All season, on her way to posting a Howard County-leading average of over 26 points per game, senior Tiffany Hooker has made more than her fair share of big shots for Reservoir’s girls basketball team. On Monday, however — in the 3A East Region II semifinals against visiting Oakland Mills — it was Kate Abunassar’s turn.
At the end of a game that featured 10 lead changes, Abunassar stepped up and delivered a go-ahead 3-pointer with six seconds left and then the Gators’ defense made a stop as time expired to clinch a 57-56 victory and a berth in Wednesday’s region final against River Hill.
“The great thing is that Tiff trusts her teammates and you saw it there with that pass to set up Kate. Tiff gathers all the attention, and everybody in the building knows we were going to put the ball in her hands to make a play at the end, but what won us this game tonight were the contributions of everyone else around her,” Reservoir coach Deb Taylor said. “Kate was ready to get that pass and she wasn’t afraid to take the big shot.”
Reservoir junior Kate Abunassar talks about the Gators' 57-56 win over Oakland Mills in the 3A East Region II semifinals on Monday, March 2, 2020.
On the game’s decisive play, Reservoir (16-7) inbounded the ball to Hooker trailing by two points with 13 seconds left. But as she began dribbling up court and the Scorpions’ double team began to close in, Hooker spotted Abunassar alone on the right wing and she lofted a pass to her open teammate.
Abunassar set her feet and then buried what ended up being the game winner.
Following Abunassar’s basket, Oakland Mills still had a chance to answer. But a looping pass to Washington from out of bounds was intercepted by Maddy Davis (9 points) and the Gators stormed the court in celebration shortly after.
“Although we came up a play short, a point short, they never gave up. We could have packed our bags when we were down double digits in the first half and it could have been a rout, but we fought through it,” Oakland Mills coach Walt Hagins said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them. They had that passion tonight to win this basketball game and they made Scorpion nation proud with the effort they displayed until the very end.”
The Scorpions led most of the first quarter before Reservoir put together the game’s first big run early in the second period. Hooker and Abunassar combined for a 17-2 run during a three minute stretch in the middle of the quarter, turning a one-point deficit into a 14-point lead, 28-14, with 3:34 to go in the half.
However, Oakland Mills simply kept fighting. Kaity Browne (7 points, 12 rebounds) made a couple foul shots, Washington made a couple baskets and Iyanna McDuffie (6 points) made a big three as part of a 10-2 Scorpions’ run heading into intermission.
Then early in the third quarter, Oakland Mills got a huge emotional boost when Jaidyn Harris (15.5 ppg this winter) entered the game after missing the previous six contests with a knee injury. Her presence, which included scoring five points, went a long way toward helping the Scorpions go on a 20-8 run that established their largest lead of the night at 44-38 with 2:40 remaining in the third quarter.
“Jaidyn is one of our leaders, so her willingness to gut it out really sparked our players,” Hagins said. “It was one of those things where they said, ‘Well, if she can sacrifice then we can too.’ This whole season, they have been playing for each other and tonight was no different.”
Taylor called two timeouts during the run, imploring her team to not get caught up in the emotions of the situation. And, to her delight, her team responded.
“We kept saying, ‘Hey, let’s just be us.’ Jaidyn obviously gave them a boost and all the credit in the world to her for coming in and doing what she did after not playing for a month, but at the end of the day we just had to do our thing,” Taylor said. “My kids deserve a ton of credit for how much they’ve grown over the course of the season.”
Reservoir cut its deficit to three, 47-44, by the end of the third quarter and then retook the lead following a layup by Daniah Moultrie early in the fourth. From there, the game went back-and-forth until the final seconds.
Reservoir now turns its attention to top-seeded River Hill, which won the lone meeting between the two teams, 54-44, in early January. Taylor says that her team has come a long way since then and is eager to try and break through for the program’s first-ever region championship.
“We know that we didn’t bring our best the last time we played them. They are a very good team and it’s going to take a lot of hard work, but I think you will see our ‘A’ effort this time,” Taylor said. “I think that loss from earlier this year will dictate us to be a little more focused and I know we will be ready.”
Reservoir 57, Oakland Mills 56
Re (16-7): Hooker 18, Abunassar 16, Davis 9, Moultrie 5, Pressley 4, Hardie 3, Malwitz 2.
OM (12-12): Washington 29, Browne 7, I McDuffie 6, Harris 5, Bynum 4, Chisholm 3, T McDuffie 2.