On a night where his team secured the top seed in its section for the region playoffs and sole possession of its first county championship since 2002, River Hill coach Matt Graves said it was only fitting that it took overcoming a fair share of adversity in order to do it.
The Hawks built a double-digit lead early in the second quarter before watching visiting Oakland Mills storm back to go ahead down the stretch Wednesday evening. Ultimately, however, River Hill (10-1, 16-6) made enough defensive stops and free throws (6-8 in the final 35 seconds) to secure a 69-64 victory on senior night.
“The truth is, we lost a ton of these kind of games last year and there were a bunch of kids on the floor tonight that were a part of that losing streak last year when we finished toward the bottom of the county. That growth, that ability to close out games like tonight, is why we are where we are right now,” Graves said. “At this point in the year, every win is big and it’s about finding a way to make plays in those last two minutes. We made some free throws, made some stops and won a very important ball game.”
Jaden Martin scored a team-high 19 points, while Jake Robinson (11 points) and Luke Champion (10) finished in double figures as well in the regular season finale against the Scorpions.
The Hawks, who finished with just four county victories last winter, have put the finishing touches on a regular season where the team has nearly flipped its record. In addition, River Hill has now locked up the top seed and a first-round bye in Section 1 of the upcoming 3A East region playoffs.
“[Tonight] meant a lot. We had to walk into it with ‘It’s our senior night, and we’ve got to celebrate them, but at the same time we still have business we have to handle,” said Martin, a junior guard.
Getting the clinching victory over Oakland Mills (3-7, 6-15), though, was far from a walk in the park.
After a back-and-forth start to the opening quarter, where the two teams traded the lead several times, the Hawks made the game’s first real run toward the end of the period.
Made 3-point shots from Martin, Ori Clark and Brendan McKenna highlighted what ended up being a 15-0 run that spilled over to the early stages of the second quarter. Following a layup by Martin with 6:11 left before halftime, River Hill had its largest lead of the game at 26-11.
But just as quickly as the Hawks had surged ahead, Oakland Mills came roaring back behind a 13-3 run of its own. Daeshawn Eaton (game-high 22 points) hit a pair of big 3-point shots during the push to get the Scorpions back into the game.
“We hit some threes early but I thought as the game progressed we began settling for those outside shots and stopped attacking the basket. That in turn led to some long rebounds that they turned into run outs and some open looks to get back in the game,” Graves said.
River Hill still led 35-28 at the half and 47-40 after three quarters, but Oakland Mills kept hanging around. Then, behind some inspired play from Jayelen Estep (11 points) and Ke’von Simpson to start the fourth quarter, the Scorpions took their first lead since the opening minutes with 4:53 left in regulation.
The ensuing minutes saw the two teams go back and forth, with Oakland Mills going ahead by as many as four points at one point and the lead change hands five more times.
In the end, though, River Hill was just a little too much.
Champion made a driving layup with a minute left to put the Hawks ahead 63-62 for a lead they ultimately never relinquished the rest of the way. Champion, Robinson and OJ Okojie each hit a pair of foul shots down the stretch to help pull away for the final five-point margin.
“In a nutshell, that’s the story of our season this year. We are just so many ebbs and flows, with sometimes too much ebb and not enough flow. And it’s hard when you are playing with energy and creating opportunities, but just at the end of the day not taking advantage of enough of them,” said Oakland Mills coach Jon Browne. “You know, it was a great effort tonight and I’m pretty happy overall, but the bottom line is we just haven’t been able to figure out how to finish out a game.”
On the other side, when looking at things big picture, Graves knows the real season — the postseason — is just about to begin. But for his group, one which wasn’t expected to be a contender by many entering the season, he says they have a lot to be proud of regardless of what happens going forward.
“You look at even how we started, going 0-2 and then 3-4 during the first couple weeks and I think there were a lot of doubters out there thinking we were going to have a hard time even finishing .500 this year. But this group pulled together and just kept building confidence as the season progressed,” Graves said. “It’s a fun team and, as a coach, it’s been neat to see them persevere.”
River Hill 69, Oakland Mills 64
RH (10-1, 16-6): Martin 19, Robinson 11, Champion 10, Okojie 6, McKenna 6, Daniels 6, Clark 6, Krause 3, Krakat 2.
OM (3-7, 6-15): Eaton 22, Estep 11, Simpson 9, Burgess 7, Hopkins 7, Tarver 7, Rondon 1.
Half: 35-28 RH.
Centennial 62, Reservoir 59
The Eagles trailed at the half by four, 33-29, but regrouped down the stretch to pull out the victory over the Gators. Centennial outscored Reservoir 16-10 in the fourth quarter, with Elijah White (13 points), Kaleb Addisu (11), Sean Taylor (11) and Andrew Hohmann all coming through with big points down the stretch.
Hayden Ford also had a strong game for the Eagles with 10 points.
