Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

Lady Royals Upset By Atlee
By Blake Belden, staff writer
Feb 26, 2014, 10:20

File Photo/The Hopewell News/News-Patriot
Tuesday night's first round of the girls' regional basketball tournament between the Prince George Royals (22-1) and the Atlee Raiders (16-8) was not a conventional or quiet game by any means. Players were in the bleachers, diving on the ground, jumping over each other, swatting balls into the audience, aggressively taking every chance to pursue the ball in an effort to keep their season alive.

Unfortunately for the Lady Royals, who exhausted what appeared to be every ounce of intensity they could muster to tie the game up following a 15-point deficit, their previously undefeated season was the one that ended on Tuesday.

Royals' head coach Billy Gray said that the game plan never changed for his team throughout the course of the game, but rather they just did what they were trying to do much better in the second half.

"We forgot to play the first half...We certainly were slow, and the girls' hearts [were] in there, but their bodies just [weren't] doing what the heart wanted to do in the first half," Gray said.

Prince George allowed the Raiders to put up 35 points in the first half, and stifled them to just 19 points in the second half.

The Royals riddled the first half with sloppy turnovers, many times off of dangerous cross court passes, and allowed for the Raiders to outrebound them, consequently scoring more points off of extra boards.

"With a team like [Atlee], [if] they get a little lucky streak..., and they played well, hit some shots on you and you're not playing well, it can get away from you. And we let it out of our grasp," Gray said, although the game wasn't really out of the Royals' grasp until the final buzzer sounded.

After making a dominant return from being down 28-13 in the second quarter, the Royals were down by just four points with under three minutes to play in the game.

Markia Smith looted the ball from Atlee's possession, bursting down the court and grabbing a layup to go down 51-49. In the possession immediately after, a wayward pass landed directly in Tiana Bowen's hands, and she deftly launched the ball to Ariel Stephenson who took the ball to the glass. Although she missed the shot, it earned her two foul shots, both of which she sank to tie the game at 51-51, sending the crowd into a calamitous uproar.

With 1:45 to play, Atlee hit a free throw to go up one point, followed by a series of turnovers on both ends of the court.

Down by two, with just six seconds left on the clock, Stephenson got fouled trying to catch a pass, getting sent to the line for a chance to tie it up again. She made the first, but couldn't complete the second, and the game ended with a last second desperation attempt at the basket. Atlee wins 54-52.

Stephenson, who shot over 80 percent from the line with 13 of 16 attempts, finished with a team high 23 points, followed by JoJo Taylor with nine points and Markia Smith with eight.

"We were fighting for our lives. They use that analogy that we're underwater and we can't breathe, that we'd do anything for the last breath. And we were pushing for that last breath," Stephenson said.

Taylor, who saw her fair share of the floor diving after the ball, said she tapped into the same give-it-everything mentality down to the last second.

"We had to hustle. We weren't at first, but we had to hustle. I didn't care if I had to run five games. I just wanted to win, it didn't matter what [it took]. But it didn't come out the way we wanted it to," Taylor said.

Despite the fact that the Lady Royals' relentless and determined comeback push couldn't continue their march forward into the regional tournament, Gray said there is still a great amount of pride to be taken from their undefeated 22-game streak through the conference championship on top of three tournament championships in one season.

"We're real proud of the kids and the coaches...Sometimes, on a given day, you just fall a little bit short, but that's not going to damper what we've accomplished," Gray said.

Taylor said that in light of the loss on Tuesday, she will always think highly of her junior season.
File Photo/The Hopewell News/News-Patriot

"I couldn't ask for better teammates...This is just a year that I'll never forget...It stinks losing now, but it was a great season," Taylor said, before exuding a hunger for redemption and overall improvement while looking forward to next year's season.

"We definitely want to play [Atlee] again, and we want to play everyone. We want to do even better than we did this year. We want to exceed our goals and just go above what we did this year," Taylor said.

Stephenson, also a junior, shared Taylor's vision for improvement in light of their achievements.

"[Our season] makes me feel that hard work pays off, but I can always work harder...Keep working. All my weaknesses will be strengths next year," Stephenson said.

Prince George will lose just one starter, Bowen, in the next season.

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