When Emily Russo's 3-point shot fell through the net late in No. 8 Glenelg's game at Oakland Mills on Wednesday night, the junior let out a sigh of relief.
Until then, the Gladiators, an all-guard team known for its accuracy from the outside, had gone 0-for-15 from beyond the arc over nearly 30 minutes. Russo's basket gave the Gladiators the spark and they finished off a 43-41 victory with exceptional defense to hold onto first place in the Howard County girls basketball league.
"[During] the last time out, I stressed, 'We've got to win on defense,'" Glenelg coach Don Beall said. "'You guys have got to gut it out right now and you've got to generate everything off that defense.' And they responded very well. They're a very good defensive team."
The second win of the season over Oakland Mills boosts the Gladiators (16-1) to 13-1 in the county and maintains their hold on first place over the Scorpions (14-3, 11-3) and River Hill, which had three losses going into Wednesday night.
For the defending county champions, their only 3-pointer couldn't have come at a better time.
With 2:18 to go, Russo's basket pulled them within 40-39 of Oakland Mills, which led most of the second half. On Glenelg's next possession, Russo put the Gladiators back in the lead, 41-40, with a pair of free throws with 1:43 left.
Jasmine Hill then tied the game for Oakland Mills on a free throw 40 seconds later.
But Russo, an All-Metro second-team guard who finished with 27 points, stole the ball four times in the last 1:45. She made a game-saving play by tying up the much taller 5-foot-11 Hill going to the hoop with 17.5 seconds left, and Glenelg took possession. Just before that play, Glenelg's Danielle Burris hit an 18-footer to make it 43-41 with 25 seconds to go.
Russo said her steals came as a result of great defensive play all around.
"I think it was all our guards — Danielle, Alyssa [Parker], Sam [Heisig] and Mary [Kittleman]," Russo said. "They were definitely pressuring really well, and when they forced a double-team, that's when I was able to get the steals."
Despite all the missed 3-pointers, the Gladiators kept taking them. Early on, they struggled against the Scorpions' zone defense and went inside, where Russo scored 10 first-quarter points — eight on layups — as the Gladiators worked the ball quickly to create openings despite their height disadvantage.
The Scorpions took their first lead, 27-26, two minutes into the second half on Nicole Twardowicz's runner. They built the lead to six points, the biggest of the night, when Hill capped a three-point play and added a layup. Glenelg chipped away a little at a time, whittling Oakland Mills' lead to one on Russo's 3-pointer.
"I don't think it was anything we did that was great," Hill said of the Scorpions' six-point lead. "They just missed all their 3-pointers. We got the rebounds. We didn't give them multiple shots. But we went possessions without scoring and we didn't play defense at the end when it counted."
Hill, a senior guard, led the Scorpions with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while her teammate Patrice Jones scored 12.
G—Burris 7, Parker 2, Russo 27, Kittleman 1, Heisig 6. Totals 18 6-11 43.
OM—Thompson 2, Jones 12, Twardowicz 6, Hight 6, Hill 15. Totals 17 7-11 41. Half: G, 26-25.