HOCKESSIN – The Sanford girls basketball team gave Marcus Thompson a birthday present any coach would love Monday.
Solid fourth-quarter execution.
The third-ranked Warriors made the right plays down the stretch to pry open a close game and earn a 53-43 home victory over No. 4 St. Elizabeth.
“It wasn’t our best game, but it shows something about our team that we can tough it out against a good team,” Thompson said. “… They pushed us to the limit.”
Sanford (7-2) got off to a flying start, as Ayanna Thompson dropped two 3-pointers from the top of the key and Taylor Samuels scored on an offensive rebound for a 8-0 lead. But the determined Vikings (5-4) chipped the deficit to 11-8 after one quarter, and 23-22 at the half.
“We came out strong to start,” Thompson said. “Then we got a little bit out of sync.”
St. Elizabeth’s Alanna Speaks puts up a shot through a group of Sanford defenders during a game at Sanford High School on Monday evening. Sanford defeated St. Elizabeth’s by a score of 53-43.
St. E got a put-back from Alex Thomas to tie it at 24, and the Vikings tied the game four more times over the next three minutes. But Sanford launched an 8-0 run, with Aniya Jones hitting a baseline runner, Samuels adding a free throw and a three-point play and Chrishyanah Alston banging in a 15-footer for a 40-32 lead with 1:10 left in the third quarter.
“We couldn’t recover fully from that,” St. E coach Dan Cooney said. “We had it in the third quarter where it was tied, they were up two, then tied. We couldn’t get that two-point lead. Then when we made some mental mistakes, they took advantage of every one.”
The Vikings pulled within 40-39 on a 3-pointer by eighth-grader Olivia Tucker with 6:58 to play. But Samuels hit a short jumper and a 3-pointer, and Alston put back her own miss to stretch Sanford’s lead back to 47-39 with 4:45 left.
Thomas made four free throws to close the gap to 47-43, and the Warriors pulled the ball out and ran the clock from 3:15 to 1:31 before the Vikings fouled.
“We really pulled it out just to get them to come out of that zone,” Thompson said. “There was about a minute where they were kind of indecisive, so by the time I looked at the clock there was two minutes left.
“At that point, I wanted to see now who’s going to be able to make foul shots at the end of the year when they count.”
Alston provided the answer, hitting both ends of a one-and-one. Then the junior guard turned a steal into a layup, made another free throw and blocked a shot on the other end to clinch it.
“I just knew I had to pick my game up and help my team,” said Alston, who led Sanford with 21 points. “We had to get a big stretch to get this win. It was very important. They played great defense, they played aggressive, so I just knew I had to contribute to get us going.”
Samuels added 13 for the Warriors, as Thompson was happy to see his young team perform well in a stressful situation. Thomas scored 21 for St. Elizabeth, which also benefited from the experience.
“We’re young, and we’re getting better,” Cooney said. “You always look at a loss and you don’t like it. But you’ve got to take the positives and negatives and work on both of them to get better, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