CHARLOTTESVILLE — With just over two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Eastern Hancock Royals welcome adversity. In fact, they crave it in anticipation of the upcoming postseason.
On Wednesday night, the host Royals got their wish despite building a 13-point second-half lead. Simply refusing to back down, Union County chopped down its deficit to one possession late in the fourth quarter, but Eastern Hancock stood its ground to win 47-41.
“These types of games are really nice. Backs against the wall, how are you going to react? They’re great for the coaches and the players,” Eastern Hancock head coach Shari Doud said. “Our season wraps up with a tough stretch of games, just like this, and it’s nice. It will be good prep for a tough sectional.”
Junior Jenna Smith came up big for the Royals (11-7), who snapped a two-game losing streak, dating back to Dec. 27 against Monroe Central on the road.
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Smith poured in a team-high 15 points and hauled in 10 rebounds for a double-double as the Royals won for the first time since Dec. 21 against Blue River at home. Eastern Hancock is now 8-1 on the home court.
“I know sometimes we tend to lose control in games like this, but I think we came back well. We started moving the ball better and getting our composure back,” Smith said. “This one feels good. Every time you come off of a loss, you have to move onto the next game, and I think we came back together and put forth our best effort, which was good.”
Smith had nine points in the first half and finished strong with five in the fourth quarter. Haley Best had nine points on a trio of 3-pointers for the Royals, now just five more treys shy of tying the program’s career record.
Aly Spaulding added eight points, going 4 of 6 from the foul line, and both Libby Durham and Chloe O’Neal chipped in six points apiece.
The Royals led by nine points in the first half 19-10, but the margin shrank to 21-18 after an 8-2 run by the Patriots.
Madison Gray posted a game-high 17 points, converting 9 of 11 free throws, while Tara Williams had 14 points, sinking four 3-pointers.
“Our transition defense was not very good tonight. We just lost track of our people, and then we let Williams get free on the perimeter. She was lethal in the first half,” Doud said. “Our transition defense has got to be spot on, but luckily we pulled away with the win.”
The Royals jumped ahead 33-20 late in the third quarter with a 12-2 run fueled by Best, Durham and Lexi Lewman.
The lead dissipated in the fourth, falling to two points — twice — as Williams and Gray combined for eight of the team’s 12 points in the frame.
A clutch and-1 by Smith with 2:12 left, put the Royals comfortably up 43-38. A well-timed interior pass from Best to Smith with 29 seconds remaining pushed the lead to 45-41.
The Royals’ defense did the rest as Durham blocked a late shot attempt by Union County (7-11) and then was fouled with 13.3 seconds left, converting both buckets.
“It’s nice at this time of the year to pick up a win,” Doud said. “We built a decent lead and it dwindled away, but I was pleased with our kids’ ability to stay composed at the end and stretch the lead back out enough to win.”