Spartan girls to districts
By CHRIS MASSE
HUGHESVILLE — Wherever Warrior Run all-state candidate Megan Zimmerman went, Jayden Leighow followed. Zimmerman tried all night shaking Leighow, but the senior forward stuck on her like glue.
Leighow played relentless defense inside while guards Emily Akers, Kendra Smith and Jade Cordrey helped cut off passing lanes.
Add in Alisha McKinley’s strong effort and Hughesville’s defense formed a vise that slowly squeezed the life out of Warrior Run’s offense. Leighow held Zimmerman to a season-low eight points, Akers scored a game-high 17 points and Hughesville made 25 of 29 foul shots Friday as it defeated Warrior Run, 49-34 and clinched its third straight District 4 playoff berth.
Leighow scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds, but it was her swarming defense which really stood out and helped pave the way for a second big win against the Defenders (14-4). Zimmerman had reached double figures in all 17 games this season before Leighow delivered her stifling performance.
“I just always wanted to stay behind her and if she tried to turn on me, keep my hands straight up and not foul her. I always tried to move side to side like we worked on in practice,” Leighow said. “She has not scored under double digits so it was my goal going in to hold her under double digits and when I heard she only scored eight I was pretty happy.”
“Leighow has tremendous leaping ability and defended real well,” Hughesville coach Craig Weaver Sr. said. “She goes 200 miles per hour. We’re trying to get her to slow down on the offensive side, but that kind of effort we’ll take every night. She is one tremendous kid.”
Zimmerman, averaging 15.9 points per game, put up a shot 10 seconds into the game, but Leighow did not let her attempt another one until midway through the second quarter. Despite picking up two first-quarter fouls, Leighow never lost her aggressiveness, played smart, hustled and limited Zimmerman to three field goals and four shot attempts. Combine that with the guards wreaking havoc on the outside and Warrior Run struggled throughout the game as Hughesville (11-5) built a 26-10 lead late in the second quarter.
“We had two really good practices to get ready for this one and we were ready. We put in some knew wrinkles and the girls ran them to perfection,” Weaver said. “Akers, Smith and Cordrey were outstanding on the perimeter. It was great team defense and our guards really helped our bigs.”
Warrior Run was in foul trouble for much of the game but made an impressive second-half rally. The Defenders trailed 27-14 at halftime but, remarkably, held Hughesville without a shot in the third-quarter’s first seven minutes. Warrior Run surrendered just two third-quarter points and pulled within five entering the fourth.
When Zimmerman and Taylor Coup connected on four straight free throws, Warrior Run made it a one-point game at 29-28 and appeared poised to complete the big comeback. Instead, Hughesville settled down, ran its offense well, earned trips to the foul line and then drained nearly every attempt, going 17 for 18 at the line over the final six minutes. Coup helped give Warrior Run a shot after so much went wrong early and her defense out front helped turn the game around.
“We started getting a little bit of energy so it was nice just to be able to get back into the game like that,” Warrior Run coach Jason McCormick said. “You can’t ask for a better person out there than Taylor. She got two 5-second calls and that’s her by herself. She is the important factor there on that defense.”
Hughesville surrendered just two more field goals after Warrior Run pulled within one and the second did not come until the final minute when it had built a 13-point lead. Conversely, the offense collected itself and ran good sets, send Defenders on futile chases that repeatedly ended with fouls. Leighow ignited a game-ending 20-6 run when she swished two free throws. Next, Smith drained two free throws. A pattern was developing.
All five Hughesville starters went to the line and all five kept draining clutch shots. Akers, McKinley (10 points, 6 rebounds) and Cordrey closed the game by making 12 straight and the Spartans completed a season sweep of a team that it could see again come playoffs.
“We were thinking we had come so far so why give up now? That’s one thing is we definitely will never give up,” Leighow said. “We kept plugging away and kept plugging away. We knew if we did that it eventually would turn back around for us and that’s what happened and than things started going well for us again.”
WARRIOR RUN (34)
Megan Zimmerman 3 2-6 8, Sydney Hoffman 3 1-2 9, Hayden Divers 1 0-0 2, Taylor Coup 1 5-8 7, Avery Bieber 1 2-2 4, Lydia Swanson 2 0-0 4, Katie Watkins 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 10-18 34.
Emily Akers 3 10-11 17, Jayden Leighow 2 4-6 8, Alisha McKinley 2 6-6 10, Kendra Smith 1 3-4 6, Jade Cordrey 2 2-2 8, Alex Snyder 0 0-0 0. Totals 10 25-29 49.
Warrior Run 6 8 10 10–34
Hughesville 16 11 2 20–49
3-pointers: Warrior Run 2 (Hoffman 2); Hughesville 4 (Cordrey 2, Akers, Smith).
Records: Hughesville 11-5, 5-3 HAC-III. Warrior Run 14-4, 4-4.