Down by as many as 12 points in the first half, River Hill found a way to stick around throughout Friday night's contest against Howard. Then, after making a few key adjustments, the visiting Hawks put together a late fourth quarter push to take a one-possession lead with just one minute to play.
Knowing that her next move could decide the game, Jessie Hopkins ensured that the Hawks’ comeback would not go to waste.
The sophomore guard scored the game’s final seven points – including a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left – leading her team to a 52-43 victory over the Lions.
“I felt everyone’s momentum going, and I knew that I had to make that shot,” said Hopkins, who notched a game-high 15 points on the day. “I just felt it going in.”
In the two teams’ season opener, Howard traveled to Clarksville for an easy victory, proving that the defending county champions weren’t going to run the table again without a fight. On Friday, the Hawks’ usual suspects joined Hopkins in handing Howard its second consecutive loss of the year.
Senior captains Jenna and Julia Collins notched 14 and nine points, respectively, and added a combined 14 rebounds for good measure. Sydney Poindexter’s eight points and five boards also provided the Hawks (9-4 county, 11-4 overall) a lift when they needed it most.
In the early stages of Friday’s rematch, the Lions (9-2, 12-2) were in complete control. Whether it was sending the ball into the paint for Sydney Biniak (11 points) and Berit Batterton (8), or kicking it out to the perimeter for a quick shot, everything was going the home team’s way.
“We know they are really strong, especially in moving without the ball and in their post play,” said Hawks coach Teresa Waters of the Lions game plan. “We needed to settle. Everyone has a role to play, and (our girls) just had to buy into it.”
Hopkins agreed, adding that the Lions’ home court advantage played a factor in her team’s early struggles as well.
“We started out slow because of the atmosphere,” she said. “They have a great student section and a lot of great fans, so it was hard to adjust quickly.”
In the second half, River Hill brought a number of changes into the fold. After switching to the 3-2 zone, giving up on the press and slowing down the offense, the Hawks started to see results.
In the third quarter, down by eight at the start, River Hill outscored the Lions 14-10. Crucial 3-pointers from Jayda Gilmore (9 points) and Natalie Talley kept Howard’s lead at two possessions, but it was foul trouble towards the end of the game that ultimately kept River Hill vying for a lead.
Through the fourth quarter, River Hill closed in on its target. Howard held onto the lead for nearly six minutes before Julia Collins tied it up for the Hawks. Less than a minute later, Margaux Hrab picked up a loose ball under the basket and converted on a layup attempt to give her team its first lead of the game.
On the ensuing possession, the ball found Hopkins, who made Howard pay with her second 3-pointer of the night.
As the seconds ticked away, the sophomore was fouled twice and sent to the line, connecting on all four attempts to complete her team’s comeback performance.
“Well, she was feeling it,” said Waters of Hopkins’ play to close out the win. “She’s a natural athlete, and she works so hard. She came through in a crunch situation...The rest is history.”
With his team having lost its last two games, Howard coach Scott Robinson tried to remain positive, giving “all the credit” to River Hill.
“I thought they did a nice job with the second shots and rebounding. They really attacked us on the boards, and they had the big shots,” he said. “That’s the ballgame, and that’s credit to River Hill.”
Following a disappointing 0-3 start, the Hawks are now in contention to defend their county championship. Hopkins said her team still has more to accomplish.
“We’re just going to work, and keep going until we’re back to where we belong,” she said.