It took overtime and a huge game from senior Diara Woodard, but Mt. Hebron got itself in the win column Friday night.
On the road against a Howard (1-3, 1-3) team that got its own first win of the year two days earlier, Woodard scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead the way in a 54-52 comeback victory for the Vikings (1-3, 1-4).
“Tonight was a big part of them growing up and I’m proud of them for that,” Mt. Hebron coach Mike Linsenmeyer said. “Diara was a great leader, but we had some huge intangible plays made by a bunch of kids.”
Woodard, who scored four of Mt. Hebron’s eight points during the overtime period, said the victory was a big step forward after a couple of tough losses to open the year.
“It feels great. We are working really, really hard as a team in practice and I feel that it showed tonight,” Woodard said. “We grinded it out … it was a good win.”
Howard, which was led by guards Duke Bartnik (15 points) and Mike Anderson (13) most of the evening, was the one in control at the onset. The Lions capitalized on their defense to hold the Vikings without a field goal in the first quarter and jump out to an 8-1 lead.
Howard’s offense wasn’t at its best in those opening minutes, making only four baskets of its own, but did enough to establish a lead.
“We play pretty hard defense, we’ve just got to match that with our offensive, not so much intensity, but concentration,” Howard coach Matt Jens said.
After that first quarter, which Linsenmeyer described as “the worst single quarter of Mt. Hebron basketball” he’d ever witnessed, the Vikings seemed to settle in.
Mt. Hebron’s Mark Smith (16 points) sank a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around two foul shots by Woodard in the first two minutes of the second quarter to quickly turn the seven-point deficit into a one-point lead. Then, from there, the game quickly became a back-and-forth affair.
In the second half alone the lead changed hands nine times, with neither team leading by more than four points. Chris Malagar (10 points) came off the bench to provide some big baskets for Howard, including a pair of free throws early in the third quarter that put his team up 22-18.
Woodard, meanwhile, was the catalyst for the Vikings with 11 points in a six-minute stretch spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter.
“Help from the coaching staff, help from my team and just support all around, really helped me to get focused again,” Woodard said. “I kind of lost focus at the beginning, but I came back.”
In the closing seconds of regulation, Howard found itself at the foul line and down two points. The Lions missed the free throws, but Neil Caruso grabbed the rebound and made the ensuing lay-up with six seconds left to tie the game and ultimately force overtime.
Once in overtime, however, Howard simply couldn’t come up with the big basket it needed to go ahead. Mt. Hebron ended up making six foul shots in the four-minute extra period and the Lions never held the lead.
Woodard made one of two from the line with four seconds left to make it 54-52 and then Bartnik’s desperation attempt at the buzzer fell short. Coincidentally, the loss was Howard’s third straight against Mt. Hebron in overtime, dating back to last season.
“We’re at a point now where we need to win. We’ve had two years now of a lot of (losing) close games and I’m kind of done with that,” Jens said. “Tonight was a game we could have won at the foul line and we didn’t. I was proud of their effort, just not their concentration.”
Mt. Hebron 54, Howard 52 OT
MH (1-3, 1-4): Woodard 19, Smith 16, Bryant 13, Trapuzzano 4, Andreas 2.
Ho (1-3, 1-3): Bartnik 15, Anderson 13, Malagar 10, Seeley 6, Caruso 4, Crisco 2, Noble 2.