So far in January, the only opponent to defeat the Patrick Henry girls basketball team is Mother Nature.
Now optional exams left Patrick Henry with just one game that was cancelled last week, at Maggie Walker Governors School. But the latest round of snow Tuesday night postponed two more home games: Tuesday with Thomas Jefferson and Wednesday with J.R. Tucker. This will leave the Patriots in a full-borne sprint to the finish of the regular season.
“It’s going to be tough. We’ll have to play like 10 games in about two weeks,” said Patrick Henry head coach Phillip Cobb, who spoke with the Herald-Progress Tuesday night after the game with TJ was called off.
But Cobb is confident that his five senior leaders, combined with a young, growing bench, have turned a corner, and are prepared to finish the regular season, and enter a new postseason era strong.
Patrick Henry last tasted defeat Dec. 23 in the third place game of the Times-Dispatch Invitational Tournament to former Colonial District rival Hermitage, 38-37. It was a game given to the Panthers by the Patriots after atrocious shooting from the field and the line, and fouling Hermitage’s best player, Destini Walker at the buzzer while shooting what would have been a game-winning three-pointer. Her two subsequent free throws with no time remaining sealed the Patriots’ second defeat of the year.
The first rematch was Jan. 17 in Ashland. Patrick Henry had taken a lackluster win at Douglas Freeman. Cobb saw sluggishness.
“We were not performing at our best potential. The players called a meeting and talked about it, and they’ve been better ever since,” Cobb explained.
After outlasting Mills Godwin at home three days beforehand, the Patriots handed Walker and the Panthers a 60-53 defeat to move to 10-2. Summer Price and Amber Lee did their usual damage, Price with 22 points, Lee with 21 plus 14 rebounds. But others helped ensure the win.
“Shea Burch, as they were trying to come back, had a key steal late at midcourt when the Panthers tried to roll the ball upcourt to save time,” Cobb noted.
Burch and fellow reserve Chantel Gordon may not have scored, but each had key defensive plays. Cobb is quick to remind everyone the Patriots do not start and end with Price and Lee.
“Ashley [Samuels] is getting rebounds, she’s such a tough player. Rachel Adams always seems to get a key three-pointer when we need it, and India [Coles] can have big offensive runs. All five seniors, everyone on the bench, are important to our success,” Cobb said.
When asked for more analysis of his go-to duo, Cobb does note improvement in the final high school campaigns for both Price and Lee.
“Summer is playing more relaxed this year,” Cobb noted. “She made her college commitment to Campbell University, so she’s not worried about that anymore, and it’s made a difference. And Amber is playing so much more aggressively this year and really takes her role as a leader seriously.”
Fans and opponents alike know that Price and Lee will set the pace as to how the Patriots fare down the stretch, and the schedule offers no favors. Home battles with Atlee and Deep Run next week are followed by trips to Mills Godwin and, yes, to Hermitage, in the final week of the regular season. Conditioning will be key, as will bench play and free throw shooting.
Cobb was happy to note some self-motivation over last week’s unexpected long school break.
“Several of the kids got together and took a kickboxing-type class last week. When we’re closed, we’re not allowed to hold practices, so it was great to know they got together, worked together,” Cobb said.
Every win is critical, as the top seed in the new Conference 16 Tournament with Albemarle, Orange, and Halifax County will get to play for the inaugural conference title at home. The Patriots aren’t interested in long trips to playoff games after a 10-game stretch in the season’s final 15 days.
Orange is 7-9, Albemarle 7-7, Halifax 5-7. Each team has make-up games of their own. So Patrick Henry’s margin for error, even with a 10-2 record going to John Marshall Friday night, weather permitting, is smaller than you might think. Staying in the friendly confines of Ashland for as long as possible is a top priority.
If the Patriots can pace themselves, perform strong in the fundamentals, and get timely contributions from everyone, their fans could be called on for home-court advantage deep into February.