When Centennial girls basketball forward Brittany Anderson goes to the line for a free throw, she has a little motto to put her mind at rest: “make it easy.”
In the closing seconds of Friday’s match-up with visiting Howard, Anderson went to the charity stripe three different times. On her final trip, without hesitation, she effortlessly sunk both attemps to put her squad ahead by two possessions.
“I wanted it to be in my hands, because our coach always says we should want the ball,” Anderson said. “In order to make it, you have to believe in yourself.”
Anderson’s composure at the line helped her team close out the 38-34 victory over the Lions, whose undefeated streak of 12 consecutive games came to an end.
Now, in what was once a shrinking possibility, the Eagles (9-1, 10-3) have broken the county title race wide open.
“I think Howard is obviously a great team. I just thought we did a good job of executing our game plan for today,” said Centennial coach Bobby Macheel. “I’m really proud of my girls for that.”
Anderson had 13 points on the day, just shy of her teammate Anna Mitchell, who recorded a game-high 14 in the low-scoring, defensive affair.
In the first half, the Eagles got off to a slow start, and failed to light up the scoreboard for the first four minutes of play. Howard (9-1, 12-1) built a modest 5-0 lead, but Centennial responded fast, taking advantage of talented Lions center Sydney Biniak’s early foul trouble.
Both squads traded the lead in the second period, with neither gaining any significant advantage. Throughout the entire game, stout defense was preached from both sidelines.
“Defensively, from the beginning of the season, is where we live,” Macheel said. “I thought we did a great job, for the most part, of executing on that.”
Forcing turnovers created opportunities for Centennial’s sharpshooters like Anderson and guard Alicia Hsieh (8 points) to open the floor. Though long-range jumpers weren’t falling right away, the Eagles found holes to drive and convert on layup chances instead.
Her team had a lead heading into halftime, but Mitchell said it wasn’t enough. The junior, who also registered eight boards in the paint, scored all eight of her team’s points in the third quarter.
“Our coach told us that even if we were playing well, we still shouldn’t be satisfied,” she said. “I really think that motivated us to push our lead…and get it going a little more.”
Mitchell’s impressive performance in the third quarter went for naught, however, as Howard guard Jayda Gilmore scored seven of her 10 points in those eight minutes as well. Behind the speedy guard’s resurgence, along with forward Berit Batterton – who had a team-high 12 points and six rebounds in the game – the Lions stormed back and took a two-point lead heading into the final quarter.
The game remained tight as time poured off the clock to the five-minute mark, when Howards’ pitfalls finally came to light. Tied 28-28, Lions players missed three consecutive layups, giving the Eagles multiple chances to stay in contention. To make matters worse, the visitors were sent to the line three times, converting on just one of the five attempts.
Gilmore’s quick 3-pointer from the corner gave the visitors a glimmer of hope, but Anderson’s efforts at the free-throw line put a potential comeback out of reach.
“Things that we have not done well all year came back to haunt us in a close game tonight,” said Howard coach Scott Robinson. “As a coaching staff, we’ve been talking about it…that sooner or later they will come back and bite us.”
Robinson credited the Eagles’ resolve as the game came to a close. Fully aware that his team has some things to improve upon, the coach took a moment to recognize the girls’ achievements on the year.
“Tribute to our girls, it was a great run. To win 12 consecutive games is great,” he said. “We have to focus on a great Atholton team now. It’s a tough stretch, and we knew that.”
Centennial pulls into a tie with the Lions atop the Howard County standings. With both teams pointing their attention at their next opponent, a Feb. 11 rematch at Howard – most likely bearing serious title implications – looms on the horizon.