In the fourth quarter, all eyes in the gym were glued to two players – Oakland Mills’ Traonna Thomas and Glenelg’s Sam Heisig. The pair of seniors on opposite sides of the court went shot-for-shot, trying to will their respective squads to victory.
Heisig and Thomas scored all of their team’s points in the final quarter, and in the end, it was two free throws by Thomas with 16.9 seconds left that pushed the Scorpions past the host Gladiators, 39-35, in the opening round of the Class 2A South regional playoffs Friday.
“(Heisig) is a good player and it was fun battling with her,” Thomas said. “She was going and I was going but we were able to get the win.”
With her team ahead, 37-35, Thomas was fouled and was awarded two shots in the double bonus. She calmly sank the first before Oakland Mills called a timeout to set up their defense. Thomas stepped back to the line and made her second attempt.
“Those free throws were big. I was praying that they went in,” Thomas said. “I stepped to the line and once I knocked that first one down, it gave me confidence to knock the second one down.”
Thomas finished with a game-high 24 points – including 12 over the final eight minutes – and had eight boards for Oakland Mills (13-10 overall). Heisig, who returned from an ACL injury in January, scored 10 points in the fourth and 22 points total in the final game of her standout career for Glenelg (10-13).
“Those seniors didn’t want to give up,” Scorpions coach Seth Willingham said. “Sam has overcome a lot and she is a heck of a ball player. We tried to put a couple different girls on her but we kept losing track of her and she made us pay.”
When his team needed a big shot or rebound or a crucial defensive play, Willingham knew where to turn.
“Traonna is one of my most fundamental and knowledgeable basketball players so that’s who I’m going to go down with,” he said. “All of the girls played with heart tonight.”
Thomas helped the visitors get off to a fast start, scoring 12 first-half points as her team held a 19-11 halftime lead. Tori Diggs pushed the lead to 10 when she knocked down a jumper to open the third quarter.
The Gladiators decided to switch defenses, going to a zone to cut down on penetration to the basket and turned to a full-court press to slow momentum.
Glenelg was able to create some turnovers and a 10-0 run pulled the contest even at 21-21 midway through the third. Olivia Nowlin nailed a 3-pointer to spark the turnaround. Lauren Wright added a mid-range jumper, Nowlin sank two foul shots and a Heisig 3-pointer sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Karigan Awkward helped Oakland Mills weather the storm with four free throws and a layup to end the third.
Trailing by three in the fourth, Heisig drilled back-to-back threes to give the Gladiators their first and only lead of the game. Unfortunately for them, it lasted just one minute.
“We changed the defense up a little bit in the third quarter and were able to double team out of our zone. I thought that worked well,” Glenelg coach Don Beall said. “We got a lot of turnovers but you have to get something out of it on the offensive end. We had a nice run where we went up by three but then we had a couple turnovers.”
Oakland Mills took advantage of those miscues when Thomas knocked down a 3-pointer to help the Scorpions reclaim the lead. Then she stepped into another three from the top of the key to push the lead to 35-31 with 2:43 remaining in regulation.
An old-fashioned three-point play from Heisig pulled Glenelg back to within a single point, but Thomas went 4-for-4 from the foul line to ice the game.
“I knew if I made those free throws it would keep them from being able to come down, hit a three and tie it,” Thomas said. “I’m happy we’re moving on. I’m a senior so I’m very happy that it didn’t end tonight.”
But for Glenelg’s senior class, this was the end of the road, which was especially hard to accept since the group didn’t have the season that they were hoping for. Heisig, a two-time first team All-County selection, returned mid-season at the same time that defending league player of the year Emily Russo (UMBC) suffered a knee injury.