The Josey girls basketball team attacked Hephzibah on Friday night as if the movement of all five of its players was controlled by coach Ann Jennings. The Eagles sprinted the ball down the floor just as often as they yanked it back to halfcourt, searching for the perfect pace of game they heard their coach preach about.
"If we controlled the tempo, we were going to win," Jennings said. "We had to run when we could run, and slow down when we had to. That was our game plan from the moment we walked in the gym."
This game plan worked so well, the Eagles walked into a gym named for the opposing coach and dominated Wendell Lofton's Rebels in a 63-52 victory. Josey led by double digits in all four quarters and never trailed after falling behind 4-2 in the first two minutes.
TaSheka Stokes, the team's lone senior, went 11 for 11 from the foul line and led the Eagles with 21 points. Josey used a 2-3 zone defense to allow guard-oriented Hephzibah to hoist 3-pointers but limit its offensive rebounds.
Hephzibah (13-3, 8-3) fell two games behind Region 3-AAAA leaders Butler and Glenn Hills in losing to a team it had defeated it by 23 and 18 points earlier in the season.
"There's nothing to say, we just got whipped; Josey has a great team," Lofton said. "We're going to have to now just wait for the region tournament."
Asked if his team was capable of winning that tournament, Lofton shook his head.
"No," he said. "We're only beating people that have a little bit of talent."
Central Florida recruit Aarika Judge led Hephzibah with 13 points. Like the rest of the Rebels, she had a tough shooting night. Hephzibah was forced to fire from the perimeter of Josey's zone and lacked the patience to consistently work the ball closer to the basket. Junior Tannasia Rhodes added 12 points.
Jennings played guards Kenay Phillips and Shaniqua Sullivan (13 points) at the point of her zone defense, and it was hard to say who was more active pressuring the Rebels.
"We were going to box out and play that way," said Jennings, who defeated Hephzibah for the first time in her three seasons at the school. "I wasn't going to play a box-and-one on Judge. We were just going to play them straight up."
Josey (8-7, 7-4) sandwiched wins over two of the top teams in the area -- it gave Glenn Hills its first region defeat last week -- around a loss to Westside. The Eagles scored only 32 points in that game, a mark they had eclipsed by halftime against Hephzibah.
The Eagles played only six girls, because Jennings said she did not want to insert inexperienced players into a pressure-packed situation.
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.