The stakes were high yet very simple. With Reservoir and Howard each owning a 15-2 record in league play, the winner of Tuesday’s game would maintain its hopes for a county title.
In a tense contest, both teams seemed to understand the magnitude of the situation.
Sloppy play early on led to a low scoring first half but the Lions were able to build a 13-point second-half lead before surviving a frantic comeback by the Gators for a 37-36 win.
The victory sets up a showdown with River Hill in the regular season finale.
“That was a very physical game so we just tried to keep our composure,” Howard forward Sydney Biniak said. “We got a big run that put us in the lead but we knew they were going to fight back because that’s just who they are. So we had to stay strong throughout the whole game.”
Biniak, Emma Hoesman and Jayda Gilmore all finished with 10 points for Howard (16-2, 19-2), which needed every last one of them by game’s end.
After building a six-point halftime lead, the Lions opened the second half with three straight 3-pointers in a 9-2 run to take a 26-13 advantage. Gilmore drained two from long distance and Hoesman nailed another from the left corner.
Reservoir (15-3, 15-3) clawed to within 27-18 to end the third quarter, then flipped the switch over the final eight minutes.
A pair of free throws by Hoesman with 3 minutes, 35 seconds remaining gave Howard a 33-21 advantage.
The Gators were able to cut their deficit to just four points thanks to 3-pointers by Danaysha Turner and Keri Rager, and an old-fashioned three-point play from junior Zelor Massaquoi (16 points, 16 rebounds) who made an acrobatic put-back layup as she was fouled.
Hoesman stopped the advance with a crucial jumper from the top of the key to give the Lions a 36-30 lead.
With time running out, Massaquoi spotted up and drained a 3-pointer, then followed that up with a steal before being fouled with 12.6 seconds remaining. She made one foul shot to make it a two-point game.
Biniak was fouled on the subsequent in-bounds play and made a free throw to make it 37-34 with 10 seconds left in regulation.
The Gators were able to get a layup with just under 2 seconds left but never regained possession of the ball.
Reservoir dug itself a deep hole after getting off to a slow start. At halftime, the team had more turnovers (17) than points (11).
“The story of our season has been fighting back and winning,” Gators coach Kyle Sullivan said. “We’ve been starting off slow but have still been able to comeback and win. This is a wake-up call that we have got to stop starting so slowly and play (hard) from the first quarter.”
On its Senior Night, Howard gave its lone upperclassman Jenny DelCoco a night to remember with such a cardiac win.
“This was a huge game for us and we were able to pull it out in the end,” said DelCoco who started the contest. “I was confident in our team but watching it from the sideline was definitely difficult because Reservoir is a really good team.”
Howard will travel to River Hill on Thursday evening to settle the county championship. The Hawks own a one-game advantage in the standings but a Lions win would give a share of the title to each squad.
“This was a crazy big game,” Gilmore said. “This (win) is what’s going to motivate us to get a win over River Hill. It’s going to be a tough game because its on their home court but I think with what we have here on this team, we can win.”