Marriotts Ridge’s Senior Night didn’t quite go how the Mustangs’ three seniors would have liked.
With a first-round bye in the MPSSAA 3A East Region I playoffs on the line, Marriotts Ridge sputtered in a 16-point loss to Mt. Hebron. After the win, Vikings head coach Tierney Ahearn said “the game could’ve been completely opposite” if the Vikings had shot worse and the Mustangs had shot better.
On Monday night, the two teams faced off again in the 3A East Region I semifinals, and the game was, in fact, the exact opposite of the matchup 10 days ago.
No. 3 Marriotts Ridge, led by seniors Kendall Bryan, Emma Morath and Emma Miller, flipped the script and defeated No. 2 Mt. Hebron, 43-34.
“We wanted to come back and prove that we were the better team,” said Bryan, who led the Mustangs with 15 points. “We knew we could come back and win this one.”
While the Mustangs’ strategy played a big factor in the win, what mattered most was that their three best players — all upperclassmen — played well. Bryan scored 15 points and was 4 of 6 from behind the arc, while Morath and Miller chipped in with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
“They all just stepped up tonight,” said Marriotts Ridge head coach Sarah Miller. “They did exactly what we needed them to do. Kendall and Emma have been on varsity for four years, and Emma Miller is going to give you everything she has every minute she’s on the floor.”
With the win, No. 3 Marriotts Ridge (17-7) will travel to play No. 1 Westminster (15-6) in the 3A East Region I championship.
In the regular-season matchup, the Mustangs held Mt. Hebron senior Tori Valentine, who is third in the county in scoring at 20.6 points per game, to nine points, which was the second lowest point total of her season. Valentine, one of the top players in the county, found other ways to contribute in that game, though, and tallied seven assists as her supporting cast of Erin Dixon, Kate Milano and Ashley Unkenholz all scored in double figures.
On Monday, the Mustangs came out with a diamond-and-one defense meant to prevent Valentine from driving. Valentine scored four points on only 10 shots, but her crisp passes didn’t lead to made baskets as they did in the game 10 days ago.
“We adjusted our defensive strategy a little bit,” said Sarah Miller. “We didn’t want to let Tori to have hers, but once the ball was out of her hands we wanted to make sure others weren’t open either. It was great to see that all the game prep we did came to fruition here.”
The Vikings were 14 of 55 from the field (25 percent) on Monday — the same percentage the Mustangs shot in their previous matchup — compared to 43 percent in the regular-season contest.
“Looking at the court, both of us had similar game plans,” Ahearn said. “We both played each other well. Their shots fell, and theirs didn’t. We almost outshot them two to one. If our shots don’t go in the basket, we can’t win. It’s unfortunate, because my girls worked their butts off. They wanted it so badly.”
The Vikings opened their home game up 4-0, but the Mustangs went on an 11-2 run to end the first quarter. Mt. Hebron (14-8) wouldn’t lead the rest of the game. The Vikings, however, got within one point in the second quarter, but the Mustangs went on a run again. Emma Miller, who Valentine was defending for much of the game, gave the Stangs a spark with an and-one layup, and Marriotts Ridge entered halftime up 20-13.
“It’s a huge challenge. Tori is one of the best defender in the county, and she’s probably the best athlete who players basketball,” said Sarah Miller. “Emma did a good job and ran our offense today.”
The Vikings trailed 28-20 midway through the third quarter, but the Mustangs went on another eight point run to lead 36-20 entering the final period. Bryan hit two 3s in the third period to pace the Marriotts Ridge scoring attack. The senior sharp shooter made three straight 3s at the end of the Mt. Hebron game at the end of the regular season and then made six more in the Mustangs’ win over Wilde Lake in the opening round last Friday.
“Kendall has been on a hot streak for three games now, and hopefully she keeps it going,” Sarah Miller said. “Her teammates are finding her at the right time. We purposely make sure we get her shots.”
“When Emma (Morath) gets the ball down low, they usually double her so it leaves me wide open,” Bryan said. “Or when Emma Miller drives I have an open shot on the wing.”
As the Vikings pushed for a comeback in the fourth quarter, Morath came up big with a key layup and multiple rebounds. The senior post player registered a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds to go along with three blocks. Morath missed a game earlier this season with a minor injury, and also dealt with the flu and bronchitis later in the year that forced her to miss a game.
“She played great,” Sarah Miller said. “She knew she had to be in there to do her role — setting screens, rolling to the basket, posting up. She was fantastic.”
