HEPHZIBAH -- The Hephzibah girls basketball team appeared vulnerable for the first time in nearly a year on Tuesday. Then the second quarter began.
The Lady Rebels used a 9-2 in the second period to push their record to 17-0 with a 62-50 victory over Laney. The Lady Wildcats (15-5) hung with Hephzibah until halftime but couldn't match the Lady Rebels' low post game.
LeCoe Willingham was benched in the first quarter by Lady Rebels coach Wendell Lofton for missing a practice. Hephzibah's premier player was soon joined by fellow senior standout April Clyburn when she picked up her second personal foul midway through the first quarter.
Laney was never able to build a substantial lead with Clyburn and Willingham watching from the sidelines, however. Once the Hephzibah duo returned, the Lady Wildcats discovered why the Lady Rebels are undefeated. Willingham had 17 points to go with her 12 rebounds and four blocks. Clyburn added 15 points and 11 boards.
Lofton and his players attributed the win to the play of Hephzibah's supporting cast at the game's outset.
"We were counting on ninth graders to come through for us," Lofton said of Tamara Gilyard and Leighla Holder. "The came in and substituted real well. We tried to wait for that first quarter to go by. They handled the pressure real well."
Clyburn said this year's squad has more depth and has confidence her teammates can get the job done when she needs a breather.
"We have a better mix than we've had in the past," Clyburn said. "They can step it up. We had Jennifer (East) out there to keep the pace of the game."
East, a guard, handled Laney's press throughout the game. Hephzibah took command of the contest in the third quarter with East hitting from the outside and Clyburn and Willingham dominating the paint. The Lady Rebels entered the fourth quarter holding a 46-36 lead.
The game did provide Lofton a chance to see his team react without its two interior players. Although he'd like to expand his rotation beyond the seven that played Tuesday.
"I've got to get some other players," Lofton said. "Next week we'll give them more playing time. Browyn Smyre kept us in the game early tonight when LeCoe was out."
Jimmy DeButts is a sports writer for the Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at 706-823-3221.