HYATTSVILLE – In an early-season clash of two undefeated girls basketball teams, Laurel High School used its advantage in the paint coupled with an aggressive defense to breeze past Northwestern, 56-28, on Dec. 19.
The Spartans’ strategy was simple: on offense, get the ball inside as much as possible, and on defense, play full-court man-to-man. Laurel adhered to the game plan to cruise to the away victory.
Despite getting in early foul trouble, forward Marissa Steel led the way for Laurel, tallying 16 points, seven rebounds, three steals and six blocks while teammate Franxine Cooper led all scorers with 22 points to go with eight boards.
“It was defense and rebounding,” Steel said of the key to the win. “Coach (Michael Hines) noticed that with me and No. 25 (Cooper) in the game, we were undefeated. So if we just keep passing it on the inside, we’ll be fine.”
Second-year Laurel Head Coach Michael Hines said the plan throughout the evening was for his team to capitalize on their size advantage against the Wildcats (3-1). By the end of the game, Northwestern lost the rebound battle, 28-25, in the home loss.
Additionally, the Spartans (5-0) scored on some transition buckets to create an early double-digit lead. They led 18-8 after the first quarter and had already totaled six steals at that point.
When Steel committed her third foul with 4:13 remaining in the second, she had to check out of the game. However, Steel’s foul trouble did not affect Laurel’s momentum. As Cooper posted up on the block, Spartans guards made easy entry passes for layups to extend their lead to 38-18 by the half.
“They were critical today,” Hines said about the valuable post presence of Cooper, a 5-foot-9 senior, and Steel, a lanky 6-footer.
“Every game presents something different, but today we felt like that was the advantage we had. So we wanted to go to them often.”
Turnovers hurt the Wildcats’ chances of ever staying in the game or mounting a comeback rally to close their deficit. Northwestern’s Jazmine King grabbed a game-high 10 boards, but Laurel’s defenders pressured Wildcat guards all evening to prevent them from finding any offensive rhythm.
“We could have done much better. We had a couple of mistakes,” said Natalie Herrera, a sophomore guard. “I think we just got to continue fighting. You know, getting better, realizing our mistakes (and) practicing.”
Northwestern ended the third on a 6-2 scoring run but still trailed 47-26 going into the fourth.
Laurel’s comfortable lead didn’t stop its defenders from applying relentless pressure until the buzzer sounded. Steel continued to clog up the lane and score in transition and as the Spartans held the Wildcats to one field goal in the fourth – a jumper by Susan Fomba with about five seconds left in the game – bringing the final score to 56-28.
Herrera was the only double-digit scorer on her team, leading the way for the Wildcats with 10 points, and guard Wernisha Broderick chipped in with seven points and three steals.
“I think Laurel’s aggressiveness wore us down. They went with that full-court man-to-man pressure from jump ball,” said Northwestern Head Coach Keith Devoe. “It kinda wore my guards down, and as they were getting tired, they were making a lot of mental mistakes and physical mistakes as well.”
The fourth-year head coach said he thinks his team has improved since last season, but still has quite a bit to work on as it relates to developing offensive continuity.
“They gotta do a better job getting some continuity on offense. It was a lot of standing around and kids just not being aggressive with the ball on the perimeter throughout the game,” Devoe said.
“We’re going to put this game behind us. We’ll see Laurel later on this season. Hopefully, we’ll improve on a few things. Our first three games kinda got the kids some confidence, but we knew that coming in with Laurel was going to be a heavy hitter.”
Northwestern hopes to pick up a bounce-back win when it travels down to McDonough (Charles County) on Dec. 20 at 5 p.m.
Maya Lockett, a 5-foot-10 junior, contributed with seven points and six rebounds for the Spartans. Laurel does not return to action until after the new year, hoping to remain undefeated in a matchup at Bladensburg on Jan. 3.