CAMBRIDGE CITY — At its worst, the Eastern Hancock girls basketball team’s style of play is error-prone and a display of its inexperience.
At its best, the Royals’ hectic defense causes rivals mass confusion, and their deep offense gets contributions from all over.
Both versions were on display Friday in the Class 2A Sectional 41 semifinal against Union County, but it was the former that ended the Royals’ season.
Ahead 25-13 to end the first half, Eastern Hancock was a different squad after the break and lost going away, 52-41.
The Patriots (14-10) will face Hagerstown (20-4) today at 7:30 p.m. in the championship.
“First half, we did exactly what we wanted to do, and the game plan was executed properly,” Eastern Hancock coach Jeremy Powers said. “Second half, we did the opposite of everything.
“We couldn’t get a stop defensively. We couldn’t get a rebound defensively, and we missed about every shot we took in the second half.”
Union County struggled to get a look at the basket early against the Royals’ attack of wind-milling arms and charging bodies.
Forcing 22 turnovers, Eastern Hancock (13-10) limited the Patriots to 4-of-13 shooting from the field. With sophomore Kaysi Gilbert’s 12 points leading an offense that saw six players dot the scorebook, the relatively young Royals had complete command of the veteran Patriots.
Or so it seemed.
Sierra Dowler registered eight points to key a 10-1 Union County blitz to open the second half, closing the Royals’ edge to 26-23. And the Patriots just kept going.
With two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Maddie Fulton gave Union County its first lead — at 30-28 — since the opening minute of the game.
“I give credit to Union County,” Powers said. “(Patriots coach Scott Gray) made the adjustment in the second half. I told our girls at halftime, ‘They’re going to come after you and give you a blow. You’ve got to answer that with a knockout punch.’
“And we never answered it.”
Ahead 40-33 early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots’ Madison Walters rebounded a teammate’s missed 3-pointer, scored the put-back and was fouled. She converted the free throw and, down 43-33, Eastern Hancock never threatened.
Sierra Dowler (14 points), Tanner Henry (13 points) and Fulton (13 points) led Union County. That trio combined for seven points in the first half. Dowler is the only sophomore on a Union County varsity roster full of upperclassmen.
The unit regrouped on ball control after a sloppy opening half. The Patriots had only seven turnovers in the second half. On offense, they made 12-of-21 field-goal attempts.
Walters pulled down 10 rebounds for the Patriots, who beat the Royals 18-10 on the boards in the second half. Sophomore Emiley Carlton (13 points) and Gilbert (12 points) paced the Royals, who will lose only starting forward Shelby Mourey to graduation.
“With this group, it’s a starting point,” Powers said. “But, as I told them in there, winning the sectional is a lot harder than it looks. It requires 32 minutes, and we played 16.
“I told them, we’re going to find out who’s mentally tough. We’re going to find out who is going to put the work in this spring and summer to be better.”
Notes: Hagerstown beat Centerville in the second semifinal Friday. … Eastern Hancock’s most recent sectional title was in 2001; Union County, in 2006; Centerville, 2012. Those are also the only sectional titles for the programs. Hagerstown won its fourth and most recent sectional championship in 2009. … Union County also beat Eastern Hancock in the fourth game of the regular season, 53-44, Nov. 29. … Hope Spaulding added six points off the bench for Eastern Hancock. … Gilbert had six rebounds and five steals.