No. 6 Long Reach pulls away from Chesapeake-Anne Arundel for first state girls’ basketball final four berth; Swann sisters combine for 38 (VIDEO HERE!)

by Donald Daniels

Since taking over as Long Reach High girls’ basketball coach nine seasons, Kelli Cofield talked about the Lightning taking that next step.

They finally did it Saturday. No. 6 Long Reach made history, defeating Chesapeake-Anne Arundel, 77-58, in the Class 3A East Region final in Howard County.

Four players, led by Lyric Swann’s 22 points, scored for Long Reach. Jaelyn Swann and Kiana Williams each netted 16, and Arianna Briggs-Hall finished with 14.

For the first time, Long Reach is off to the state final four. The Lightning, the Howard County co-champ will collide with ninth-ranked and Baltimore City Division I champ Poly, Thursday night at Towson University’s SECU Arena, in a 3A state semifinal.

“It feels like such a relief because it feels like every year since getting here in 2009, we’ve taken another step. It was almost like last year God was telling us ‘Not yet, you’re not yet ready for it.’ And that hurt, it hurt the girls and I think they remembered that feeling,” Cofield said. “You keep that in the back of your memory and you don’t want to have that feeling ever again.”

A year ago, Long Reach watched as Atholton received the region championship plaque on its Columbia home court. Saturday, after its fans stormed the court in celebration, the Lightning finally hoisted the championship plaque.

It wasn’t easy. Long Reach needed a 17-3 run to finally extinguished Chesapeake, which was denied its first region crown since 2002. The Pasadena school, which battled back from a 28-point deficit before falling, 61-51, to the Lightning at the start of the new year, trailed 37-34 at halftime Saturday.

Brooke Worrell’s 3-pointer got Chesapeake even at 51 with 55 seconds remaining in the third. Long Reach scored the final four points of the period, and.Jaelyn Swann buried her fourth 3-pointer of the game to open the fourth.

Then, Lightning strike. In a span of less than three minutes midway through the quarter, Long Reach scored 14 unanswered points.

“We knew that we just had to keep going what we were doing and things would eventually break through, and it did,” said Williams, who will play for Bethune-Cookman College next season.

Worrell, a Morgan State recruit, finished with a game-high 26 points and Haley Downin finished with 20 for Chesapeake (19-6). The Cougars trailed 27-18 after the opening period, but stayed close with the hosts until the fourth.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the things we’ve done this season,” Chesapeake coach Maria Gray said. “I mean, they’ve had some big moments along the way with beating Old Mill and knocking off the 38-game in-season win streak. A buzzer-beater at Meade, we’ve just had some amazing moments.”

Long Reach, which only lost to fifth-ranked Howard and second-ranked McDonogh School, is hoping to produce some memories this week at SECU Arena.

“We’re making history and to do it my senior year, it means a lot,” Williams said. “I told my girls, I am all 100 [percent] for the rest of the year. And they were with me, so just knowing that they’ve got my back and I’ve got theirs … it’s just like a family.”

Class 3A East Region girls’ basketball championship

No. 6 Long Reach 77, Chesapeake-Anne Arundel 58

Chesapeake: Worrell 26, Downin 20, Smith 7, Castle 3, Chew 2. Totals 23 19-29 58.

Long Reach: L. Swann 22, J. Swann 16, Williams 16, Briggs-Hall 14, Thompson 5, Streeter 4. Totals 29 15-21 77.