Lakeland girls advance to state tourney with win over top-seeded Hopewell

Published 8:59 pm Sunday, February 26, 2023

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By Matthew Hatfield

Contributing writer

For the third time in four years, the Lakeland girls basketball team is state tournament bound.

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Erasing a 12-point third quarter deficit, the fourth-seeded Lady Cavaliers found their groove over the game’s final eight minutes to topple top-seeded Hopewell, 43-38, in the Region 3A Tournament semifinals at the Norfolk Scope on the final Saturday of February 2023.

When Lakeland misfired on 19 of their first 20 shots from three-point range to begin the game and trailed 17-10 at half-time – which later became 22-10 minutes into the third period – it didn’t look like a comeback was possible.

“My message [at half-time] was we’re right what we wanted to be. The only reason we’re losing is because we’re missing shots.  Our defense wasn’t that bad because we held them to 17 points. We just couldn’t score at that time,” said Lakeland head coach Daryl Rountree.

“We shot a lot of three-pointers, and eventually some of them had to fall.  That’s what happened in the fourth quarter.”

Sparking Lakeland in the fourth quarter was Jaelyn Brown, who hit a three-pointer with 5:12 to go in regulation that pulled them within three. Just 50 seconds later, Kianna Gray’s three-pointer tied the game at 29-apiece. Even though Hopewell scored the next two points, Brown ignited a 7-0 run as he knocked down another three-pointer and a pair of free-throws to give the Lady Cavs a 36-31 lead with 3:08 to play.

“Honestly, I feel like we just needed to get a feel for the court. At first, we were shooting so deep because of so many lines on the court. But after we got a feel for the floor, they started falling,” Brown said.

“When you’re down, all you have to do is fight to get back.  You can’t give up.  You just have to keep pushing through.

Rountree wasn’t surprised by Brown’s late-game surge.

“She has the heart of a champion. I don’t care how many she shoots, she thinks the next one is going down,” Rountree noted. “We really needed it and that lifted us.”

Hopewell’s talented duo of Erin Edmonds and Alexis Edmonds kept the Blue Devils around, combining for 28 points and 18 rebounds. In fact, it was Hopewell possession with 52.9 seconds left and only trailing 37-35.  But the Lakeland defense stiffened the closing seconds to keep them from drawing any closer.

“We weren’t going to let them two beat us. The game-plan worked,” Rountree noted. “We frustrated them a little bit and made the other girls shoot the ball, which they didn’t want to do.”

Gray finished with a team-best 14 points for Lakeland and four steals.  Brown was their other double-figure scorer with 10 points.  Seniors Ja’Naja Artis and Nyeshia Savage together accounted for 35 of their 45 rebounds.

“Nyeshia is a board master. She averages 21 rebounds a game,” Rountree pointed out.

Almost the entire game, Lakeland relied on its starting five of Artis, Gray, Savage, Brown and freshman guard Janae Carter.

“We knew we had to run the main five today,” acknowledged Rountree, citing fatigue was a concern. “Fortunately we’re in shape and our intensity is there.”

For Brown and the other three senior starters, getting their third trip to the State Playoffs means a lot.

“It is very big, especially because we lost so many seniors last year.  Everyone’s doubting us this year, so we wanted it really bad,” Brown stated.

Lakeland (14-10) will next be in action at Scope on Tuesday, Feb. 28, in the Region 3A Championship vs. Lafayette (18-7) at 2 p.m.  Lafayette won its semifinal over Norcom, 31-30.

“We’re going to celebrate this one, come on Tuesday and try to get it all,” Rountree said. “If we win the regional, we’ll get to play at home. Then we’re going to try to keep going as long as we can.”