— Despite Thursday's 56-55 loss at home to Poquoson, the Bruton girls basketball team is on its best form of the season as the Panthers' 2A conference playoffs near.
Bruton (10-9), winner of eight of its last 11 including Tuesday over Jamestown, played well enough to top Poquoson, which rallied from a 12-point third quarter deficit. The Islanders' star guard, Sondra Fan, scored 34 points in a sensational performance that lifted the visitors to a season sweep over the Panthers.
Down three points, Bruton had a chance to tie it on the last play, but the Panthers converted a two-point jumper just before time expired.
"One thing we told the young ladies is we have to have mental toughness," said Shawn Preston, who is co-coaching Bruton alongside longtime Panthers assistant Bobby Warner. "Fan had 34 points tonight. We can't allow a loose ball and her getting it and then a shot to discourage us. We have to keep the effort up throughout the whole game."
Fan, who recently eclipsed 1,000 career points, had 20 points in the first half and finished 7-for-7 at the foul line and 7-for-12 from 3-point range.
Poquoson was 14-for-15 at the foul line and Fan accounted for seven of the Islanders' 10 long-distance shots.
A couple of those 3s from Fan were NBA-range launches, each from the top of the key in pull-up fashion. On one, to beat the first-quarter buzzer, Fan held the ball as the final seconds wound down before popping and splashing nothing but net.
The other deep Fan bomb was crucial, with about two minutes to play, to cut Bruton's lead to 53-52.
Then after Poquoson missed its only free throw of the game on a one-and-one attempt, Fan forced a jump ball that set up her go-ahead free throws.
"She reminds me of Russell Westbrook," Preston said. "And what I mean is she is relentless, offensively and defensively. She's tying our girls up, tipping the ball up and getting steals, pull-up 3-pointers. She's like watching a video game."
Poquoson's Taylor Moore also came up with a pivotal steal on a Bruton in-bounds pass with seven seconds left that set up two more Fan free throws to make it 56-53.
After the Panthers employed a diamond-and-one defensive look on Fan to start the second half, with Julecia Ferguson guarding the Islanders standout, Fan had a relatively quiet third period with one bucket before tallying 12 of Poquoson's 17 fourth-quarter points.
Mychaela Lucas led the Panthers with 15 points with all but a free throw scored on post moves around the basket or put-backs.
"She can run like a guard," Preston said. "That's the thing I love about her. She's running end to end. She's very vocal. She's probably the tallest and most athletic player in the district."
Gabby Calloway also scored in double figures for Bruton with 13 and point guard Mykael Johnson had nine points.
The Panthers, who have won the last two Conference 33 tournaments, have a big week ahead with a game Monday at Lafayette before hosting Warhill Wednesday.
Of course, Bruton wants to perform well in district play, but the Panthers look to be coming together at the right time for a more-important 2A postseason run. Last season, they lost in the first round of regional play.
"We have one of the toughest 2A schedules playing in the Bay Rivers with some great coaches," Preston said. "These coaches prepare us for the 2A tournament. So I'm glad we are getting beat up, so we can take those experiences and maybe change the outcome in the postseason."
POQUOSON 56, BRUTON 55
Poquoson: Fan 34, Moore 6, A. Forrest 2, Erb 2, K. Forrest 4, Pinder 5, Long 3. Totals 16 14-15 56.
Bruton: Lucas 15, Calloway 13, Ferguson 8, My. Johnson 9, Ma. Johnson 7, Robinson 3. Totals 22 8-11 55.
POQUOSON 13 11 15 17 – 56
BRUTON 18 7 23 7 – 55
3-point goals: Poquoson 10 (Fan 7, Moore 2, Pinder); Bruton 3 (Calloway, Ferguson, My. Johnson).
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.