M.E. Craven hadn’t taken the court before Friday’s home game against Forsyth Central, and she won’t see it again the rest of the way. The reigning Region 5-7A player of the year has been relegated to a spectator on the bench due to injuries suffered in the offseason.
But on a night where Lambert honored its seven seniors, Craven wore her No. 22 jersey, was introduced with the Longhorns’ starters and took the court for the opening tip. Lambert head coach Jaime Fisher had it choreographed in advance with Bulldogs head coach Angela Hurt that the tip would go to Craven, and when it did Fisher promptly called a timeout to sub for the senior, who returned to the bench to a warm applause.
“Seeing her out there made my heart warm,” Lambert senior Jaleah Greene said. “… It was great seeing her out there in a jersey.”
It’s tempting to wonder what more Lambert could have been with Craven’s contributions on the court this season. With her last season, the Longhorns were a top 10 team that went on to win their first region championship in program history and reach the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.
But the Longhorns’ 64-33 victory over Central was a reminder that they haven’t suffered too much. Lambert (16-8, 8-2 Region 5-7A) closed the regular season with just two losses in region play, both to North Forsyth, and are assured another state playoff appearance having earned the No. 2 seed in this week’s region tournament.
“We have fought hard against some teams outside of region play, and I know if we had M.E. it would have helped us a lot,” senior guard Katie Schwind said. “But I think that really allowed us to work together more. … We just know (we have) to make different things work.”
Lambert’s other seniors relished the ceremonial night by taking on uncharacteristic roles. Summer Edwards, the team’s point guard, asked to play in the post early in the first quarter, and she made a hook shot to give the Longhorns their first double digit lead of the game. Greene and Sidney Chason, the team’s post players, each made 3-pointers, though Chason was more compliant with Fisher’s condition for both players before the game.
Greene drained hers for the first points of the second quarter. When she came out of the game soon after, Fisher stopped her for a friendly chat.
“She told me I wasn’t supposed to shoot it until the fourth quarter,” Greene said, “but she was like, ‘Hey, it was a good shot, so I’m not going to argue with you.’”
Lambert’s senior group, which also included Skylar Aledia and Reagan Pasonski, accounted for all but 10 of the team’s points, led by Greene with 16. Edwards added 13, while Schwind had 11. Morgan Day led Central (11-14, 3-7) with 12 points.
The Longhorns’ senior core begin their region title defense on Wednesday against the winner of South Forsyth and Milton. Last season, Craven made the free throw with 4.5 seconds left to deliver Lambert’s region championship.
Even without her, the Longhorns’ goal is the same.
“Our goal never changed,” Fisher said. “Our goal is to defend our region championship.”
Lambert boys 80, Central 51
It was possible the Longhorns could end Friday night in a three-way tie with Milton and West Forsyth for first place in Region 5-7A, necessitating two rounds of coin flips to determine seeding for this week’s region tournament.
Instead, West’s loss to South gave Lambert the top seed, by virtue of their two wins against Milton, a nice bonus for the Longhorns after a sizzling performance on Senior Night.
Lambert (19-5, 8-2 Region 5-7A) made 16 three-pointers, including five from senior Ryan Barthel, which accounted for all of his 15 points. Austin Deckard led all scorers with 17 points, while Jordan McIlwain had 14 points and Luke Champion scored 10 points.
Gray Bowline and Will Griffin had eight points apiece for Central (7-18, 2-8).