Lady Bulldogs drop game to Maryland foe
Published 10:24 pm Tuesday, January 23, 2018
By Matthew Hatfield
The King’s Fork High School girls’ basketball team is no stranger to fierce competition. Just last season, head coach Maurice Fofana saw his cast navigate an arduous path to the state championship game and come up a point short against Monacan, which featured the nation’s top-rated senior.
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Last Saturday night in Portsmouth, the Lady Bulldogs went to Churchland High School and faced Riverdale Baptist, a powerhouse program out of Maryland currently rated No. 14 in the country by USA Today, in the StatVA Classic. King’s Fork had reasonable success, even leading Riverdale by four points early in the fourth quarter. But ultimately, they ran out of gas in trying to notch one of the biggest victories in school history, falling 58-51.
“We had a really good chance,” said Fofana. “If you look back at last year, nobody really gave us a chance, and we were seconds away from winning a state championship. This was basically the same thing, because most of these kids were on that team last year, even if they didn’t play significant parts. It was sort of a David versus Goliath, trying to take down the giant, and we talked about that before the game.”
Riverdale appeared on the verge of a blowout, jumping out to a 24-11 lead on King’s Fork early in the second quarter. However, the Lady Bulldogs fought back, closing the first half on a 22-8 run. They went ahead 33-32 at halftime on a jumper from Bethune-Cookman signee Camary Harris right before the break.
“We came out slow, didn’t make shots in the first quarter and fell behind. We felt like we needed to pick up the pace a little bit. That’s normally the way we play. A lot of times if we’re playing a really good team, we will fall behind. But we have great shooters on the team, and we knew eventually if we could make some shots, it would be a game,” Fofana said.
King’s Fork (10-1 overall) converted 9-of-13 field goal tries in the second period with Nylah Young and Brianna Copeland each scoring 10 points during the half. Young and Copeland finished with 14 points apiece. Harris added 12 points, nine assists and four steals.
Those three, along with starters Neecole Brown and Lydia Goolsby, provided the Lady Bulldogs with an attack well-rounded enough to hang in versus their mighty foe.
“We’re more balanced, definitely more experienced, and I think we shoot the ball much better this year than last year,” Fofana said. “Our focus last year was trying to get the ball to Amesha [Miller] and Nylah. Now, we spread it out with guards and still have Nylah inside.”
Each team scored 11 points in the third period, and King’s Fork maintained the lead until Riverdale Baptist caught them and tied the score with 3:58 remaining.
In the end, Riverdale’s marquee player — 6-foot-5-inch forward Shakira Austin — was simply too much to handle. Rated the No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2018 by ESPN and signed to play at Maryland, Austin was one of three Riverdale players that scored in double figures, finishing with 16 points. She also had 12 rebounds, two blocks and altered several other shot attempts around the basket.
“We really felt that with their size, it could be a challenge for them to match up. At the end, we wanted to pull them out and match it up. We just didn’t execute as well as I wanted us, plus we only played six kids, and we were a little exhausted,” Fofana said.
Fatigue caught up with King’s Fork down the stretch, as they went just 2-of-12 from the field in the final stanza.
“That was one of the main reasons I wanted us to pull it out,” Fofana pointed out. “I felt like if we could keep it in distance and range with the way our kids shoot, we can make a basket.”
Even though Riverdale went on a 12-0 run during the fourth quarter and prevented King’s Fork from landing the signature win, Fofana felt there were some positives to take away from the effort his team gave against a top-tier opponent.
“We take this and we’ll build on it, because we won’t see anybody else with a player 6’7” or 6’8” the rest of the year in the Southeastern District,” Fofana said. “There’s no way that we should play the way we did in this game and have a drop-off if we keep everything at that level with our energy.”