SMYRNA — Coach Rachel Woodall will never say the Smyrna High girls’ basketball team needed to lose a game.
But there is such a thing as a good loss, she hopes her Eagles experienced one of those Tuesday night.
Smyrna suffered its first defeat of the season as visiting Sanford led wire to wire and earned a 48-39 win in a nonconference matchup between two teams expected to compete for the state title.
“It was a good loss for us and of course nobody wants to lose,” coach Woodall said. “But we’ll pick it back up. When? I’m not sure, but it starts tomorrow in practice. We’ve still got other games ahead of us. I didn’t think we were going to lose today, but they came out to play today and we weren’t ready.”
It marked Sanford’s fifth straight win over the Eagles (8-1) in the last three years. The Warriors (4-4) beat Smyrna in the 2010 state championship and in the 2011 semifinals.
The Warriors mounted a double-digit lead in the third quarter Tuesday night before Smyrna began to work its way back into the game. Senior Brionna Johnson sank two free throws at the end of the third quarter to cut Sanford’s advantage to 39-29.
Both teams exchanged baskets to begin the fourth, then Johnson hit a layup to make it an eight-point game. Smyrna forced a Sanford miss at the other end and Taylor Price hit a runner in the lane to have the Eagles trailing 41-35 with 6:25 remaining.
Smyrna had chances to get a stop, but couldn’t grab a defensive rebound on the Warriors’ next possession. Sanford finally converted after three different second-chance opportunities when Johanna McMillan buried an open three in the corner after an inbound play.
The Eagles went on to miss four straight shots until Alyson Davis nailed a long jumper. They forced a steal on the ensuing Sanford possession and Davis hit a layup off the resulting fastbreak. Her bucket made a 44-39 game and Smyrna forced another turnover which sent Shi’Erra Hilliard to the line for two shots with 47 seconds left.
Hilliard missed both and Davis was off the mark on a three-point attempt which would have made it a one-possession game. The Eagles only hit nine of their 17 attempts from the free throw line.
“That was the biggest thing, we missed free throws,” Woodall said.
Sanford’s sophomore guard Ayanna Thompson hit four free throws in the final 29 seconds to seal the win. The Warriors were paced by McMillan and Alison Lewis who each had 14. Chrishyanah Alston was also in double figures for Sanford with 13.
Sanford coach Marcus Thompson said it was the Warriors’ defense that won them the game.
“We talked about not coming in with any tricks, just good solid man-to-man defense,” Thompson said. “Contesting, and then box out and rebound.”
They built their big lead thanks to a 12-0 run at the start of the second quarter.
Johnson was Smyrna’s leading scorer with 12 points. Kamerra Matthews contributed 10.
“I think it’s a real good team,” Thompson said of the Eagles. “I think coach is doing a real nice job. She’s putting her mark on the team and there’s a lot of cohesiveness there. I expect them to have a real good year.”
It’s the first time Woodall has lost in her short career as Smyrna’s coach. She and the Eagles get their first chance to rebound from the defeat at 7:15 p.m. Friday at home against Dover.
“When we’re down, we’ve got to come up together,” Woodall said. “I think that we still didn’t get that camaraderie on the floor. The defense wasn’t there for us. We were a step too slow and it showed.”
Staff writer Tim Mastro can be reached at 741-8224 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimMastroDSN.