By all accounts, the Mt. Hebron girls basketball team should not have won the game. The Vikings missed 19 free throws, turned the ball over 18 times and were trailing for the better part of three quarters.
But, in the end, Mt. Hebron turned it up on notch offensively in the fourth quarter and found a way to earn a, 48-44, come-from-behind victory over Atholton with its gritty play in the closing minutes of Friday night’s road game.
“We pulled out the win with heart, hard work and conviction,” Mt. Hebron coach Tony Bell said. “Going into the fourth I told them that we were stopping ourselves. I told them to be aggressive and attack the basket. We kept attacking instead of settling for jump shots.”
Bell believes his team has grown closer over the past few days. He decided to bring an inspirational speaker into practice earlier in the week to stress the concept of team. Trailing by five points heading into the fourth quarter, the Vikings thought back to the message they heard.
“The speaker talked about being a better team and being there for one another,” said guard Megan Konig, who scored 12 points. “He told us that no one can get into our team circle and we have to fight for each other. That’s what we did tonight.”
The Raiders were in control of the game into the fourth quarter but were slowed by turnovers. They gave the ball away 29 times in the contest, the biggest one coming with less than a minute to play.
After Nia Crump made a free throw with 41 seconds remaining to give Mt. Hebron a 45-44 lead, Atholton had a chance to score the go-ahead bucket on the next possession. But Tianna Wallpher (game-high 16 points) was in the right place at the right time as a Raiders’ pass landed in her arms. She took it the length of the floor and scored an important basket.
“The pass was coming but the (Atholton player) fell and the ball landed in my hands,” Wallpher said. “I saw an open court, so I dribbled it down and tried to take my time on the layup. I’ve had a tendency to miss open court layups, so I wanted to take my time and make it to give my team a cushion.”
Behind sophomores Kalere Caldwell and Chelsea Mitchell – who each finished with a team-high 12 points – Atholton jumped out to a 21-15 lead at halftime. The Raiders maintained that six-point advantage into the final minute of the third quarter after Briana Taborn finished inside on an assist from Sage Mayhew. Then Mayhew added a free throw to make it 34-28.
“The foul shots weren’t falling and we were having a pretty rough game through the third quarter,” Wallpher said. “It was hard to even catch up with them. But we knew that we didn’t want to lose this game. It was a hard fought game and someone had to win at the end. We kept fighting for the win.”
Momentum switched sides in the fourth quarter as Mt. Hebron opened the final eight minutes with a 6-0 run, and scored 12 of the first 14 points of the quarter. The crucial spurt included back-to-back drives to the basket by Konig and four points each from Wallpher and Meghan Doherty (10 points).
“I was kind of improvising but I really wanted to score to put us ahead,” said Konig. “We picked it up in the fourth like we seem to do every game.”
Micky Bowen knocked down a mid-range jumper to put the Vikings ahead, 43-38, with 2 minutes, 22 seconds left in the regulation. Atholton fought back with two free throws from Taborn and a three-point play by Mayhew to knot the score at 43.
But Crump’s free throw and Wallpher’s layup sealed the comeback for Mt. Hebron.
Atholton had two well-defended looks from three with just seconds left but couldn’t connect. Raiders Coach Julia Reynold believes that her team – arguably the youngest in the county with three starting sophomores – will learn from this game and execute down the stretch in the future.
“I told them yesterday at practice that I can’t simulate this kind of environment; I can’t simulate the fans, the other coaches or the refs,” Reynold said. “So we’re only going to learn in these types of pressure situations. As long as they can stick together and be confident in their own ability, which I am, I think it will only help us. As long as we learn from it, I’m happy.”
MH: Crump 7, O. Williams 6, LeConte 4.
A: Mayhew 7, Taborn 6, Mitchell 4.