Lancaster Bruins looking to seal perfect region season Monday night

bmccormick@heraldonline.comFebruary 16, 2014 

Lancaster has won 13 straight girls’ basketball games and Ronnie Robinson’s team has a chance to finish an undefeated Region 3-AAAA slate Monday night at South Pointe.

Stephanie Butler’s Stallions gave the Bruins one of their toughest region games of the season on Jan. 16 when Lancaster beat South Pointe 61-58. The Stallions’ 58 were the most points the Bruins (15-4, 12-0 in Region 3-AAAA) have allowed this season; they’re holding teams to 39 points per game. Lancaster, ranked sixth in the state, has already clinched its first region title since 2005, Robinson’s first year at the school. He said he knew this chance was coming after following his current group’s rise through the middle schools ranks.

Lancaster’s ascension has been pushed by two Division I recruits, seniors Kyia Hough and Phoebe Johnson. Hough, a 5-foot-5 guard signed with Western Carolina, has been the catalyst after returning from an ACL tear that robbed her of her junior season. Johnson, an imposing 6-foot-4 post player, heading to UNC Wilmington this fall, has benefited from Hough’s playmaking, but also her own improved fitness. The pair give the Bruins, who only lost one starter from last season, a pair of game-changers.

Hough leads the team with 15.2 points per game, 2.6 assists and 1.9 steals, but she does countless other things that contribute to Lancaster wins. Robinson said Hough has an urgency to her play this season, in part because of the time missed due to injury, and also because it’s her senior year. Her return from the ACL tear might be the single biggest influence on the Bruins’ excellent season thus far.

“Her experience coming back, added to the experience we had, it’s helped us get to where we need to get to,” said Robinson. “The leadership that she brings, knowledge of the game, brings that, and just leading by example.”

Johnson averages 11 points and a team-high 8.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per outing. She’s blocked 44 shots this season and has just 33 personal fouls, showing she can be a defensive presence and stay on the floor. Johnson’s big games this season include an 18-point, 20-rebound performance in a 54-27 win over Rock Hill Dec. 19, and blocking seven shots in the Jan. 16 win over South Pointe.

“Wow, she’s improved a lot,” said Robinson. “She’s gotten herself in shape, worked on her footwork, she’s been working since day one of her ninth grade summer.

“She’s done all the things she needed to do to.”

Hough, who has scored in double figures in every game but one, and Johnson provide the brunt of Lancaster’s offensive production, but a number of other players contribute in distinct roles. Sophomore Keyotta Garris is the team’s third leading scorer (6.4 points) and is second on the team in steals, with 1.7. Fellow sophomore Hayden Thorne is a 6-foot reserve that can spell Johnson, while senior Aliyah Davis gives the Bruins more experience and scoring in the lineup.

Asked if this season’s team has been an easy coaching job, Robinson said, “it really is. This group gets along real well and just encourages each other so much.”

Hough and Johnson played on the same AAU team last summer, but have been playing together since middle school, which has developed a chemistry between them, on and off the court. That kind of feeling extends all the way to the last seat on the bench.

“This is a close-knit group I’ve got, not just them two,” Robinson said. “All of them really encourage each other, push each other and want each other to do better. That’s been a motivating force for us this season, how well they get along together.”

Robinson said his team was also inspired by its first round loss to Ridge View 52-48 last year; they lost to Dutch Fork in 2011-12’s first round. The expectation from the Bruins is to make a dent in the playoffs this season.

“The real season starts Thursday,” said Robinson. “That’s when the rubber hits the road.”

Bret McCormick •  803-329-4032; Twitter; @BretJust1T

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