Atholton’s Justin Ballmer had gotten four good looks from beyond the arc through the first 35 minutes of Monday’s matchup against River Hill, but still hadn’t hit pay dirt.

Yet despite those previous misses, as the ball found his hands on the wing with under a minute left in overtime of a tie game, Ballmer says he didn’t think twice about trying again.

“All game everyone was saying to keep on shooting — my teammates, coach Albert they all kept telling me that,” said Ballmer, who came in averaging one made 3-pointer per game. “Michael (Bernetti) even said to me, ‘If I get you one, you’ve got to make it.’ So I got that ball and knew what I had to do.”

Ballmer released the 3-point shot and watched as it hit nothing but net with 42 seconds remaining, giving Atholton (6-1, 8-2) a final lead it never surrendered on the way to a 52-45 overtime victory over visiting River Hill (7-1, 7-3).


Sign up to receive our free daily email newsletter: Columbia Today

During the final minute, Atholton seniors Ballmer (11 points) and Bernetti (18) combined to score all seven of their team’s points to create the final margin.

“Our seniors, they played tonight like the leaders that they are. When we needed them, at the end of the game, they stepped up and made plays,” Atholton coach Jared Albert said. “But it was also a true team effort. Casey Kelly came up with probably the biggest rebound of the game at the end there, Joelle Martin had a heck of a steal to help us go up five … everyone did their part.”

Atholton’s clutch plays in the final minute of the extra period capped off a game that was back-and-forth from the very beginning. By the time the final horn sounded there were 11 lead changes and eight ties.

During regulation there were several key runs by both teams, but neither squad held a lead of more than six points.

“Atholton and River Hill has always been a good game, I don't care what year it is or what the records are. Tonight certainly lived up to that,” River Hill coach Matt Graves said. “It was a chess match in a lot of ways. They just hit a few more big shots than us in overtime and that was the difference in the game.”

The loss spoiled a standout effort from Hawks’ junior forward Charlie Thomas, who posted game highs of 22 points and 21 rebounds. Thomas produced a 9-2 run of his own at one point in the second half, including an emphatic transition dunk that tied the game with 3:31 left in the third quarter.

But Atholton responded shortly after that with a 9-0 spurt of its own, sparked by Martin (9 points on the night), to regain the lead and set up the frenetic final quarter.

The game was tied at 40 at the end of regulation and was knotted again at 45 with a minute left in overtime following a 3-pointer by River Hill’s Mike Heitzmann (9 points).

With the game in the balance, though, Ballmer stepped in and made the biggest shot of the night.

The victory was Atholton’s sixth straight in county play after losing its season opener in double overtime against Centennial in early December. Coming off a season where the team won just eight league games, there’s a completely different feel this winter.

“Everyone has felt so rejuvenated this season. Having Brandon (Willis) and Joelle transfer in, and with all the hard work we put in during the offseason, we just felt like this was our season,” Ballmer said. “We’re getting better every game and if we keep playing like this, we feel like we can do really big things.”

Atholton 52, River Hill 45 OT

A (6-1, 8-2): Bernetti 18, Ballmer 11, Martin 9, Willis 8, Kelly 2, Mendelsohn 2, Purdue 2.

RH (7-1, 7-3): Thomas 22, Sandler 12, Heitzmann 9, Titus 2.

Half: 16-16; Regulation: 40-40.

Other scores: