SOMERSET — The Lincoln County girls took the first step toward defending their 12th Region title as they knocked off Somerset.
The Lady Patriots jumped out to a 23-17 lead in the first quarter then struggled through offensive slumps in the second and third periods before making some adjustments and coming away with a 62-43 win over the Lady Briar Jumpers in the first round of the tournament Thursday at Pulaski County High School.
“I talk to the girls all the time about a game being a lot like a puzzle, and that if the pieces don’t fit together it makes things ugly,” Lincoln coach Cassandra McWhorter said. “It was like we were missing pieces in the middle of the game, but at the end we got it put together and it came out a pretty picture.”
The pieces started coming together for Lincoln (25-5) near the end of the third period when Ciara Saylor bombed in a 3-point goal to ignite a 23-4 run and turn a 32-27 lead into a rout.
Lincoln had scored only three field goals in a span of 13 minutes, 40 seconds over the second and third quarters before Saylor swished the nets for the 3.
“Those second and third quarters went really slowly,” McWhorter said. “We quit pushing the ball, and their defense, zone, had a lot to do with it. Some of our shots weren’t falling and our intensity on defense let down a little bit. It was kind of an ugly stretch right there in the middle of the game, but towards the end of that third quarter and into the fourth quarter we got things going the way we wanted. We really got things rolling and finished strong, which was important.”
Kourtney Belcher followed the Saylor trey with a bucket in the paint and Sydney Harris put up a jumper to close the third quarter with Lincoln on top 39-29. Harris, who finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and four steals, tallied seven of her points in the Lady Pat run, including a 3-point goal to open the fourth quarter.
Emily Fox, who led the Lady Patriots with 19 points, four rebounds, two steals and two assists, also drained a 3-pointer to boost the lead. Saylor added two free throws and reserve forward Tiandra Hocker came off the bench to score six straight points, four off turnovers, as Lincoln extended its lead to 55-31.
“When those pieces come in and we put them all together right, things look good. And that happened tonight for Tiandra. She was a big piece for our puzzle,” McWhorter said. “Sydney struggled a little bit the first half and was a little frustrated, but she did a good job of stepping up and hitting shots in the second half that helped get things going. Then we bring Tiandra in off the bench. She gave us a huge lift with energy and momentum. Out there in the press she was able to get some layups because of deflections and their turnovers, and got things rolling for us.”
Virginia Scott, who led Somerset with 17 points and four rebounds, sank two free throws during the Lincoln run and Miranda Mills, who had 10 points and seven rebounds, scored on a putback.
Lincoln, which shot 47 percent (22-for-47) overall from the field, blistered the nets during the 23-4 run, going 11-for-13. Lincoln was 7-for-19 from 3 on the night, and 11-for-14 at the charity stripe.
Somerset (13-18) was at 37 percent (12-for-43) overall from the the field, but only 1-for-13 during Lincoln’s scoring blitz. The Lady Briar Jumpers were 5-for-15 from 3-point range and 14-for-16 at the free throw line.
As the final horn sounded Thursday night, McWhorter breathed a sigh of relief. Her 45th District champion Lady Patriots had already defeated the Lady Briar Jumpers, the 47th District runners-up, 60-42 in the regular season, but she admitted she was anxious about the rematch.
“Regular season is regular season and at tournament time anything can happen,”¿she said. “I was a little concerned coming in because it had been almost a week since we had played, and I was wondering how they’d come out. But we have the advantage of having the boys region tournament right there at our place, and our girls had seen in three of the four games in that tournament that the district runner-up won the first game. I think it opened our eyes to things. They knew that Somerset was capable of coming in and beating them.”
Somerset owned the early lead, with Bethany Edwards opening the game with a three-point play. Harris sank two free throws to get Lincoln started then Fox hit for the first of her four 3-point goals in the game and a 5-3 lead.
Scott went inside for her first two points to tie the game at 5-all. Scoring would come in three’s over the next three possession with a Belcher three-point play for Lincoln sandwiched between two Somerset 3-point goals by Edwards and Scott for an 11-8 Lady Briar Jumpers edge.
Rachel Spangler ended the run of three’s with a putback midway of the first then Fox drove the baseline for two points to put Lincoln on top to stay 12-11. The margin was 18-17 with less than a minute left in the first when Fox went inside for a bucket then stepped behind the arc for a 3 to make it a 23-17 ballgame.
Scoring was at a minimum in the second quarter, with Lincoln holding a 6-4 edge to post a 29-21 lead at halftime. The Lady Pats were 2-for-10 in the second period and the Lady Briar Jumpers, 2-for-7.
Fox scored first in the second half to give Lincoln its first 10-point lead. Erica Ford hit a 3-point goal for Somerset and Scott collected three free throws to trim the lead down to 32-27 before the Lady Pats put the game away.
“I think we are a little anxious and reserved at times, but I think experience and cool heads came through tonight, and the eagerness to come out on top prevailed in the end,” McWhorter said.