Lady Royals Win Conference 12 Title
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Feb 21, 2014, 22:10
David Breidenbach/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
CHESTERFIELD — Through three quarters of action, Prince George's Lady Royals found themselves in a position they have rarely been in all season long as they trailed L.C. Bird by three points entering the final eight minutes of action.
Facing their biggest test of adversity, the Lady Royals started the final frame by going on a 5-to-2 run to tie the game at 30-30 with 4:20 remaining in the game. However, much like they did all night, the Skyhawks had an answer and regained the lead on a jumper from leading-scorer Taja Cole, 36-33.
One hundred and twenty-eight seconds and a three-point deficit stood between Prince George and a Conference 12 title. The Lady Royals regrouped and were not going to let the opportunity slip away. Tiana Bowen deftly positioned herself in the low-blocks right as Tyrah Washington drove toward the paint, dishing her the ball for the score to cut the deficit to one.
Then, Ariel Stephenson — hobbled by a foot injury after taking a fall in their opening-round game — drove the lane herself to draw a foul, hitting both free throws to take a 37-36 lead. The advantage would soon disappear as the Skyhawks' Monica Alexander connected on one of her two free throws to tie the game.
Two possessions later, Prince George had the ball with 36.6 seconds remaining and were playing for the final shot and the win. Team leader Jo-Jo Taylor saw the clock dwindle to 12 before dribbling feverishly toward the baseline, drawing a foul and sending herself to the line.
With the crowd roaring, Taylor connected on both shots for only two points of the game as the Lady Royals used a defensive stop and two more Stephenson free throws to clinch a 41-37 win.
"Everybody stepped up," Prince George head coach Billy Gray said after winning the Conference 12 Title. "We made some mistakes, but we stuck together. We refused to give it up and I'm beginning to like our offense more and more in crunch time."
And Gray has reasons to like the way his team is playing in critical late-game moments.
While most teams have tried to take Stephenson out of the picture in critical moments, the Lady Royals (22-0) have converted anyway and it showed on a night where Bowen and Taylor scored four of Prince George's last eight points.
But of the 41 points Prince George scored on the night, no two were bigger and more important than Taylor's from the free-throw line. All night long it was Taylor making the defensive plays which set up Prince George scores, recording four thefts on the game. However, when the situation arose, Taylor showed the type of closing ability the Lady Royals will need if they intend to continue their undefeated season.
"Jo-Jo is just as critical and important to this team as Ariel," Gray said glowingly of his point guard. "Without her, we are not nearly as good of a team ... Jo-Jo, she's tremendous. Just absolutely tremendous."
Although, just as tremendous as Taylor's performance was that of the Prince George team-wide defensive effort.
Facing a Skyhawks (15-7) team which averages 63.1 points per game, the Lady Royals made them work for every one of their season-low 37 points. Prince George's assortment of players, including Washington, Bowen, Markia Smith and even Kiara Anderson stepped up to limit L.C. Bird's duo of Quenswayla Story and Taja Cole to just 22 combined points.
"When I first saw them, I thought my poor little girls," Gray said of the Skyhawks. "We played tall. We fronted, we scrambled, we fought. They're a really talented team, but we were able to disrupt them enough where they missed a couple and we made a couple."
David Breidenbach/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
And that's where the biggest growth has been during the season for this Lady Royals' squad.
When their backs are against the wall and a play needs to be made, they find a way to claw to victory. While Stephenson shot just 5-of-13 from the field, she was able to score 25 points for the Lady Royals, making the clutch 3-pointers when the situation dictated it.
It was the same situation which presented itself one night earlier where Prince George fought to the end against a Manchester team which played physical all game long before they answered.
"Last year's team lost these games. This year's team has matured," Gray said. "No matter how many points we are up, no matter how many points we are down, until that final buzzer, the game is not over."
Neither is Prince George's season after they reeled off their 22nd-straight victory, solidifying the confidence amongst themselves as they aim to continue their historic season against Atlee Tuesday night.