Eagles beat Highland in clash of contenders
Lancaster moves into tie for first
LANCASTER — The Lancaster girls’ basketball team has always been the hunted. Especially the last handful of years.
It found itself in unfamiliar territory when it hosted Highland on Thursday evening.
The Eagles were actually the hunters as the Bulldogs held a slim ½-game lead atop the Golden League standings.
Rayshanti McNeal-Price and the rest of her teammates weren’t quite ready to give up their title.
McNeal-Price led the game with 17 points and was a perfect 5-of-5 from the free throw line to help put the Eagles back on top of the league standings with a 41-31 victory over Highland at Lancaster High School.
“I thought both teams played well and this was a very fun game for us. It was very important because we wanted to knock them off (top),” McNeal-Price said. “We’re taking one game at a time. We played so much better than we did in our last game (in a loss against Knight). We have to continue to keep practicing hard.”
With the victory, the Eagles now hold an 8-1 record in league along with Knight, which gave Lancaster its first league loss on Tuesday. Highland dropped to 8-2 in league. The Bulldogs have one more game with the Hawks, and on Feb. 7 at Lancaster, the Eagles and Knight meet in the season finale which could determine the outright league champion.
“I thought we played really well in the first half, but we dug ourselves a hole. We tend to be a comeback team. We didn’t play well in the third quarter and third quarters have been some of our worst quarters,” Bulldogs head coach Jeff Sisson said. “But I’m proud of the girls. Lancaster had a game plan and they executed it well. We still have to continue the season and hopefully we’ll finish strong. We can definitely move past this. We learn from our losses and learn from our mistakes. We beat ourselves tonight.”
Sisson was on point with his assessment of his team’s third quarter. It was a third quarter that Highland would like to forget. The Bulldogs were held to only three points in the quarter and didn’t score until 5½ minutes when Eriel Banks hit a layup to break the drought. Banks hit a free throw later in the quarter to account for all the Bulldogs’ points.
Lancaster (13-5) led 20-16 after the first two quarters. It scored the first five points of the second half to grab a 25-16 lead. Vanessa Fletes hit a bucket with less than a minute remaining to give the Eagles a 29-19 lead.
“I was impressed with our defense tonight. I’m so proud of how we came together tonight. This was an overall great team win,” first-year Lancaster head coach Jessica Morrison said. “We start off slow, but that’s who we are. I thought we made some good
adjustments. I’m beyond pleased with this victory. The girls played the entire game from start to finish. Now we just have to win out.”
Fletes hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter and give her team a 32-19 lead, Lancaster’s largest of the game. However, the Bulldogs showed resilience as they scored the next five points, all by Mi’elli Cavins to cut the lead to 32-24.
Things started to heat up later in the quarter as Azha Dickson converted the old-fashioned 3-point play and the Eagles’ lead was cut to only seven, 34-27, with 3½ minutes remaining in the game. Following a turnover by Lancaster, a layup by Kimberly Leon trimmed the lead to 34-29.
The Eagles felt a little more comfortable after McNeal-Price converted a 3-point play of her own after being fouled to extend the lead to 37-29.
A block, rebound and coast-to-coast layup by Brooklyn Curry inflated the lead back to 10, 3929 with less than three minutes. The Bulldogs committed four egregious turnovers on four consecutive possessions and they couldn’t respond.
“We did really (well), but we just fell short. I think we were a little nervous out there. This game was determination for first place and we win as a team and we lose as a team,” said Banks. “We just have to go back in the gym and work on certain things. We knew coming in that this game was going to be a battle and it could go either way. We’ll just finish the rest of the season and see what happens.”
Mea Madison had 10 points for the Eagles and Dickson finished with nine.
JOHN SANDERS/Valley Press Sports Correspondent LOOSE BALL — Lancaster junior Rayshanti McNeal-Price (25) goes after the ball against a Highland player during a Golden League game on Thursday at Lancaster High School. Lancaster won the game 41-31 against Highland.
JUMPER — A Lancaster girls basketball player takes a shot while defended by a Highland player in a Golden League game at Lancaster High on Thursday.