Inside one minute to play at River Hill, with his girls clinging to a slim lead, Mt. Hebron coach Tony Bell shouted out to his team and asked them to dig deep.
“It’s all about heart,” said the coach as he pounded his chest. “Who has heart?”
The Vikings led most of the way Wednesday, but had allowed the Hawks to inch closer in the fourth quarter. Mt. Hebron players heard their coach’s passionate cry, blanking the Hawks in the game’s final 60 seconds on the way to a 48-43 victory.
“Sometimes, I don’t think they realize that they are the bravest, toughest individual athletes in all my years of coaching,” said Bell after the game. “They all have heart, but every once in a while I have to remind them. It’s always there.”
The victory completed the season sweep for Bell’s squad against River Hill (9-6, 11-6) for the first time in his five seasons at the helm of the Vikings program.
Tianna Wallpher, a senior guard who her coach said always found success against the Hawks in her career, scored a game-high 14 points. Though her shots were falling and her passes were crisp, it was a play toward the end of the game that defined Wallpher’s presence on the court for Mt. Hebron (9-4, 10-5).
In the fourth quarter, with 30 seconds to play, she stepped to the line with a chance to soundly put the game out of reach.
Wallpher connected on the first attempt, but the second missed to the right. Her teammates had drifted back to play defense, leaving just Wallpher to defend for a rebound.
The speedy senior followed her shot, collecting the bounce off the rim, and held on to burn as much clock as she could.
“When I shot it, they didn’t jump right away,” she said, recalling the moment. “Since they didn’t, I wanted to take that opportunity. It took the right bounce off the rim. At that point, there was no need to push it.”
The series of events unfortunately defined the River Hill defense as well. In the paint, the Vikings got big boards courtesy of Gabby Green, Olivia Williams and Megan Konig – who combined for 22 rebounds alone. The Hawks as a team registered just 17 defensive boards.
Citing the little things, like gaining position down low, River Hill coach Teresa Waters said her team didn’t capitalize on the many chances it had throughout the game.
“They are bigger than us, but we still have to understand that we have to box out,” said the veteran coach, whose team also shot a backbreaking 43 percent from the line. “IF you can’t make free throws, you’re going to struggle.”
In the first quarter, both teams came out with an equal showing of intensity. The problem was just connecting on shots. After the first eight minutes, both squads combined for just 13 points total, with the Hawks holding the one-point advantage.
By the middle of the second quarter, shots started to fall – especially for the Vikings, who outscored the home team 15-9 heading into the half.
Bell knew beating River Hill twice in one season was a tall task. In the first half, with the teams playing nearly neck-and-neck, the veteran coaching from Waters came to light.
“Playing her the second time around is always tough, because she’s a master of the x’s and o’s,” he said. “She will take things away from you. (River Hill) played hard.”
In the second half, Julia and Jenna Collins combined for 18 of the Hawks’ 27 points. One minute into the fourth quarter a quick four points from the sisters pulled the Hawks to a 33-33 tie.
That’s when Wallpher, Doherty and the Vikings kicked it into a new gear. Going on a 12-7 run that lasted nearly five minutes, the visitors began to pull away.
“There were plays where they were on a roll and we weren’t,” said Wallpher of the Hawks early fourth quarter push. “But as a whole, our team stayed together and positive. This really was a whole team effort.”