FAIRLAND — Eastern Hancock and Shenandoah faced off in the sectional semifinal Friday night in what should be a preview of an intense rivalry in the upcoming years. The Royals fielded a team full of sophomores and juniors, while the Raiders started four freshmen. Unfortunately for Eastern Hancock, this year’s contest went to Shenandoah, who won 46-40 in a back and forth game.
“In a game like this, where its kind of a toss up talent wise, things have to fall your way,” Royals coach Shari Doud said afterwards. “Defensively we made them work the whole game, but we just could not get a shot to fall in the first half.”
The first quarter featured a lot of energy from both teams but few points. The Royals led 5-4 after the opening quarter and Shenandoah failed to make a field goal. But in the second quarter, the Raiders outscored the Royals 16-4 and used that momentum to build up a 14-point lead in the third quarter.
At that point, the floodgates opened for the Royals who led a breakneck comeback effort to take a 40-37 lead with 4:30 to play. Fueling that comeback were Royals freshman Chloe O’Neal, sophomore Jocelyn Duncan and junior Jenna Smith. Duncan and O’Neal, along with Haley Best — returning from being out with the flu — hit four three pointers in a flurry, and Jenna Smith was inside getting rebounds and put back baskets when the shots weren’t falling.
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O’Neal lead the Royals with 13 points on the night. Smith finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
At the same time, Shenandoah’s point guard and leading scorer Kathryn Perry (16 points, 5 rebounds) went out of the game with an injury and it looked as if the Royals would be able to grind out the clock for the victory. But a few Royals turnovers and a Shenandoah basket following what appeared to be a travel turned out to be the difference.
“Sometimes when a team loses their best player like that, it raises their level of play because she’s not there to rely on,” Doud said. “And that’s what happened tonight.”
The loss ends the Royals’ season with a record of 14-10, but the future is bright in Doud’s mind.
“The seniors we are losing (Bailey Allen and Libby Durham), have provided so much to this program,” Doud said. “But at the same time we had a lot of young players contribute this year, and we’re going to work all offseason to make sure we come back with some firepower next year.”