After a lackluster first quarter on Friday night in the opening round of the 3A East regional playoffs, Atholton didn't have to search very hard for they key to turning things around.
The Raiders simply had to look across the floor at Mt. Hebron, which had used hustle and defensive energy to build a 12-8 lead through the first eight minutes.
Taking a page directly out of the opposing Vikings' book, Atholton turned the tables over the next two quarters with their own blend of intensity on the defensive end and efficiency on offense. By the end of the third quarter the Raiders had opened up a double-digit advantage and never surrendered it the rest of the way en route to a 62-43 victory.
"We really talked a lot about getting the intensity up, especially against a very tough Hebron team that came out ready to go. We weren't quite matching them in terms of intensity in that first quarter, but I think our ability to keep running fresh legs out there for two to three minutes at a time started shifting things," Atholton coach Julia Reynold said. "We finally had a full team together and I think we found some good combinations as we got further into the game. Tonight, I thought, was in some ways about being tough mentally as much as it was being tough physically."
Kayla Beckwith tied a season high with 21 points for an Atholton (9-13) team that advances to play top-seeded Long Reach on Tuesday. Zhuri Cannon (10 points), Bryce Bathras (9) and Alexandra Hargrett (9) also chipped in with strong offensive performances.
Tori Valentine (14 points) led the way for Mt. Hebron (9-14) in the loss. Vikings' coach Tony Bell said he too noticed a shift as the game progressed.
"I really think we jumped out on them and surprised them a little bit and then they called a couple timeouts and woke up. They increased their intensity and, starting in that second quarter, we just weren't able to match it," Bell said. "It was almost like as their intensity increased, ours went down."
Mt. Hebron opened the game by holding the Raiders without a point for the first four minutes. During that stretch, Valentine scored five points and the Vikings had a two-possession lead.
The lead was four by the end of the first quarter and grew to six, 14-8, following an Eve Chase layup on the first possession of the second quarter.
But that basket turned out to be Mt. Hebron's last field goal of the half and Atholton conversely heated up from the field. Beckwith in particular found her stroke with one stretch of three straight baskets — two of which were 3-pointers — as part of a 13-1 run.
"When I see the ball go through the net, it's a confidence booster. It's like, OK my shot is going and then I start getting riled up and hyped," Beckwith said. "Then my teammates feed off of that and we're just getting each other hyped, pushing each other and motivating each other. It helps us stay focused."
The Atholton lead was nine, 29-20, at the half. The advantage grew to 41-28 by the end of the third quarter following a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Natalie Blair.
The back-breaking run, however, came to begin the fourth quarter. The Raiders scored nine unanswered points to open up their largest lead of the game to that point of 22, 50-28.
Mt. Hebron did turn up its defensive pressure once again in the late stages of the fourth quarter to get as close as 12, but simply couldn't make enough shots to make a legitimate comeback attempt.
Atholton hit enough of its foul shots in the closing three minutes to extend the lead back out to the final 19-point margin.
"I really felt like we could have come all the way back there at the end, we definitely forced enough turnovers in that fourth quarter," Bell said. "But we just missed a few too many shots. We had one sequence of forcing like six turnovers in a row and simply couldn't get a bucket. And when you dig yourself into that kind of hole, you basically have to capitalize on every opportunity in order to keep that momentum going.
"Give a lot of credit to Atholton, though. They executed and made some very timely shots."
Looking ahead to the match-up against co-county champion Long Reach, Reynold says she knows the team faces a tall task. But she also feels like her team, which defeated the Lightning in last year's 3A East region title game, is capable of continuing its run.
"We continue to learn and, in that respect, I am very happy with the progress we continue to make," she said. "It's going to take a team effort going forward and we know Long Reach is a really difficult opponent, but we also know exactly what we're going up against. Now it just comes down to playing our toughest and making sure we leave it all out there."
Atholton 62, Mt. Hebron 43 (3A East)
A (9-13): Beckwith 21, Cannon 10, Hargrett 9, Bathras 9, Perlin 3, Kelley 3, Blair 3, Ruley 2, Sowah 2,
MH (9-14): Valentine 14, Williams 7, Oliver 7, Chase 6, Rogers 4, Rodriguez 3, Bodziak 2.
Half: 29-20 A.
River Hill 53, Hammond 34 (2A South)
Sarah Dawitt scored nine of her 13 points in the first quarter, helping the Hawks jump ahead early and never look back on the way to an opening-round win over the Golden Bears. Saniha Jackson, who scored nine of her game-high 14 points in the second quarter, also was a standout in the victory for River Hill.
Ashlyn McInerney's 11 points led the way in the loss for Hammond.
The Hawks advance to face top-seeded Oakland Mills on Tuesday.
RH (14-9): S. Jackson 14, Dawitt 13, Clark 7, King 4, Masker 4, O'Keefe 3, McCormick 2, Scott 2, Thompson 2, Altman 2.
Ha (6-14): McInerney 11, Allen 6, Burns 5, Reid 4, Lindsey 4, Brown 3, Clark 1.
Half: 31-15 RH.
Marriotts Ridge 54, Wilde Lake 20 (2A South)
Outscoring the Wildecats 25-0 in the first quarter, the Mustangs set the tone early and cruised the rest of the way in their playoff opener. Mallory Conroy, who finished with a team-high 11 points, scored eight in that opening quarter.
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Hope Morath also finished in double figures scoring for Marriotts Ridge with 10 points.
Kalani Corkeron finished with a game-high 14 points in the loss for Wilde Lake.
The Mustangs advance to face second-seeded Glenelg on Tuesday.
MR (13-10): Conroy 11, H. Morath 10, Bryan 7, Blackman 6, Bergquist 4, E. Morath 4, Kohler 4, Noll 4, Crosby 2, Miller 2.
WL (1-20): Corkeron 14, Perry 6.
Reach Brent Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports