The Howard-River Hill game Friday night felt like more than a regular-season contest.
That’s because it was more than just a regular-season contest.
In a game that had championship-esque intensity, the Lions defeated River Hill, 66-43, to put themselves in position to win the county crown. Neither team had lost a county game heading into the matchup at River Hill, and the contest is the only one between the two teams this season.
Senior guard Anii Harris talks Howard girls basketball after the Lions' pivotal win over River Hill on Friday, Jan. 31. Harris scored 26 points in the win.
While Howard head coach Scott Robinson is aware of the win’s magnitude, he said multiple times that the team is focused on “one game at a time.”
“I thought it was a total team win,” Robinson said. “We played well. But I told them that we’re focused on who we play next, and that’s Oakland Mills. That’s been our mantra all year. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true.”
If Howard wins its next six county games to remain undefeated, the Lions will win the county title outright. As long as they don’t lose multiple games, the Lions will earn at least a share of the county championship for the sixth time in seven years.
“It feels great,” said Anii Harris, who led Howard with 26 points. “Last year, we lost to them. To get this win and to celebrate with our teammates is the best feeling.”
Camille Malagar, who scored 12 points and made two momentum-shifting 3-pointers in the third quarter, said the team’s chemistry is unlike any other she’s experienced before. The senior guard, who is a captain alongside seniors Marisa Sanchez-Henry and Harris, said before the season that the team’s goal was to not take any regular-season games off like she thinks it did last year. So far, the Lions have a 16-0 record and are winning by an average of 27.7 points per game.
“I definitely think our chemistry on and off the court is way different than any other team I’ve been on,” Malagar said. “Also, we can switch from having fun and playing around to working hard and being focused."
River Hill coach Teresa Waters said Howard had more “energy” and “wanted it” more than her team. The 66 points the Hawks allowed is the highest total they’ve given up by 14 points and is nearly double what they were surrendering entering the game (33.5 points per game).
“We just didn’t have it tonight,” Waters said. “A 23-point deficit is not a fair indication of the talent on both teams. But I think Howard is very good. I think their first five especially stay within the system and execute well.”
Howard (10-0 Howard County, 16-0) raced out to a 10-3 lead early in front of a large crowd at River Hill (10-1, 13-4). The Hawks bounced back, though, as Anhyia Smith made two 3-pointers to give the team a 17-16 lead at the end of the first period.
Howard, however, dominated the rest of the game. The Lions went on a 10-2 run to start the second quarter, and despite Sanchez-Henry and Malagar dealing with foul trouble, they entered halftime up 33-25.
“The girls who came in to play off the bench gave us a big lift at the end of the first half,” Robinson said of freshmen Samiyah Nasir and Gabby Kennerly.
The Lions extended their lead to 14 points in the third quarter and entered the final period up 10 points. After Howard went 0 for 9 from behind the arc in the first half, Malagar hit two key 3-pointers in the third period to keep momentum on the Lions’ side.
“Honestly, every time we have a game where we’re off from the 3-point line, coach tells us to keep shooting,” Malagar said. “Tonight, I stayed confident, and they went in.”
“Camille’s 3s were enormous,” Robinson said. “Those really opened up the game.”
Harris then sealed the victory for Howard with several layups in the fourth quarter. The senior guard was fearless throughout game going to the hoop to lead all scorers with 26 points. She was 11 of 20 from the field and scored 24 of her points in the paint or at the free-throw line.
“Anii loves to play,” Robinson said. “She’s always working on her game. She comes early and stays late. She thrives in pressure situations, and tonight was a great example.”
“She just attacked and attacked,” Waters said of Harris. “She was the key. We just didn’t make adjustments. We should’ve switched on the pick, but she saw the gap and kept banging in there.”
Harris, who is also the Lions’ best defender, also guarded the Hawks’ two best scorers — forward Saniha Jackson and Smith, a sophomore guard. Despite playing the guard position on offense, Harris has the skill to guard Jackson in the post and the athleticism to defend Smith on the outside.
“Anhyia is a great driver and a great ball handler,” Harris said. “I had to try my best to stay in front of her and make it a tough shot. For Saniha, I had to try my best to get around her, because I’m smaller than she is.”
The Lions held both players to 10 points, while Hawks point guard Kennedy Clark scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Waters said her team struggled to get its post game going, which is key for Jackson’s scoring and opening up its guards.
“Our post play, which we rely on a lot for scoring, wasn’t there tonight,” Waters said. “They did double-team Saniha, but there were times she could’ve gotten the ball, and we didn’t capitalize. And Saniha also didn’t have a presence tonight.”
The Lions capped off the victory with a 3-pointer from Kennerly, who just returned from a torn ACL, as time was winding down. The shot earned roars from Howard fans, and a few seconds later, the Lions players celebrated at halfcourt.
“She’s going to be a really good player,” Robinson said of Kennerly. “When she started practicing last week with us, right away we watched her and knew she had a lot of potential. It’s good to get her back on the court.”
