WEB EXCLUSIVE: Glass half empty: Second half foils Lady Leopards' upset bid over Seguin
The Lovejoy girls basketball team couldn't have schemed a better first half than the one exhibited Friday against state-ranked Arlington Seguin.
The second half was another story though, with the Lady Leopards failing to find the requisite offense to keep up with Class 4A's No. 17 team in a 37-31 loss that curtailed Lovejoy's season in the area playoffs.
"I'm not into moral victories," said Lisa Branch, Lovejoy head coach. "I thought we had a great game plan going in and had a very good chance of winning that ball game."
Dealing Seguin a 2-3 zone throughout the night, the Lady Leopards' defense confounded the Lady Cougars in the first half. That was evident from the onset as Seguin knocked down just one of its first 16 shots from the field.
"Our plan was to stay in that zone and pack the paint," Branch said. "We wanted to make them make their outside shots and luckily for us, they weren't falling. They pressed a bit more in the second quarter and picked up the pressure, and we didn't handle it well."
Lovejoy flirted with fate all game due to its ball security, surrendering the ball 20 times in the first half and still holding a 13-11 lead at the break.
While their defense was able to overcome the turnovers early -- holding the Lady Cougars to just two points in the first quarter -- Seguin's pressure finally caught up to Lovejoy in the third as it was outscored, 14-8.
"[Seguin] changed it up a bit and went with a full-court 2-2-1 press on us and a 1-3-1 half-court press," Branch said. "They kept us off-balance offensively by changing their defenses."
On Lovejoy's end, the heroics of junior Shani Rainey weren't enough this time.
Compiling nearly 60 percent of the Lady Leopards' points just three days earlier in a 40-33 bi-district win over Mount Pleasant, Rainey one-upped that feat by scoring 23 of Lovejoy's 31 points -- 74.2 percent of the team's total -- Friday.
"We rode that horse until the buzzer sounded," Branch said. "[Rainey] was ready and mentally prepared for the game. She was focused and did everything in her power to help us win the game."
The requisite support wasn't found on offense, with the remainder of Lovejoy's scoring ledger featuring three points from both freshman Annie Lenoir and sophomore Samantha Odom, plus two points from senior Morgan Hancock.
"Shani created some easy offense with her defense," Branch said. "The others were getting good shots that weren't falling and I think it affected their confidence."
Seguin further capitalized, outscoring Lovejoy, 26-18, over the final two quarters to fend off the Lady Leopards' upset bid. The 37-31 loss finalized a 16-18 season for Lovejoy in its first run through 4A, including a 10-4 run in District 13-4A.
Attention now turns toward the offseason, where Lovejoy is projected to return all but one player -- Hancock -- for next season.
"I'm a perfectionist and a competitor," Branch said. "I don't like to lose and this is the first time I've ever had a losing record overall. That motivates me to do more next year and to push the girls harder. At the same time, I'm pleased with this team's first year in 4A and there are a lot of good things for us to build on."
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