BRANFORD — A three-way tussle between Branford, Trenton and Hilliard for the district title highlights the District 6-1A second-half schedule.
Trenton, the defending state champion, leads with a 5-0 mark, while Branford is second at 4-2 and Hilliard is 3-1. Overall Trenton is 10-2, Branford is 6-4 and Hilliard is 5-3.
In the three-way entanglement Branford is 0-2, losing to Trenton and Hilliard and plays at Trenton on Jan. 21 and at Hilliard on Jan. 25. Trenton is 2-0 beating Hilliard and Branford and travels to Hilliard on Jan. 11 and hosts Branford on Jan. 21. Hilliard is 1-1.
While Trenton and Hilliard are somewhat similar with speed, hustle and inside strength and solid starting lineups, Branford counters with its 3-point shooters, twins Kyla and Kayla Desmartin and Cera McElreath. All three are juniors.
Branford’s second-half success may depend on the return of volleyball standout Lachelle Sikes, who would be a good fourth player, and would give the team height down low.
“Maybe, I think it’s in the works,” Branford coach Carla Suggs said. “She’ll be center, and she’s 6-feet tall, but she hasn’t played organized basketball for a couple years. She’s a senior and just wants to give it a try again. I’ve got three 10th graders rotating in, and Jaden Bates is doing pretty good. The other two need more time and experience. I can’t come up with a solid starting group. Sykes might eventually take that spot.”
Branford’s 3-point shooters caught fire in the fourth against Trenton and made the late-November game close; and the question is can they do that again. They will have to if they want to compete against the Tigers.
Hilliard lost to Trenton 65-30 on Dec. 7 when some players hadn’t finished playing other sports for the school.
“I feel like the next time we’ll give them a run for their money,” Hilliard coach Tara Franklin said.
The Flashes have the tall Victoria Smith, who was dominant on offense and defense against Branford. She scored 15 points. Smith got open for uncontested shots and had a knack for tracking the ball down for rebounds. Hilliard will also deploy the speedy and versatile Katelin Franklin, who scored 11 against Branford.
For Trenton, Janiyah King leads scorers with 158 points and Samarie McHenry has 143. Bri Becker is third with 133 points, but leads with 19 3-pointers. McHenry edges King in rebounds 124 to 118. Nobody comes close to King’s 23 blocks. Becker and Kinsey Akins lead the turnover-producing Tigers with 43 steals each.
“Hilliard has an excellent coach and is a well disciplined team,” Trenton coach Bryant Frye said. “In our previous matchup, we pressed and caused them to turn the ball over. Our height was an advantage, and we matched the speed of Hilliard and won 65-30.”
Frye said the two teams have different styles, and he plans to play “aggressive and fast,” while “Hilliard is a more controlled team.”
Frye said that the Tigers are still working on how to play best against the Bucs, but both teams should be ready by then.
“Suggs will have them ready by the end of the season heading into the district tournament,” he added.
Trenton plays Wildwood on Jan. 23, and that team’s only loss is to Master’s Academy, who is a Class 3A team.
Lafayette lost to Wildwood 69-57 in December, but Rene Clines scored 32 points in that game for the Hornets.
In the Tigers’ game against Lafayette, which is in District 5, Fyre used a box-and-one defense, signaling out Clines with a Tiger guarding her, while the rest of the team played zone.
Frye said the put his best defensive player, Kinsey Adams, on Clines.
It was effective, and the team won 58-53, though Clines managed 25 points. She is the team’s leading scorer and averages over 23 points a game. Brooklyn Fleming leads the team in rebounds, but is 5-7, while Emily Lyons, at 5-4, had trouble under the basket against Trenton’s inside tandem of King, who is 6-feet, and McHenry at 5-7.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge, and it only made me better and get me more prepared,” Lyons said.
LHS coach Jimmy Blankenship said that in the first game his team hurt themselves with bad passes and lack luster play, which can happen against better teams.
“It’s a different level of competition,” he said.