There wasn’t much in the way of style points, but Atholton picked up a key road victory over River Hill on Tuesday evening.
Three guys scored in double digits and the Raiders hit just enough free throws down the stretch, holding off a late River Hill comeback to earn a 51-47 win. It was the team’s fifth straight victory and keeps Atholton (14-2, 15-3) just one game back of first-place Oakland Mills (15-1, 17-2), which defeated Hammond in its game Tuesday, with three league games left in the regular season.
“We knew it was going to be a hostile environment, senior night for them against an arch rival. It had a playoff atmosphere to it, which was great and exactly what you want at this time of year,” Atholton coach Jared Albert said. “We were able to make some plays at the end there and close it out. It was a great basketball game and big win for us.”
River Hill (12-6, 13-8), which was led by Charlie Thomas’ 20 points and 13 rebounds, managed to keep the game at a methodical pace the majority of the way.
The Hawks led 9-7 after the opening quarter and, despite scoring just four points in the second quarter, only trailed 18-13 at the half.
“They are a very athletic team and we knew that going in, so the game plan is to keep them from getting out in transition, cutting off penetration and then forcing them to take outside shots,” River Hill coach Matt Graves said. “From that standpoint, we did a pretty good job most of the game.”
Atholton began extending things out in the third quarter and early stages of the fourth, though, riding the quartet of Joelle Martin (14 points), Michael Bernetti (10), Brandon Willis (10) and Justin Ballmer (7).
Following a 3-pointer by Bernetti early in the fourth quarter, the Raider lead was up to 11 points at 34-23.
“I think it started with our defense and we talk to our guys all the time about effort plays,” Albert said. “Ross had a steal or two really early in the game that led to some really easy buckets and I think that kind of effort is something we sustained most of the way and it eventually helped us build that lead in the second half.”
Atholton was still up by 10 points with 2:28 left in the final quarter on the heels of a lay-up by Casey Kelly.
But just as the game was getting away from them, the Hawks found life behind Thomas, Mike Heitzmann (8 points), Deion Richardson (8) and Mike Titus (6). A mix of lay-ups, foul shots and defensive stops helped River Hill claw all the way back to within two points with 29 seconds to go.
Then after a foul-shot by Atholton’s Martin made it a three-point game, Heitzmann got a look from 3-point range with just less than 15 seconds left on the clock that would have tied the game. The shot rattled out, however, and Bernetti proceeded to hit a foul shot to ice the game.
Over the final 90 seconds, all nine Atholton points came from the foul line.
“It was a struggle at times, but we managed to get it done by playing as a team,” Martin said. “We knew it was going to come down to making free throws and we made just enough to pull it out.”
While River Hill was right there at the end, Graves said it was mistakes earlier in the second half that ultimately did his team in.
“We definitely beat ourselves with turnovers and it’s killing us in late-game situations,” Graves said. “But the kids fought. I can’t sit here and say they didn’t give it every ounce of energy they had to keep ourselves around to get an opportunity to tie the game in the final 15 seconds.”
Atholton remains in the hunt for this year’s county title, although the team would need to win out and have Oakland Mills lose at least one of its final three regular season games. But for now, Albert says his guys are simply trying to control what is front of them.
“We’re trying to keep practice fresh, making sure we are competing every day,” Albert said. “Right now it’s not about who we play, it’s how we play … and we want to keep that consistent mentality every time we step on the court. Hopefully we can do that and keep this thing rolling.”
Atholton 51, River Hill 47
A (14-2, 15-3): Martin 14, Bernetti 10, Willis 10, Ballmer 7, Perdue 6, Kelly 4.