In the fourth quarter, Centennial made 7-11 from the foul line to help clinch the victory.
Simi Ajimatanrareje led the way for Reservoir in the loss with 15 points.
C (7-3, 15-6): White 13, Addisu 11, Taylor 11, Ford 10, Hohmann 8, Fant 2, Sedlacko 2, Goyena 2, Eudell 2, Willaims 1.
Re (6-4, 14-6): Ajimatanrareje 15, Payne 14, Akinbinu 9, Walker 5, Carey 5, Gunther 4, Archampong 3, Baker 2, Okolo 2.
Half: 33-29 Re.
Mt. Hebron 70, Atholton 58
The Vikings bounced back from a slow start and an eight-point halftime deficit, to earn the victory on the road against Atholton. Brandon Prox (22 points), Yassin Omer (15) and Johnny Linsenmeyer (13) all had big games in the victory.
Sean Washington paced Atholton with 16 points in the loss.
MH (3-7, 11-10): Prox 22, Omer 15, Linsenmeyer 13, Pearce 9, Kinloch 7, Jones 4.
A (4-6, 7-14): Washington 16, Waterworth 14, J. Parkins 6, Rankin 6, Murray 5, Dobson 4, Perlin 3, Silverstein 2, C. Parkins 2.
Half: 31-23 A.
Hammond 63, Marriotts Ridge 51
The Golden Bears are playing their best basketball at the perfect time, winning their third game in a row on Wednesday against the Mustangs. It is the first time this winter that Hammond has won three straight games.
Ryan Ridgell had his best game of the season, scoring a game-high 22 points. Robert Gordon (15 points) and Micah Henry (10) also finished in double figures to help the Golden Bears prevail in a game that was tied 26-26 at the half.
Brandon Held paced Marriotts Ridge with 14 points in the loss.
Ha (7-3, 10-11): Ridgell 22, Gordon 15, Henry 10, Goodson 9, Stallings 5, Tukpah 2.
MR (3-7, 7-14): Held 14, Geiger 10, Olsufka 6, Davis 5, E. Turner 5, Demeril 4, Brennan 3, Ingersoll 2, J. Turner 2.
Howard 44, Long Reach 37
The Lions continued their dominant play on the defensive end of the floor on the way to earning the team’s third straight win. During the win streak Howard has held each of its opponents to 47 points or less.
Against Long Reach, the Lions held both of the Lightning top scorers this winter — Tre Morgan (7 points) and Chad Brown (1 point) — to their lowest totals of the season.
On the offensive side, Howard was led by 10 points from Jayden Cowan.
Ho (5-5, 8-13): Cowan 10, Walker 9, Scaife 8, Perkins-Cross 7, Agbai 4, Davis 2, Dawkins 2, Roberson 2.
LR (2-8, 7-14): Morgan 7, Casserly 7, Ekop 5, Thompson 5, Willis 4, Young 4, Shupe 2, Jones 2, Chad Brown 1.
Half: 24-19 Ho.
Wilde Lake 57, Glenelg 39
The Wildecats set the tone early, jumping out to a 27-14 lead by halftime and then pulling away down the stretch. Trea Keys continued his torrid scoring pace with a game-high 23 points, giving him four straight games with 20 or more points.
On the season, Keys has moved his average up to 19.5 points a game.
Marquis Bullett also played well in the win for Wilde Lake with 14 points, including going a perfect 6-6 from the foul line. As a team, the Wildecats hit 19 of the 22 free throws they attempted.
Mitchell Boswell had a career-high eight points to lead the way in the loss for Glenelg.
WL (7-3, 13-8): Keys 23, Bullett 14, Joseph 6, Raymond 6, Marshall 5, Greene 2, Van Tassell 1.
G (4-7, 13-9): Boswell 8, Mills 7, Piwowarski 5, Powell 4, Wade 4, Walsh 3, Currie 3, Coburn 2, Davis 2, Koele 1.
Half: 27-14 WL.
Glenelg Country 79, Gilman 53
Caidon Owen put together a career night to help lead the Dragons to the conference victory on the road. The Glenelg Country guard exploded for a career-best 27 points, including a perfect 7-7 effort from 3-point range in the opening half.
His previous career high was 18 points, which he achieved most recently in a game against Spalding in January.
Other big games in the win came from Anthony Longpre (21 points) and Revanth Nedurumalli (10 points). For Nedurumalli, it too was a career-high scoring effort.
Glenelg Country will close the regular season at home on Friday against C.M. Wright.
GC (9-7, 18-9): Owen 27, Longpre 21, Nedurumalli 10, Burnett 7, Gabbidon 5, Fanning 5, Pierre-Louis 2, Hornatto 2.
G: Duncan 17, Darby 9, Rucker 8, Harris 6, Madison 5, Foster 3, Philippou 3, Bauman 2.
Half: 44-27 GC.