To manager her minutes, Sarah Miller would sometimes switch Morath out for senior Caroline Crawford, the Mustangs’ other top post player, to give Morath a breather. Crawford went down with an injury in the first half, though, and Morath was tasked with playing every minute the rest of the game.
“I just knew that we were down a big,” Morath said. “That’s one of our strengths as a team. I had to step up and get in the post and be strong. A lot of our plays revolve around having two bigs, so I had to find new ways to get to the basket.”
The end of Mt. Hebron’s season marks the end of Valentine’s illustrious career. Valentine, who was a second-team selection as a freshman and a first-team selection as a sophomore and junior, ends her career with 1,432 points, which ranks 15th all time and fourth in Mt. Hebron girls basketball history. Valentine was also the 2019 outdoor track and field Athlete of the Year and will continue her athletic career as a member of Towson’s track and field team.
“The career she’s had here is amazing. I love that girl,” Ahearn said. “I thought this season would be tough because we lost six seniors. We basically had a brand new team, but Tori elevated everyone around her. You can see how hard she works. She’s unstoppable if she scores two points or 30 because of everything she does. She doesn’t just make our team better. She makes the other team better, too, because of how hard she works.”
Valentine was the only senior on Mt. Hebron this season, as the Vikings graduated six seniors from last year’s squad. Ahearn is excited for the future of her program, citing Erin Dixon, who led the Vikings with 16 points on Monday, as a key player moving forward.
“I’m not counting us out,” Ahearn said. “We got so much better from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. … The confidence the young players built will put us in a good spot next year. No one can replace Tori, but Erin will be a leader for us.”
Marriotts Ridge will play top-seeded Westminster in the region championship on Wednesday at a time to be determined.
“It’s our last season, so we want to go far,” Bryan said. “We went to the semifinals our freshman year, and that was so much fun. We want to go that far again and keep winning.”
The Owls defeated Manchester Valley, which the Mustangs defeated during the regular season, by one point in overtime on Monday. The Mustangs didn’t play the Owls this season. The only Howard County team to play Westminster was Mt. Hebron, with the Vikings winning by eight points early in the season.
Playing on the road could be a blessing in disguise for Marriotts Ridge, as the Mustangs are 12-1 away from Marriottsville this season — with the only loss coming to undefeated Howard.
“We like being on the road,” Sarah Miller said. “We would almost prefer to be on the road. That has been a good recipe for us.”
Marriotts Ridge 43, Mt. Hebron 34
MR (17-7): K. Bryan 15, E. Morath 12, E. Miller 11, M. Lee 4, K. Lee 1.
MH (14-8): E. Dixon 16, K. Milano 7, A. Unkenholz 5, T. Valentine 4, A. Harrington 2.
Halftime: 20-13, MR
Reservoir 57, Oakland Mills 56
River Hill 55, Atholton 28
Howard 62, Arundel 35
After its first-round bye, No. 1 Howard earned a convincing win over No. 4 Arundel in the MPSSAA 4A East Region I semifinal. Anii Harris led the way with 17 points to pace the Lions to their 23rd straight win. Gabby Scott chipped in with 12 points, while Camille Malagar, Emily Durkee and Marisa Sanchez-Henry tallied nine, eight and seven points, respectively.
The Lions were expected to take on No. 3 Meade in the region championship after the Mustangs upset No. 2 Old Mill on Monday. But on Tuesday, Meade forfeited its win over the Patriots due to an ineligible player. Howard will host No. 2 Old Mill (19-1) for the 4A East Region I championship. Old Mill and Howard haven’t played this season, but the Patriots did play River Hill, defeating the Hawks by 10 points during the regular season.
Ho (23-0): A. Harris 17, G. Scott 12, C. Malagar 9, E. Durkee 8, M. Sanchez-Henry 7, G. Kennerly 5, S. Nasir 2, K. McDuffie 2.
A (14-7): Matthews 13, Harmon 7, Seven 6, B. Middleton 5, H. Middleton 4.
Halftime: 33-15, Ho
Century 67, Glenelg 26
The Gladiators lost to the No. 2-seeded Knights in the MPSSAA 2A West Region I semifinal. After ending the regular season on a 16-game losing streak, the Gladiators defeated Winters Mill in the opening round last Friday to advance to the region semifinals.
C (12-9): Brandt 13, Diorio 13, Mellendick 10, Groff 6, Barnes 5, Seledee 4, Conaway 4, Jones 2, McEwen 2, Little 2, Gordon 2, Magill 2, Plitt 1.
G (4-20): J. Hirsch 6, A. Gillespie 5, A. Cook 4, M. Krunkaitis 4, L. LaPointe 3, G. Tolbert 3, J. Torres 1.