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Fifth-ranked Lady Gamecocks power their way past L-E girls
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L-E’S EMMA BRANHAM CALLS for the ball in the post while being guarded by Sumter’s Inga Colclough in action from Tuesday’s Region 4-5A opener. - photo by Tom Didato/C-I

Welcome to life in Region 4-5A.

The Lugoff-Elgin girls received their first taste of playing in what may be the state’s toughest basketball conference on Tuesday and the young Lady Demons took their first lump in a 58-16 loss to fifth-ranked Sumter. Things get no easier tonight when Von Duncan’s charges hosts top-ranked and defending 5A state champion Spring Valley in their second league game.

The Lady Gamecocks (14-1, 1-0 in 4-5A) came into the Demons Den and rattled off the first 26 points of the contest before L-E’s Rachel Larsen scored on a putback with 1:35 left in the first half to get the hostesses on the board for the first time.

It was a game which, Duncan said, was an eye-opener for her squad which is in its first year in the state’s largest school ranks.

“We’ve been telling them just how tough our region is going to be,” said Duncan whose girls slipped to 2-11 on the season. “This was a full dose tonight. It was kind of a ‘jam it down your throat’ dose but, it is what it is.”

Sumter opened the contest by scoring its first five baskets on layins with guard KiAri Cain rolling in three in a row to make it 10-0 just two minutes into the contest. The visitors then received back-to-back 3-point jumpers from Tamerah Brown and Kiara Croskey to hike the advantage to 16-0 in a first quarter which ended with the Lady Gamecock holding a commanding 20-0 lead.

Trailing 26-0 in the second quarter, L-E dented the scoreboard for the first time when Larsen put back a missed free throw from teammate Emma Branham. Allie Slavkova would knock down a pair of free throws in the closing nine seconds of the quaretr as the Lady Demons were on the short end of a 27-4 halftime score.

Duncan said she did not ask too much from her team in the second half when she talked to them during intermission. Her plea was a simple one.

“I wanted them to play harder and take more shots because we weren’t shooting, at all, in the first half,” she said. “I told our girls to trust their shots, have confidence and shoot the ball.”

The strategy worked as L-E used a traditional 3-point play from Mikiah Duncan followed by a Slavkova stickback with 4:33 left in the third quarter to reduce the deficit to 34-9. A steal and layin from Brooke Grant and Jazmin Foster’s drive through the point with 31 seconds left in the third quarter drew the Lady Demons within 41-13 entering the final eight minutes of play.

Going with mainly reserves in the final eight stanza, the Lady Gamecocks held L-E without a field goal until sophomore Gabby Powers went inside for a short jumper with a half-minute left in the contest.

“We did play better,” Duncan said of her team’s second half performance. “Allie Slavkova had a pretty good game for us tonight. She came back and was knocking her shots down, with two free throws, and played tough on both ends of the court; we appreciate that. We got that spark from Allie. Hopefully, it will trickle down to everybody else on our team.”

As noted earlier, things will not get any easier for the Lady Demons with Spring Valley coming into the West Wateree tonight. The Lady Vikings carry a 15-2 mark into the contest and average scoring nearly 70 points per contest for head coach Megan Assey.

Duncan said having had that first taste of conference competition let her team know how hard they have to work and play each time out in this circuit.

“It’s never easy,” she said. “We keep pushing them and we keep drilling them. We keep pouring it in and, hopefully, it will come out for us.”

SHS (58): Cece Wells 3 0-0 6, Layken Cox 2 0-2 4, KiAri Cain 6 1-2 14, Tamerah Brown 2 3-5 8, Kiara Croskey 2 0-2 5, Tajanique Johnson 3 0-0 7, Alicia Spann 4 2-4 10, Inga Colclough 2 0-0 4. Totals: 24 6-18 58

L-E (16): Emma Branham 0 0-2 0, Rachel Larsen 1 1-2 3, Allie Slavkova 1 2-2 4, Mikiah Duncan 1 1-1 3, Brooke Grant 1 0-0 2, Jazmin Foster 1 0-0 2, Gabby Powers 1 0-0 2. Totals: 6 4-7 16 

Score by quarters: First: SHS, 20-0; Halftime: SHS, 27-4; Third: SHS, 41-13; Three points goals: SHS 4 (Cain, Brown, Croskey, Johnson), L-E none