Hereford’s girls basketball team is all about defense.
Going into Friday night’s state Class 2A quarterfinal focused on playing a stingy zone against Harford Tech, the host Bulls made that strategy work immediately.
They jumped out to a 9-0 lead and Harford Tech shot just 26 percent for the game as the Bulls took a 37-24 victory to earn their third trip to the state semifinals in four seasons.
“That’s what we try and do every single time,” Bulls senior guard Lauren Orner said. “As soon as we hit a shot on offense, we’re locked down on defense. We work with each other and that was really key for us.”
A year ago, the Bulls reached the state title game for the first time in 40 years, but they lost to Fallston in double overtime, an experience that still remained fresh in their minds even as they celebrated the quarterfinal victory.
“Our loss in the state championship definitely fueled us for this season,” junior forward Lauren Kraft said. “We were so defeated and sad after losing. We worked so hard last year and this year, we worked even harder to get here. I feel like this year has been so much more of a journey than last year, because we lost our two bigs [to graduation], so we definitely had to work harder and this season means so much more than last year.”
The fourth-seeded Bulls (20-4), aiming for the first state championship, advance to meet No. 1 seed Kent Island (22-0), the only undefeated team left in the girls state tournament in any classification. The semifinals will be played Tuesday or Wednesday at a site to be determined.
The Bulls’ defense held Harford Tech’s top two scorers, senior forward Aniya Gibson and sophomore wing Amya Goodsell, to a combined 10 points. The duo scored 35 in Wednesday’s 41-27 semifinal victory over defending state champ Fallston.
The Cobras (19-6) forced 23 turnovers against Fallston, but the Bulls beat them at their own game Friday, forcing 17.
“We’re very familiar with it,” Harford Tech coach Brad Hunt said of the Bulls’ zone. “We just didn’t handle it very well today. We did a little better in the second half, but when your shots don’t fall. We had good looks, but some of them weren’t falling down. That’s the difference in the game.”
Although they rallied in the third quarter, hitting just one of 13 shots in the first quarter played a huge role in the Cobra’s downfall. They didn’t score in double figures in any quarter.
Harford Tech’s switching defenses did little until the third quarter to slow the Bulls, who built their lead to 26-9 on Orner’s 3-pointer to open the second half.
“During this week, preparing, we were practicing against all kinds of different defenses and I think that really paid off, because they were just throwing everything at us and people hit some big shots at key moments that really just kept us going,” said Orner, who led the Bulls with 13 points.
The Cobras rallied in the third quarter, finishing with a nine-point run and holding the Bulls scoreless for the final 7:50.
It didn’t help the Bulls to have Kraft on the bench with four fouls for the last 3:51 of the quarter, but Goodsell grabbed the moment with a putback and a short jumper off a steal to start the run. Jessica Castro added a layup off a steal and Gibson finished the quarter with a three-point play after a feed from Castro to cut the lead to 26-18.
The Cobras were within 29-21 after Sarah Hunt hit two free throws with 5:10 to go in the game, but the Bulls scored eight straight to seal the win. Orner opened the spurt with her third 3-pointer of the game. Gabby Nieberlein then hit a free throw and drove for a layup before Annabelle Grenzer capped the run with a 12-footer for a 37-21 lead with 1:25 to go.
“It seemed like we wouldn’t get a bucket, we wouldn’t get a bucket, we’re hanging onto that little bit of lead and all the sudden, we’d get what we needed…” said Hereford coach Dave Schreiner, adding that hitting some of their nine missed free throws could have put the game away earlier. “But once again, even when we didn’t score when we had opportunities, we came down the floor and we played really good defense.”
For the Cobras, who graduate just one senior, the future looks bright.
“Great season. We’ve changed the culture,” Hunt said. “It’s our second regional title in three years. Last time, we were [in the quarterfinals], it was tough, we got blown out, but this one, we were right there. We get everybody back except Aniyah and she was one of the ones to help change the culture. We’ve got goals and we fell a little short, but you’ve got to live with it and we gave our best effort.”
CLASS 2A STATE QUARTERFINAL
HEREFORD 37, HARFORD TECH 24
Harford Tech 3 6 9 6 — 24
Hereford 12 11 3 11 —37
Harford Tech — Anyia Gibson 4, Madisen Morgan, 2 Jessica Castro 8, Sarah Hunt 4, Amya Goodsell 6. Totals: 9 4-10 24.
Hereford—Gabby Nieberlein 9, Lauren Orner 13, Lauren Kraft 7, Annabelle Grenzer 5, Aaliyah Stocks 3. Totals: 13 7-16 37.