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SPRINGDALE – After shaking the hands of their opponents, the Charles H. Flowers High School girls basketball team gathered behind the south end bleachers and began to celebrate. High-fives and hugs were shared with friends and family, with Head Coach Roderick Hariston even cracking a smile.
“Everyone has put in the effort necessary to get better,” Hariston said. “At the beginning of the year, we had a lot of potential, and I am seeing the effort, and the hard work is coming to light now, so we are progressing.”
It was a coming together moment for the Lady Jaguars.
In a tight contest against rival Eleanor Roosevelt, Flowers came together in the end with its veteran players making critical shots in the fourth quarter to solidify a victory.
With their home crowd cheering in celebration after the final buzzer, Flowers stood tall as the leaders of the 4A division with a 69-51 victory on Feb. 22.
The win is more than a confidence booster as county officials confirmed that Flowers would be one step closer from being a top seed in the state playoffs but represent their division in the county championship game on Feb. 27.
Senior Jasmine Hilton led all scorers with a game-high 23 points.
“We could have given up but after the half, we talked about what we really needed to work on, and we just had to pull through,” Hilton said.
Roosevelt arrived at the contest against Flowers as “a wounded lion,” Head Coach Aubrey Butler said. Senior guard Taylor McCormick, the team’s offensive spark with her perimeter shooting, was out with a tailbone injury suffered at Parkdale on Feb. 14.
Missing McCormick meant a larger emphasis on getting forward Daja Claiborne and senior Makayla Adams more involved, Butler said. The strategy was working in the opening quarter with Roosevelt jumping out into an 11-3 run, thanks to Adams scoring eight of her team-high 20 points in a double-double performance.
However, Roosevelt’s posts players would be challenged by Flowers’ center Lashawna Robinson. The six-foot-one junior continually muscled her way through the Roosevelt duo, scoring the majority of her points in the paint and setting up two 3-point plays.
Robinson finished with 13 points that helped give the Springdale squad a one-point advantage at halftime.
“I do not tolerate that,” Robinson said of her post battles with Adams. “If you give me a bucket, I am going to go 10 times harder. Even if I am not going to go get it, I am going to keep going.”
“She has become one of the top post players in the 4A,” Hariston said. “I am proud of her, but she has a long way to go; she is a junior, and I think she is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs and coming into next year.”
For the rest of the contest, both teams battled each other with physical play and hard defense, combining for 16 steals for the whole game.
No team had a lead higher than eight points until the fourth quarter and runs were limited. Flowers only held a one-point lead heading into the fourth.
With the game tied at 46-46 with less than four minutes remaining in the contest, the Lady Jaguars went on a tear, with Hilton and Robinson scoring on each possession.
Meanwhile, junior Kaniyah Harris drove two consecutive times through the heart of the Lady Raider defense to score a layup as a part of a 23-5 run to seal the win for Flowers.
“Early on, I was stuck,” Harris, who scored 10 points, said. “But I had faith on my girls, and they pulled it through, and they had my back. I thank them for that and in the fourth quarter, we got rolling, and it was icing on the cake.”
Moving forward, Hariston acknowledged that his team is going to be one of the teams to beat in the 4A region come playoff time. However, the completion within the county teams will be a barrier that Flowers will need to overcome to make their state title dreams a reality. For his leaders, it is a dream that is more attainable than ever before.
“That’s not a question (anymore); we are going to win states,” Hilton said. “We are Flowers period. We are just that good.”