The Lady Longhorns of Class AAAAA had already posted wins over Lassiter, Marietta and Hillgrove this year, but Saturday’s 49-44 victory at AAAAAA power North Cobb will go down as their biggest victory of the season to date.
“What a statement game for Kell,” coach Craig Hines said. “(North Cobb) is ranked No. 2 in AAAAAA. Matt (Williams) is a great coach and they have great athletes. To beat a team like that, I’m proud of the girls.”
Kell (12-2) played a half-court man-to-man defense for most of the game, giving North Cobb fits. The Lady Warriors (14-3) also struggled in nailing open shots — really showing in the third quarter, when they missed their first 10 shot attempts and went scoreless for nearly 6 minutes.
With North Cobb clinging to a one-point lead at the half, Kell opened the third quarter with 10 unanswered points.
The game took a huge turn in Kell’s favor when China Henderson, who led with 13 points, hit a layup off a steal, only seconds after teammate Santavia Grant had laid it in. Henderson’s bucket prompted North Cobb to call timeout with 4:19 left.
Even though the Lady Warriors kept Kell in check defensively after the timeout, it would be another 2 minutes before they scored a point. The drought ended when Jordan Gray hit a 3 from the left corner, but even she was flirting with a miss as the ball hit the rim before falling in.
“We came out flat in the third quarter,” Williams said. “We had open looks and couldn’t knock them down. We talked at the half about having to set the tone (in the third quarter), and (Kell) set the tone.”
At least North Cobb made Kell earn the win in the final 2 minutes of the game, after the Lady Longhorns had built an 11-point lead. North Cobb went on a quick 8-0 run to cut the lead to three with less than a minute left to play.
Hines said he took a risk by changing his defense to throw the Lady Warriors off, and the move nearly cost Kell the victory.
The Lady Longhorns switched to a diamond press that North Cobb had already exploited in the first quarter. Just like that first attempt at the diamond, North Cobb started scoring points — many of which came off turnovers.
Once Kell went back to the half-court man-to-man, it came through with a clutch defensive stop when Caliya Robinson pulled down her 10th rebound of the game.
Erin McKinney went 2-for-4 on the free-throw line down the stretch to hold off North Cobb.
“She has struggled a little bit, but she has played well off the bench,” Hines said of McKinney, who ended up with six points and five rebounds. “We played great defense and scored points for us.”
Grant also had a huge game with 12 points and really stepped up in the first half to rally Kell from an early seven-point deficit. Robinson, Naomi Stuger and Onyx Henderson each had six.
Amber Reeves led North Cobb with 14 points and Sierra Barrino added 10. Both traded layups when North Cobb made its late fourth quarter run for a chance to win the game.