Shortly after the Long Reach boys basketball team survived a scare and won the Class 3A East region title - grinding out a 39-35 win over visiting Annapolis yesterday - assistant coach Al Moraz Sr. appropriately summed up the Lightning's effort.
"Defense," he exclaimed, followed by a sigh of relief. "We didn't score many, but we scored more than them."
While its top scorer, Darryl Webb, missed half the game due to foul trouble and its offense nearly missed an entire quarter (scoring two points in the second), Long Reach counted on one constant - defense - before everything else fell into place in the fourth quarter.
It's the 17th straight win for the Lightning, which improves to 24-2 on its way to Thursday's state semifinal against Seneca Valley/Urbana at 5 p.m. at the Comcast Center in College Park.
"The kids weren't going to let us lose," head coach Al Moraz Jr. said. "Defensively, I thought Brent Stanford did a great job of pressuring their point guard [Justin Brown] every single time it got up to half court. With our best big man on the bench for half the game, Jay Washington and Brian Taylor showed the character of how strong they are for our team."
The Lightning, which trailed 21-14 at the half, got a three-pointer from Keith Richardson to take a 30-29 lead with 3:26 to play and then hit its free throws to help offset two late three-pointers from Stephen Broxton that kept the Panthers close.
After Broxton's second three cut the lead to 37-35, Annapolis had a chance to tie with 13 seconds left and Brown at the line for a one-and-one. But he was unable to hit the front end and the Lightning got two free throws from Taylor to secure the victory.
"At halftime we were down, we had to go in the locker room and keep our heads up because we knew we'd come back out there ready to go at it," said Stanford, who finished with a team-high 10 points. "We knew the game wasn't over."
The Panthers, who closed out the season with a 19-6 mark, will look to poor shooting: they shot 4-for-15 from the free-throw line and just over 30 percent from the field.
"I thought we played great defense, we rebounded well, but offensively we were inefficient," Annapolis coach John Brady said. "Putting the ball in the basket is not effort - you either can or you can't - defense is effort, rebounding is effort and that's what we did. We played as hard as we could, but the offensive end was just not there."