Howard junior forward Jade Walls said that she and her teammates knew that their Class 3A East Region quarterfinals opponent and county rival Mt. Hebron would be out to settle a score.
The Lions edged the Vikings by five points in each of their two regular season meetings, but this time, Howard wanted to make sure that the contest would not be as close as the others.
Walls scored all of her game-high 10 points in the second half to help Howard separate itself from visiting Mt. Hebron in the fourth quarter for a 43-24 victory Monday.
“We were a little worried because we beat them twice before,” said Walls, who added seven rebounds. “Teams that are looking for revenge always want to come back and win, so we’re excited to get this one.”
After getting off to slow start, the Lions (16-3, 20-3) began to pull away in the third quarter. They increased a six-point halftime lead into a 26-12 advantage with 2 minutes, 10 seconds left in the period.
Howard began to move the ball on offense and get easy buckets in the paint. The main distributer in the second half was junior center Sydney Biniak, who stood at the high post and found her teammates cutting to the basket.
“They were trying to double us all game so we knew that someone would be open,” Biniak said.
The strategy worked perfectly. Biniak (nine points, 17 rebounds) finished with six dimes as the Lions assisted on nine of their 11 second-half field goals and scored 18 of their 29 second-half points in the paint.
“Seeing that we got them in foul trouble in the first half, that was our goal again,” Walls said. “We wanted to keep pushing the ball and getting it inside.”
But as they had in the first two meetings, the Vikings found a way to claw back after being down by double-digits late in the game.
Jamila Williams nailed a 3-pointer and added a layup to close the third quarter, then opened the fourth with a drive to the basket. Megan Konig then followed with a 3-pointer to cut their deficit to 27-22 early in the period.
Acting head coach Erica McCauley immediately called a timeout to compose Howard.
“Our girls knew that they just had to settle down,” McCauley said. “In that situation, we have great leadership. Even though we only have one senior on the team, we have girls who know the system. They really responded well.”
The Lions responded by outscoring Mt. Hebron, 16-2, over the final seven minutes of the contest.
Junior Anne Kinsey drained a 3-pointer and sank two free throws, while Biniak and Jayda Gilmore each contributed four points each in the decisive run.
“They came out big in the fourth quarter and we had to respond to that, which we did,” Biniak said. “We relaxed on defense, knew who we were guarding and played tough.”
McCauley – who temporarily took over the reigns Monday night for head coach Scott Robinson while he served a one-game suspension due to technicals assessed to the coaching staff in the previous game – knew that the team would be ready to play.
“I work for probably the most prepared coach in the state and not only does he prepare the girls but Scott prepares the coaches to be ready for anything,” McCauley said. “It’s a tribute to him and the girls for this win.”
After closing to within five points, Mt. Hebron (14-5, 17-7) had trouble putting the ball in the basket and only scored one field goal over the game’s final seven minutes.
“We picked a bad day to play our worst game of the season,” Vikings coach Tony Bell said. “I tip my hat to Howard. … In the second half, we drove it to the hole a little better and we made runs but Howard executed their plays.”