By Jeff Odom
Laker/Lutz News Correspondent
Steinbrenner girls basketball coach J.R. Allen preached the importance of playing as a team during the two weeks leading up to his squad’s home matchup with district rival Freedom on Dec. 16.
Allen’s message paid off, as the Warriors (9-1) came back from a first half deficit to deliver the Patriots (8-3) their third straight loss, 55-40.
The Warriors looked rusty early, as Freedom’s speedy passing and aggressive defense halted scoring chances throughout the first half. Allen told his players to relax, and they slowly cut into the Patriot lead.
“We came out a little bit tight and a little bit tense, but I think part of that is due to the nature of the game,” Allen said. “It was our first big challenge that we’ve had in quite a long time, but after the first quarter we talked about getting the ball to the inside because that’s where we had an advantage.”
Steinbrenner freshman forward Rachel Briere led the charge in the comeback win, putting up 13 of her 21 points in the first half to pull the Warriors within one entering the third quarter.
“I really think all of the great passes helped so much,” Briere said. “Just the team knowing and trusting in me, I felt so confident.”
Steinbrenner came out of halftime firing on all cylinders, forcing Freedom’s offense to settle for outside shots that wouldn’t fall.
The Warriors went ahead for the first time when junior forward Baylee Hooker scored on a layup off a cross court pass from senior center Rebecca Cohen to go up 27-26, a lead they never surrendered.
Freedom coach Laurie Pacholke said her team has to turn things around by taking advantage of its opportunities.
“We got to get better,” Pacholke said. “We’re not playing well enough right now … we fell asleep on defense and they beat us backdoor, and that can’t happen.”
On the boys side, Steinbrenner (6-1) defeated Freedom (3-5) 67-43. Steinbrenner senior center Joey Maloney led the way recording 22 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks en route to the victory.
“We just got to keep the momentum going,” said Maloney. “We weren’t playing our game early in the second quarter and coach told us to play the second half hard.”
Steinbrenner coach Steve Williams said the early success of the program comes from its surplus of veteran players and leadership.
“We’ve just had the guys in the program for three years, we started with most of these guys as freshman and sophomores, and I just think they’ve matured over the time that we’ve been together and they’re beginning to understand what it takes to be successful,” said Williams.
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