Like most who watched Krystine Rice in the fourth quarter, Cherokee coach Shannon Bretz couldn't help but state the obvious:
"Krystine was just playing with a ton of confidence," Bretz said Thursday after her team's 43-31 victory over Williamstown in girls' basketball.
That much was clear. It's hard to take over the fourth quarter of a tight game the way Rice did without a fair amount of trust in your abilities.
Rice scored eight points in the final period, helping the Chiefs erase a two-point deficit with a 16-2 outburst.
Bretz used the performance to shed light on how the senior forward went from being a junior varsity player last season to a tenacious threat on both ends of the varsity court and a player the Chiefs rely on in crunch time.
"Rice has always been a great athlete," Bretz said after her team's second win at the Lenape Board 34 Showcase. "And now her attitude matches her athleticism. She's just matured a lot and grown up a lot in the last year. And she's become one of our go-to kids this year."
Aiding Rice's efforts in the fourth quarter was senior center Sara Farrell, the lone returning starter for Cherokee (5-0).
With her team on its heels after losing its lead and being outplayed in the third quarter, Farrell said she came out wanting to play more aggressively in the final period.
That attitude led the 6-footer to pull down four of her nine rebounds and score five points. She also led a smothering defensive effort down the stretch.
"We were just playing together as a team," Farrell said. "We just kept our heads. And I knew time of possession was key. And we were able to keep possession for most of the fourth quarter."
Farrell was also the catalyst of the Chiefs' strong first quarter. She netted six of her game-high 17 points in the opening period, helping Cherokee to a 12-5 lead.
The Chiefs extended the lead to 16-7 before momentum shifted in Williamstown's favor.
Taylor Walkers' fast break with 3 minutes, 35 seconds left in the half brought the Braves (2-2) to within four.
One minute later, freshman Valerie Piniero grabbed two offensive rebounds before forcing the ball into the net and cutting Cherokee's lead to 17-13.
With eight seconds left, Walker (six points) again drove to the basket for a hard layup, capping an 11-3 run.
Williamstown went into halftime down by 19-18. But thanks in large part to two big three-pointers by senior guard Courtney Caulfield, the Braves built a lead as large as five points in the third quarter and ended the period ahead by 29-27.
"I thought we did a nice job fighting back," Williamstown coach Karen Dilmore said. "I just wish we could have put four quarters together. I just think once we lost the lead, our heads got down and we got in too deep of a hole."
Her team trailing by a basket entering the fourth quarter, Rice netted the period's first three points and set up another crucial basket with a steal with a little less than five minutes to play.
"I would definitely say that I have more confidence this year," Rice said. "I feel like since I was put in the starting lineup. I've just been able to go out and do my best, and it's been working out."
Williamstown 5 13 11 2 – 31
Cherokee 12 7 8 16 – 43
W: Courtney Caulfield 12, Jade Bonder 3, Jalen Reed 2, De'Nisha Green 2, Taylor Walker 6, Valerie Piniero 6.
C: Sara Farrell 17, Melissa Lake 8 Gina McCool 5, Teariah Mosely 4, Krystine Rice 9.