While the Lions are in prime position to win the county title, they still have six county games left, including matchups against top-half teams Oakland Mills, Marriotts Ridge and Reservoir in the next two weeks. The Scorpions have two of the top four scorers in the county; the Mustangs were beating Howard at halftime when they faced off earlier this season; and the Gators, powered by Tiffany Hooker (28.1 points per game), lost by only five points when they last played Howard.
“We just have to take it one game at a time,” Robinson said.
Howard 66, River Hill 43
Ho (10-0, 16-0): A. Harris 26, C. Malagar 12, G. Scott 10, M. Sanchez-Henry 5, G. Kennerly 5, E. Durkee 4, S. Nasir 4.
RH (10-1, 13-4): K. Clark 15, A. Smith 10, S. Jackson 10, E. Devine 6, C. Duffy 2.
Free-throw shooting led the Eagles to a win over the Scorpions — the third straight victory for Centennial. The Eagles outshot the Scorpions 28-7 at the charity stripe and knocked down 17 of their attempts. Twenty of Centennials’ 28 free throws were in the fourth quarter, as Lauren Pellegrini and Brook Anderson combined to make 11 foul shots to seal the win. Anderson led the Eagles with 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists, while Pellegrini chipped in with 14 points and six boards. Anderson knocked down two 3s in the win to move into No. 2 in program history. Oakland Mills’ Jazmine Washington scored 15 points for her 16th straight game in double figures.
C (6-4, 8-7): B. Anderson 15, L. Pellegrini 14, O. Reese 10, C. LasCasas 6, O. Jackson 4, T. Pearson 4, S. Sopchick 2.
OM (5-6, 9-7): J. Washington 15, J. Harris 11, K. Browne 8, R. Fairbanks 4, T. McDuffie 3.
Halftime: 21-17, C
Marriotts Ridge 35, Glenelg 18
Eight Mustangs scored in the low-scoring affair. Cara Del Monte led all scorers with eight points. Marriotts Ridge had a 22-8 lead at halftime, and despite scoring only 13 points in the second half, held on for the win.
MR (6-4, 11-5): C. Del Monte 8, E. Miller 6, M. Lee 5, E. Morath 4, C. Meininger 4, K. Lee 3, K. Bryan 3, C. Crawford 2.
G (1-9, 3-12): L. LaPointe 6, S. Salafia 6, A. Cook 2, M. Sloan 2, G. Tolbert 1, N. Stewart 1.
Halftime: 22-8, MR
Mt. Hebron 68, Hammond 35
Mt. Hebron’s Tori Valentine accomplished one of the rarest feats a basketball player can achieve in the 33-point win. The senior guard recorded a quadruple-double with 27 points, 11 assists, 11 rebounds and 10 steals. Valentine was 11 of 16 from the floor and 5 of 9 from the free-throw line in the triumph. She scored 15 of Hebron’s 21 first-quarter points, as the team lead by 10 points after one period. The Vikings only led by nine points at halftime, however, but a stout defense exited the locker rooms and allowed only one point to Hammond in the third period. Erin Dixon and Raelis Vidal chipped in for Hebron with 13 and 10 points, respectively.
MH (7-3, 9-6): T. Valentine 27, E. Dixon 13, R. Vidal 10, A. Unkenholz 7, K. Millen 3, C. Smith 2, K. Milano 2, A. Harrington 2, E. Hollis 2.
Ha (2-9, 4-12): K. Brown 11, M. Woodson 11, H. Chambers 4, M. Newby 3, D. Britt 3, K. Beahm 2, J. McCray 1.
Halftime: 33-24, MH
Wilde Lake 59, Long Reach 29
The win gives the Wildecats their best season since 2013-14. The victory is the team’s fifth of the season, which is the most wins the team has won since 2013-14 — when the team went 8-15. Wilde Lake won one game in each of the last two season, four games in 2016-17, one game in 2015-16 and four games in 2014-15. Kalani Corkeron, Mia Swaby-Rowe, Brianna Floyd and Lily Richards all scored in double figures for the Wildecats with 15, 12, 12 and 10 points, respectively.
WL (4-6, 5-8): K. Corkeron 15, M. Swaby-Rowe 12, B. Floyd 12, L. Richards 10, C. Zimmerman 8, A. Loudin 2.
LR (0-10, 0-14): T. Whittle 9, A. Nagle 8, R. Baldwin 6, J. Putman 4, S. Sims 2.
Halftime: 29-14, WL
Tuscarora 64, Reservoir 59
Tuscarora outscored Reservoir 23-15 in the fourth quarter to win the close game. The Gators were without Kate Abunassar, who guards the opposing team’s top player and is the team’s second scoring option. Tiffany Hooker was her usual self with 34 points in the loss. She made four 3s and was 6 of 7 from the free-throw line.
Re (7-3, 11-5): T. Hooker 34, M. Davis 9, D. Moultrie 5, A. Pennington 4, L. Dudzinski 4, R. Malwitz 2, L. Hardie 1.