By Christian Lynch
Highland’s star duo of Ayanna Bey (21 points, 14 rebounds) and Azana Baines (19 points, 11 rebounds) dominated the court. This win for Highland put them in control of the Tri-County Conference Royal Division title race.
Since then, all Highland has done was continue to win and entered their second game with Kingsway with an incredible 22-0 record. They had a season’s worth of momentum and the memory of a resounding victory over the Lady Dragons.
But the Lady Dragons had other plans.
This time, Kingsway came out of the gate firing on all cylinders and smacked the Tartans early and often. With a stifling defensive effort that held Highland to just 15 points at half time, the Dragons then outscored the Tartans 17-6 in the third quarter to ice the game. The duo of Bey and Baines, who thrashed the Dragons earlier in the season, were held to nine and seven points respectively.
When it was all said and done, the Dragons thoroughly defeated Highland 47-28, holding the Tartans to almost half of the offensive outpoint that they generated in their previous meeting.
This win ended Highland’s quest for seasonal perfection. This was noteworthy as Highland was the last remaining undefeated team in New Jersey. More importantly, it clinched a share of the Royal Division title, their third in a row.
Coach Karyn Pickard, who now stands at 336 career wins, was expectedly excited about the win and the momentum that it will generate.
“Right now, we are playing well together, as a group of girls collectively,” said Pickard. “We have come together. It is difficult to shut down five girls, as opposed to one or two girls. Right now we have five weapons out there on the court.”
“Offensively, they have bought into “Go!” as our offensive mantra,” Pickard continued. “They want to push it, and they enjoy pushing it. However, our defensive success is the key to it all. You cannot have a sound transition game without defense to generate these opportunities.”
Looking ahead, the Lady Dragons now are a true threat in the tough South Jersey Group 4 field. After tune-up games against Sterling and Lenape, they will face conference rival Clearview in the first round of the playoffs.
“The sky is the limit for these girls’” said Pickard. “We are peaking at the right time, and I hope these girls feel that way. They are the epitome of ‘team’ with no outside distractions. That is what makes a team crumble, and we have kept that outside of our circle. We are one right now, and that always is tough to beat.”
It appears that the South Jersey Group 4 field should be on notice.