfinity Center at the University of Maryland. Lackey (22-3) defeated Williamsport, 38-32, in the other semifinal Wednesday.
The Bulls, who got 14 points each from Lauren Orner and Lauren Kraft, built their lead to 15 in the final minutes of the first half.
Kent Island coach David Plumer had seen enough of the Bulls lighting up his zone for five 3-pointers in the first half, so he switched to man-to-man defense after the break.
The Bulls (19-5) initially adjusted, foregoing 20-footers for a handful of inside finishes to maintain their 15-point advantage. In the fourth quarter, however, they hurried their offense instead of continuing to work for the openings they’d been creating.
“We started forcing things that weren’t there,” said Kraft, a junior forward. “I think they got us panicked a little bit and with them keeping scoring on offense, I think it rushed us and we’re not a fast-paced team.”
Hereford coach Dave Schreiner said he saw the change happening from late in the third quarter into the fourth.
“It seemed like … we kind of forgot about who we were offensively,” he said. “We tried to do so many things that we just don’t do and I don’t expect our kids to do, but I think it came out of just thinking that anything we did would work… We had the lead and I don’t think we knew how to emotionally hold onto the game.”
With 32 seconds left in the third quarter, the Buccaneers leading scorer, senior Alivia Hanesworth, lit the spark when she drained a 3-pointer, her only bucket of the game despite her 14.5 scoring average.
Less than a minute before that, the Bulls still had a 15-point lead — a deficit Kent Island had not faced all season. The Bucs’ momentum carried over into the fourth quarter thanks to three straight baskets from freshman guard Lacey Dauses to trim the lead to 37-35 with 4:40 to go.
Orner’s free throw — the only Bulls point of the fourth quarter — pushed the lead to 38-35 before Kent Island junior forward Lillian Duases hit a 3-pointer to tie with 3:11 to go. A minute later, Lacey Dauses slipped an inside pass to sophomore forward Sydney Riska for the Buccaneers first lead of the game.
The Bulls could not find a way to counter that wave of momentum. A strong free-throw shooting team, they missed five of six through the middle of the fourth quarter while they still had the lead.
“The wave definitely hit us hard,” said Kraft. “You could tell on our foul shots. Those missed foul shots really hurt us. If we made those foul shots, I think our momentum would have combatted their wave.”
Plumer said that, after watching Hereford on film, he figured the switch to man defense might throw off the Bulls.
“They had some trouble with that. We’d seen it on film,” Plumer said. “I felt like we didn’t hit shots in the first half, so that kind of made things a little difficult… so the turnaround, get into the third quarter, try to press the issue a little bit and then Lacey Dauses — she’s a freshman, but she hit three baskets in a row and that just lifted everybody.”
For the Bulls, the loss marked the second straight close call to end the season. Last year, they lost to Fallston in double overtime in the state final. Although their goal of winning the program’s first championship fell short, they reached the final four for the third time in four seasons.
Orner, the Bulls only senior who will play soccer at Lynchburg, said the team had to make a few changes and fill in some roles after graduating two strong forwards from last season. The starting five, including junior guard Gabby Nieberlein, junior center Annabelle Grenzer and sophomore forward Aaliyah Stokes, played well as a unit all season.
“We found our identity, especially in our defense,” Orner said. “We knew that that 2-3 zone was what could keep us together and I think throughout the whole season, we kind of relied on our zone in order to get offensive opportunities. Once we would shut them down on defense, that’s when our offense started to pick up, pick up, pick up and we’ve done it throughout the whole season. We came up a little bit short, but I’m proud of everyone.”
CLASS 2A STATE SEMIFINAL
at Paint Branch
KENT ISLAND 41, HEREFORD 38
Hereford 17 7 13 1 — 38
Kent Island 7 8 11 15—41
Hereford—Gabby Neiberlein 3, Lauren Orner 14, Lauren Kraft 14, Annabelle Grenzer 4, Aaliyah Stocks 3. Totals: 12 7-16 38.
Kent Island — Lacey Dauses 9, Alivia Hanesworth 3, Sydney Riska 9, Caroline Cavanaugh 10, Lillian Dauses 7, Allison Corbin 3. Totals 16 3-8 41.