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Hornets enjoying buzz

JEFFERSON — Head coach Fentress Means knew his team needed one big win to fuel a potential stretch run.

He got exactly that last Friday when the John Essex girls went on the road and bested Sweet Water 42-13.

“I demanded these girls play defense or play on the bench,” Means said. “And they gave me everything I asked for.”

The previous meeting between the teams saw JEHS handed a 48-47 home loss at the free-throw line after a controversial foul call in the final second sent SWHS to the charity stripe.

“That Sweet Water game, that was our game,” Dondrea Johnson said of the Dec. 19 loss. “We could have had that.”

The rematch did not contain nearly the drama as John Essex allowed the Lady Bulldogs five points in the first quarter before holding SWHS scoreless over the next two frames.

“I’m just proud of the girls,” Means said. “They are playing good ball right now. It’s just a tremendous effort on their part.”

“I guess we were ready to play this time around,” Keaundra Bennett said.

The defensive effort was headed by Johnson’s six steals, Brittney Gray’s eight steals and Nayesha Daniels’ five blocked shots.

“The two weeks off, it gave us a chance to get a little rest and also gave us a chance to get refocused,” Means said of the nearly two-week rest the Lady Hornets had prior to last Friday’s game. “We’re looking right now to finish 6-2 in the area,” Means said.

JEHS currently sits in second place in area play and could clinch no worse than a second-place regular-season finish with wins over Linden and A.L. Johnson later this week.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we were able to challenge for first place in the area,” Means said. “I know that’s a big statement, but I’ve got that kind of confidence in these girls.”

While the girls’ place in the standings comes as a surprise to some, those around the program have approached the success with an air of excited expectation.

“I thought we could be this good. We’ve gotten here by practicing hard and we’ve got a good coach,” Bennett said.

“The improvement I’ve seen, I didn’t expect it this early on,” Means said.

The girls will travel to Linden for a key area game Thursday night before visiting A.L. Johnson Friday.