With the Region VI-5A lead on the line Friday night, Sumter High School varsity girls interim head coach Jeff Schaffer said his young team played its best game of the season on its home floor against Carolina Forest.
Unfortunately for the Lady …
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Unfortunately for the Lady Gamecocks, it came in a losing effort.
Latrice Lyons hit two free throws with four seconds left in regulation to put Sumter up 42-39, completing a 9-0 Lady Gamecock run, but that left just enough time for the Lady Panthers to find long-range specialist Ellen Nardella open for a game-tying 3-point basket, her third of the night, at the buzzer.
CF rode the momentum of that dramatic swing into overtime, scoring the first five points of the extra 4-minute period and holding on for a 52-49 victory.
The result broke Sumter's 8-game winning streak and left the Lady Gamecocks at 11-4 overall and 3-1 in region play. Meanwhile, CF pushed its record to 12-4 and 4-0.
"It was a great ball game for the fans. I wish it would have been a little better for our fans," Schaffer said. "We were at the foul line and shooting those two shots, and I told the girls when we were in the timeout (called by CF before Lyons' free throws) that we've got to make sure nothing gets behind us. So we were trying to pressure the ball after Latrice hit those free throws and they were able to get that long pass off to their best shooter. We just didn't get back quick enough to recover, to close out on her, and a lot of that is just youth. We've just got to learn to play through that kind of stuff, and we will. We'll get better at that as we go on."
Lyons, the only senior on the floor for Sumter, stepped into the starting lineup with Tamerah Brown unable to play and tallied 16 points and seven rebounds, including 6-of-6 free throw shooting, all in the second half, and two threes.
"Latrice is really my only senior that gets a lot of playing time," Schaffer said. "She missed about six games early in the season, so she's still kind of trying to get her basketball legs back under her. I challenged her tonight and said we're playing without Tamerah so somebody else is going to have to step up and take up the slack, and it's (your) time. It's your senior year and you need to go out on top and play just as hard as you can for as long as you can, and she responded, I think, well to that. That's what you expect from a senior, hitting those foul shots and hitting that three in the overtime period. That's a senior stepping up and doing what she's supposed to do, and hopefully our younger kids will see that and learn from it."
After seeing victory slip out of its grasp in regulation, Sumter fell down by five after a Cheyenne Pyles-Moultrie free throw and two Alexis Tomlin baskets before Lyons answered with a three at the 1:24 mark of overtime. The Lady Panthers hit five of six free throws to close the game, with Sumter getting two free throws from Nina Edlow and a Layken Cox follow. With :0.6 on the clock and trailing by three, the Lady Gamecocks could only get off a Carnasia Wells mid-court heave after the buzzer had sounded
Sumter went through a stretch of sloppy ball handling in the opening period that resulted in eight Lady Panther steals and nine points off those steals. As a result, the Lady Gamecocks did not get off a shot over the second half of the period and saw an 11-8 lead evaporate to a 17-11 deficit heading into the second quarter.
"You've got to be able to make the passes, and we're still making eighth-grade passes," Schaffer said. "You can't make eighth-grade passes against a senior-laden team, as Carolina Forest is. It was difficult to get us into our offense because we were making bad passes and, of course, it was creating turnovers. When we started passing the ball a little bit better, some things clicked for us on offense. They have to continue to learn to play and work their way through some of those things."
Lyons scored the first five points of the second period, including a trey, to pull Sumter within one and a Cox putback with 1:38 to go in the half put the Lady Gamecocks up 20-19. Baskets by Tomlin and Lyons left Sumter with a 22-21 lead at the break, setting the stage for an exciting third quarter that saw five lead changes and a tie before a Tomlin bucket gave the Lady Panthers a 30-28 advantage heading into the fourth.
Schaffer said the back-and-forth nature of the game, which had four ties and 15 lead changes, and the almost playoff-like atmosphere should serve his team well as a tough stretch of region games continues with a trip to Conway on Tuesday.
"That can't do anything but help my young kids," Schaffer said. "Tonight I had three sophomores, a freshman and a senior (starting) out there, and that's just going to make them better down the road. The more times you get into that type of situation, the more you get comfortable with it, and we have to learn to play when we're not comfortable. We have to learn to get through those types of things and play when things aren't going our way, and we'll continue to work on that. We stress it every day in practice, and they're getting better at it. They may not see it, but I can see it."
Edlow added 10 points for Sumter while Cox closed with nine points and seven boards and Dynasia Jackson grabbed six rebounds to go with four points.
Tomlin topped all scorers with 23 while Pyles-Moultrie added 17 for the Lady Panthers.
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