Needing to issue a knockout punch in its 3A East opening-round playoff game against Mt. Hebron, Wilde Lake went to its bread and butter Tuesday.
Turning up the pressure, the Wildecats forced six turnovers in the opening three minutes of the fourth quarter to spark an 8-0 run and create the cushion they needed to pull out a 55-46 victory on the road.
“Coming into the game, we talked about wanting to control the tempo and make them feel uncomfortable as much as we could,” Wilde Lake coach Deon Wingfield said. “So at the end of the third quarter, when it was a one-point game, I told the guys now it’s time to turn the pressure up a little bit more. We found another level.”
Wilde Lake forced Mt. Hebron into 27 turnovers on the night, turning the majority of them into lay-ups on the other end. Devon Groves (11 points), who scored four of the team’s point during the run to start the final quarter, said trusting the game plan went a long way.
“Our coaches always tell us fast-breaking is how we are going to win, so the whole time we were trying to speed them up and run them,” Groves said. “We knew if we kept trapping, kept pressuring them, they were going to eventually turn it over.”
Groves finished as one of five Wildecat players with nine or more points, with Eric Handy (11 points, 7 rebounds), Kalonji Calloway (11 points), Spender Ampofo (11) and Fred Robinson (9) all contributing to the balanced offensive attack.
In the loss, Diara Woodard produced a game-high 22 points and nine rebounds for Mt. Hebron.
While things got away from them late, the Vikings were very much in it for the opening three quarters. They scored the first six points of the game, highlighted by an alley-oop dunk by Woodard on their first possession.
Wilde Lake didn’t score its first points until 4:41 remained in the first quarter. Once that first basket went in though, the Wildecats settled in and closed the period with a 14-6 spurt that gave them their first lead of the night.
“It seemed like once we finally got that first lay-up the whole team exhaled,” Wingfield said. “We just had to get those playoff jitters over with.”
Wilde Lake didn’t trail at all in the second quarter, carrying a 26-23 lead into the half.
After intermission, however, Mt. Hebron found new life. A couple three-point plays by Woodard and Josh Bryant highlighted an 8-0 run to open the third quarter, helping the Vikings go back in front, 31-26.
But everything after that point was all Wildecats. Full-court pressure started to wear Mt. Hebron down, allowing Wilde Lake to take a 36-35 lead after the third quarter and then keep the momentum going at the start of the fourth.
“They did a great job of creating turnovers, which really was the difference in the game,” Mt. Hebron coach Mike Linsenmeyer said. “They played real hard and it was a great game plan … they made us play faster than we wanted to.”
In the fourth quarter, all eight of Wilde Lake’s field goals were lay-ups. The Wildecats attacked the ball defensively and then attacked the rim, never leading by fewer than seven points after their 8-0 spurt to open the final stanza.
“Once we got our confidence up we knew that they couldn’t stop us in the paint, so we just kept attacking,” Handy said.
With the win, Wilde Lake advances into a quarterfinal match-up Thursday against top-seeded J.M. Bennett.
“This was a big win for our confidence, getting ourselves back on track on the road,” Groves said. “Now it’s on the road again, but we know we can do it … just one game at a time.”
Wilde Lake 55, Mt. Hebron 46
WL (10-13): Handy 11, Groves 11, Calloway 11, Ampofo 11, Robinson 9, K. Jackson 2.