Howard cools off No. 14 Long Reach, creates HoCo girls hoops deadlock; Sanchez-Henry scores 18 (VIDEO HERE!)

Marisa Sanchez-Henry had 18 points Monday for Howard in its victory over No. 14 Long Reach. The victory moves the 10th-ranked Lions in a first-place tie in the Howard County girls basketball standings.

Howard High girls’ basketball team has had a tough time dealing with prosperity this season. The Lions have followed a quality win with a loss several times, but find themselves in position for another Howard County title.

No. 10 Howard defeated 14th-ranked Long Reach, 57-50, in a critical league match in Ellicott City. Marisa Sanchez-Henry finished with 18 points for the Lions (16-3 overall, 12-3 Howard) and Emily Durkee and Gabby Scott each added 10.

After establishing a 14-point advantage early, Howard weathered a Lightning second half push to move into a first-place tie with their Columbia rivals with one league match left. The Lions have won four of the last five HoCo league titles.

Howard can make it five of six with a victory against Marriotts Ridge Friday. The Lions are in position thanks in part of victories against contenders Oakland Mills and Reservoir at home.

But each of those key victories were followed with a loss.

“We’ve had big wins and haven’t given that same effort in the next game,” said Lions coach Scott Robinson. “We have to learn, but I think the girls are pretty focused now.”

“We get excited after playing a really good team and winning,” said Sanchez-Henry. “I don’t feel we put the same effort against other teams and that’s made us vulnerable.”

The Lions were locked in Monday against Long Reach, which handed them a 47-43 defeat back in December. Howard, thanks to a 11-0 spurt, enjoyed a 23-9 advantage in the first half.

“We all watched the film and the next day in practice we worked on rebounding and defensive drills,” said Sanchez-Henry. “Coach [Robinson] has emphasized whatever happens on defense we’ll get back on offense.”

Long Reach cut the margin to 29-24 at halftime, and drew to 38-36 after two free throws from Jalyn Richardson late in the third. Howard answered with eight straight points, capped with a nifty layup by Sanchez-Henry, pushing the lead to 46-36 with 6 minutes, 47 seconds left in regulation.

Robinson said he switched to a triangle-and-two defense to keep the Lightning offense off-balanced.

“The Swann sisters are such great players and they’re very difficult to defend,” said Robinson. “Our girls brought energy tonight.”

Lyric Swann, an UMBC recruit, led all scorers with 22 points for Long Reach (13-5, 12-3 Howard), which lost in league play for the first time since back-to-back losses in mid-December.

“I think we played even after getting down double digits, but that really ended up being the difference,” said Lightning coach Kelli Cofield, last year’s VSN Coach of the Year. “I like how we played for 28 minutes and kept battling…we’ve positioned ourselves.”

Howard hosts Marriotts Ridge Friday and Long Reach welcomes Glenelg. If both win, they will share the HoCo crown for the second straight season.

No. 10 Howard 57, No. 14 Long Reach 50

Long Reach –┬áL. Swann 21, Ford 7, Richardson 7, J. Swann 6, Thompson 6, Streeter 3. Totals 19 8-19 50.

Howard –┬áSanchez-Henry 18, Durkee 10, Scott 10, Russell 9, Harris 8, Malagar 2. Totals 23 5-18 57.

Long Reach 9 15 12 14 – 50

Howard 18 11 11 17 – 57