• 66°

Lady Bulldogs start strong at Churchland

&uot;Nobody expected us to be here,&uot; said King’s Fork girls basketball head coach Tim Goetz after losing to Hampton in the second round of the Eastern Region playoffs last year.

Tuesday night, after watching his team beat Churchland on the road in the season opener, Goetz said: &uot;It’s a lot more pressure being the hunted.&uot; What a difference one year can make.

King’s Fork shocked many last season with their 23-4 record (14-2 district), dropping only three contests in the regular season, all within five points and all to district champions Indian River. The team was built around a solid core of then-underclassmen, especially Ta’Shauna Rodgers, Ransheeda Jennings,

Keosha Riddick and Brittney Holloway, all of whom have only gotten stronger and more consistent in the off-season.

Rodgers, now a sophomore, is full of confidence after taking the Southeastern District by storm as a freshman, scoring 18.7 ppg, making her a potent force on offense.

&uot;The big difference is that our young kids are now a year older, they have that much more experience and that much more confidence,&uot; said Goetz.

&uot;Sugar is more confident, and she was a very confident player already last year.&uot;

Jennings, who led the team Tuesday with 18 points and six rebounds, is now a junior who has wheels fast enough to drive the lane and hustle back to be a presence on defense. Holloway, now one of the team’s three seniors, is a serious threat from beyond the three-point line.

&uot;I think we’re already an improved team from where we were last year,&uot; said Holloway, &uot;we need to beat Indian River this year.&uot;

&uot;If we play as a team we’ll be good.

We have confidence in what we’re doing,&uot; said Rodgers.

&uot;I still haven’t found a leader, though,&uot; said Goetz about replacing Latoya King and Tanisha Williams, the two seniors KF lost to graduation last year.

&uot;They were strong leaders in the locker-room and we’ll miss them, but this gives Keosha Riddick a chance to step up.&uot; Riddick, another of the team’s seniors, is the tall center who serves as a foundation on defense and can dominate the boards on offense.

KF is awaiting the first Indian River rematch at home on Jan. 9. First, though, a series of tough opponents will get their shot at Rodgers and the Lady Bulldog squad.

&uot;We’re confident we’re going to win the district,&uot; said Riddick.

&uot;We know each other and we know how we’re going to play.&uot;

There are five new Lady Bulldogs on this year’s squad, four who come up from the JV team.

&uot;He’s gotten harder in practice,&uot; said Rodgers about her coach as no one wants to settle for last year’s record.

&uot;There’s been more sweat and more running, and no more videos,&uot; said Riddick.

About the newcomers, Riddick said, &uot;if they aren’t real nervous, they’ll be fine.

If they just play and don’t try to impress people, they just need to be themselves.&uot;

With the arsenal loaded, the Lady Bulldogs took the court Tuesday night at Churchland, overcoming a weak first half to stride away with a 63-49 victory on the strength of four players in double-digit points. Rodgers registered a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds. The only non-starter in double-digits was junior Latonia Gatling, who scored 10 points and had such a remarkable swagger that Goetz said: &uot;If we could give the game ball to anyone, it would be Toni.&uot;

The first quarter went according to the KF game plan, as the Lady Bulldogs rushed to an 11-2 start, capped by a tough shot from underneath the basket by junior Margaret Farris.

The Lady Truckers made a comeback in the second, nailing a three-pointer late in the period to take a brief one-point lead until the Lady Bulldogs rallied with nine unanswered points to win the half, 27-20. After the break, KF continued the rally with a Jennings three and fast-break lay-up on a steal from Rodgers, giving the visitors a double-digit lead that didn’t fade.

The second half was dominated by the Lady Bulldogs defense, as they shut down Churchland shooters and forced errant perimeter shots from every angle. While the Lady Truckers relied on the occasional three-point ball falling, KF tried only 14 shots from beyond the arc and Jennings converted the only two successful attempts. From the line, the Lady Bulldogs were 17-for-27 and were 20-for-41 from the field.

&uot;Overall, we were just more athletic,&uot; said Goetz. Having won the season opener, Goetz quickly reverts back to his long-term mantra: &uot;If we keep working hard in practice, we’ll be a tough contender in the district.&uot;

&uot;We have Hickory on Friday,&uot; said Goetz. &uot;That’ll be a big game back at our house.&uot; Last season King’s Fork was 2-0 against the Hawks, including an 83-59 win at home.