The comeback kids strike again.
After being down by as many as 15 in the first quarter, Francis Scott Key girls basketball remained calm and — more importantly — undefeated in Carroll County play after defeating Liberty, 55-51, in a thriller Tuesday night.
Both coaches knew this game would not be the same as their Dec. 20 matchup FSK won by 17. Liberty’s Jenna Liska was back in the lineup after missing the first meeting injured. The combination of Liska and some sophomores with more confidence and experience made Liberty a unique threat to FSK’s undefeated conference record.
“I told the girls going in, ‘This Liberty team is finally back to 100% and they’re coming for you,’” coach TJ Develin said. “‘Can you handle being the hunted?’”
The Lions were indeed on the hunt in the first quarter, using Liska’s passing ability to move the ball and find open shooters. Haleigh Hodges started the game hot. She finished the game with a game-high 16 points and did most of her damage in a first quarter where Liberty jumped on the Eagles, getting out to a double-digit first-quarter lead.
Hodges has played a lot of minutes for coach Barry Green this season and is starting to find her niche and excel at her role.
“Finally, that chemistry and comfort is starting to grow with her,” Green said. “When she’s at her best, I don’t think anyone can match her athleticism or her energy.”
Francis Scott Key needed a response and fast. With halftime approaching and many wondering if the Eagles’ perfect conference record would hold, they ripped off a 21-9 run to end the second half. One timeout was all it took for Develin and his girls to wake up.
“I told them everyone, including me, was trying to do too much,” he said. “Play ball, have fun and play FSK basketball.”
Summer Brooks spearheaded a defensive unit that suddenly woke up late in the half, swarming Liberty guards for steals and fast break opportunities. The Eagles found themselves erasing the lead entirely before some last-second miscues and quick Liberty buckets had them down four at the half.
Still, with Brooks, Rayna Miller and the rest of the team locked in, FSK had all the momentum going into the second half.
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“As a team we rallied,” Brooks said. “We rallied around me when I was on, then we rallied around Rayna when she was on and after that, we really got going.”
What looked like a blowout in the making became a tight possession-by-possession contest in the third. With Hodges and backcourt mate Dani Paulsen having to grind without Liska for most of the quarter due to foul trouble, FSK made adjustments and ended the quarter on another run as the back-and-forth quarter ended with just a one-point Liberty lead.
“You gotta give it to those seniors at FSK,” Green said. “They worked hard and TJ’s one of the best in the county.”
Just a minute into a tight fourth quarter, a momentum-halting blow was dealt to Green and the Lions. Liska picked up her fifth foul and with her done for the night, the Lions’ interior presence went with her. Ally Mathis, who had a tough shooting night, was still able to make an impact and grab eight key rebounds for her team.
The duo of Brooks (15 points) and Miller (14 points) led the way down the stretch as the Eagles went from down 15 in the first to up by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter.
A last-minute Liberty run provided some late resistance, but the Eagles were able to hold on for the win and move to 8-0 in Carroll County, a record Develin says is a result of his team’s progress throughout the season.
“We’ve been through every type of test so far this year,” he said. “The way we’re able to find these wins is a testament to the growth of the girls, it’s fantastic.”