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Double-doubles help ALJ soar over Essex

The A.L. Johnson extended its season for one more game Monday night by downing John Essex 40-27 in the play-in game of the Girls Class 1A, Area 5 Tournament.

“They put on the best effort I’ve seen this season,” ALJ assistant coach Danielle Sanders who was sitting in for head coach Rose Wolf said after the win. “It’s playoff time. I told them it’s win or go home.”

The Lady Eagles opened the game with a 6-0 run before Essex pulled into the lead, only to watch ALJ cruise to a 13-9 advantage in the waning moments of the first quarter.

John Essex outscored ALJ 6-4 in a slow-paced second period that featured a strategy change by Lady Hornet head coach Lenoise Richey. With 3:32 remaining in the quarter, John Essex point guard Krisshondra Fluker brought the ball just across half court and proceeded to dribble out the clock. Essex extended its wing players to the half court line and passed the ball around twice before Fluker put it back on the floor. By the time the Lady Hornets ran a play, there were 53 seconds remaining in the half.

“Getting ready for fouling out,” Lenoise Richey said of the slow-down strategy, which he intended to preempt foul trouble. “Exactly what happened at the end.”

Essex and Johnson each took the floor with only six players, making both coaches apprehensive about foul trouble.

The teams combined for only eight points in the third quarter, playing to a 4-4 tie in the period. Despite entering the fourth quarter down only two, Essex could get no closer as the ALJ tandem of Ashley Edwards and Terra King dominated the game’s final period.

Edwards finished the night with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. King added 14 points and 17 rebounds.

“That’s my tree,” Sanders said of King. “Her first double-double of the season. I expect a lot out of Terra.”

Keyandria Wheeler led the Hornet effort with 14 points. Brittney Simmons contributed eight points and seven rebounds. Junior Nayesha Daniels struggled scoring, but grabbed a game high 21 rebounds on the night.

“Consistency amongst her teammates,” Richey said of Daniels’ scoring troubles. “There are some nights she comes out and has 20 points and 20 rebounds. But tonight she saw that (Keyandria Wheeler) was hot, so she deferred to her. She is a very unselfish player.”

The win moves ALJ to the first round of the area tournament Thursday where they will face host team and top-seeded Sunshine. The loss ends the John Essex season.

“It’s priceless,” Richey said of the experience his team gained over the season. “They got close to it, got a taste of it, but didn’t pull it out. Anytime you’re dealing with you, experience (is key). (Assistant coach Donald) Constand and I talked about the progress we made from the first game to the last game. It’s unbelievable.”

Tournament play resumes at 5:30 p.m. Thursday when Linden takes on Sweet Water. Sunshine and A.L. Johnson will follow immediately afterward.