Lady Cavs cool in the clutch

Published 2:04 pm Friday, January 22, 2016

The Lakeland High School girls’ basketball team went to I.C. Norcom High School on Thursday knowing their Conference 27 rivals were on a six-game winning streak, but the Lady Cavaliers proved they can face down a challenge.

In the fourth quarter, Norcom had tied the game 77-77. With five seconds to go, Lakeland sophomore guard Makayla Dickens threw a pass down the sideline to sophomore guard Kayla Barnes.

“She went to the basket hard with the intent on making a shot,” Lady Cavs coach Brandey Blunt said.

Email newsletter signup

Barnes was fouled with four-tenths of a second on the clock and headed to the line for two free throws.

She is one of Lakeland’s best free throw shooters, but she missed the first shot, sending the home team’s crowd and cheerleaders into a frenzy.

Blunt was thinking, “We cannot go into overtime in this game.”

But then Barnes, one of Lakeland’s trio of stars, seemed to take charge.

“Kayla just looks over at all of us, and she goes, ‘I got this,’” Blunt said. “She went to the line with so much confidence, like nothing was at stake.”

And then she knocked down the shot.

Norcom called a timeout, then attempted a last-moment shot down the floor that missed. The Lady Cavaliers came away with a 78-77 victory.

“They really fought hard,” Blunt said.

Lakeland is in second place in the conference behind Tabb High School, but Norcom is in third, right on the Lady Cavs’ heels.

Though her team has made a habit of slow starts at times this season, Blunt said she impressed upon her players that they cannot wait around for things to happen — they need to make them happen and play hard all four quarters.

They came through for her on Thursday, matching the Lady Greyhounds in the first quarter with 20 points. Norcom held a small lead at halftime, 34-31, but then Lakeland recovered to lead 59-55 after the third period.

Though the Lady Cavs established a cushion on the scoreboard in the second half, “we just couldn’t pull away,” Blunt said, and then Norcom went on a shooting spree.

Lakeland was also in serious foul trouble. Its leading scorer in the game, sophomore guard Brianna Copeland, fouled out with about a minute to go. Junior center Deja Freeman also fouled out during the game, while Barnes and Dickens were playing with four fouls at the end.

The Lady Cavs followed their coach’s instruction to find ways to win.

“I was impressed with the fact that we could almost score 80 points as a team,” Blunt said, noting Lakeland produces about 60 points a game on average.

Dickens recorded the first triple-double of her high school career, producing 22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

“I was very impressed with her, because she plays an all-around game,” Blunt said.

Copeland finished with a team-high 28 points to go with three boards, Barnes had 14 points and seven assists and Freeman was an important presence in the post against Norcom’s six-footers, grabbing nine rebounds and adding six points.

Lakeland (10-5) visits Denbigh High School on Feb. 2.