At the end of the first quarter of the Lambert girls basketball team’s state quarterfinal matchup against Collins Hill on Tuesday, the score was 12-12. The Lady Longhorns had been gap-sound on defense and patient and selective on offense, and better yet, they had drawn seven fouls without committing any.
Things were looking pretty good. No, even better than that.
“It was looking great,” Lambert interim head coach Carolyn Whitney said, with emphasis on the last word.
That outlook changed quickly. Lambert began to rush through possessions, and Collins Hill’s shooters heated up. The Lady Eagles opened the second quarter with 10 unanswered points, took a 12-point lead into halftime and began the third quarter on a 13-2 run. Lambert made a valiant push in the fourth quarter, at one point getting the margin within single digits, but couldn’t prevent its season from ending with a 57-46 loss.
But the Lady Longhorns’ mood after the game was far from morose, for a number of reasons. Firstly, they had made the deepest playoff run in school history, all after Whitney took over the head coaching duties from Jaime Fisher, who gave birth before the playoffs. The way they finished Tuesday’s game certainly improved the mood as well.
Lambert opened the fourth quarter with an 11-2 run of its own, and Collins Hill (25-4) couldn’t find the offensive rhythm that let it dominate the second and third quarters.
Junior forward M.E. Craven almost singlehandedly kept the Lambert deficit manageable late in the fourth quarter, scoring twice and getting to the line two more times in the final two minutes. She led all scorers with 21 points, even while missing nine free throws.
Craven said the Lady Longhorns’ turnaround came partly from better shot selection and patience, but it was also an effort to avoid letting down part of the team.
“I think it came from the seniors,” Craven said. “We really just wanted to win for the seniors.”
Whitney saw extra defensive intensity, pressing and trapping as factors to Lambert’s run. It just wasn’t quite enough to offset the barrage that the Lady Eagles had poured in before and after halftime.
“I just wish we did that a little earlier,” Whitney said.
Lambert (26-3) could have the tools for another deep run next year, as Craven, point guard Summer Edwards and forward Jaleah Greene are set to return for their senior seasons.
“I’m glad we picked it up in the fourth quarter, or everyone would have been a little bit more upset,” Whitney said. “But they’re proud of each other, they’re proud of themselves, because what they’ve accomplished this year … I mean, they made school history.”