Despite its gaudy record and current first-place standing, Oakland Mills coach Walt Hagins is quick to point out that his group of girls is still learning this winter what its like to be a front runner.
That’s what makes this middle stretch of the season, up against the Howard County’s six 3A/4A schools that the Scorpions went 1-5 against last year, so important. And so far, after losing to Howard last week, Oakland Mills (7-1, 11-1) has proven to be up to the challenge.
On Wednesday evening against Mt. Hebron, the Scorpions earned their second straight win by double figures over a team it lost to a year ago — defeating Mt. Hebron 54-40 on the heels of a 62-37 win over Atholton.
“It’s easy to forget that two years ago, before I got here, they won [one county game] and then last year we had some successes but we never really were at the top at any point. So you get to this middle stretch of the season, where we are going up against these great programs night after night, it’s really putting our maturity to the test,” Hagins said. “This is very new to us, having that target on our backs. And there are moments where I think we do lose focus of the things that have gotten us to this point.
“Overall, though, I’m very proud of this group’s resiliency and the way they are coming together. We just can’t lose sight of the fact that there’s still a lot of work left to be done.”
Against Mt. Hebron (4-4, 7-6), Oakland Mills relied on its traditional staples of success: balanced offense and swarming defense. Both were on full display during the 21-2 run between the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second that ultimately ended up deciding the game.
Overall, the Scorpions ended up forcing the Vikings into 26 turnovers and had four players — Jazmine Washington (14 points), Aislynn Riggs (13 points, 11 rebounds, 9 blocks and 5 steals), Kobie Scott-Pearson (11 points) and Marley Grenway (9 points) — finish with at least nine points.
On the other side, Mt. Hebron saw its three-game winning streak snapped. The Vikings, which were led by Tori Valentine (14 points and 10 rebounds) and Eve Chase (13 points and 12 rebounds), had jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the opening four minutes.
After that, however, the Scorpions regrouped and found a rhythm that they never lost for the rest of the half.
“We started playing Oakland Mills basketball, which is not our strength. We got away from our identity,” Mt. Hebron coach Tierney Ahearn said. “For a quarter-and-a-half, we tried to run up and down and do things that we just aren’t comfortable with. It took going in at halftime to finally regroup and, after that, I thought we really did have a great second half.”
Mt. Hebron managed to trim what at one time was a 19-point second-half deficit down to eight by the early stages of the fourth quarter courtesy of a 13-2 run. It just ended up being a little too late to complete a comeback.
Oakland Mills returns to action on the road against Centennial on Friday, while Mt. Hebron will look to bounce against Glenelg.
The Scorpions are currently tied for first place in the county standings with Reservoir (7-1, 10-2), which defeated Glenelg Wednesday night.
Oakland Mills 54, Mt. Hebron 40
OM (7-1, 11-1): Washington 14, Riggs 13, Scott-Pearson 11, Grenway 9, King 4, Eldridge 3.
MH (4-4, 7-6): Valentine 14, Chase 13, Williams 6, Rodriguez 6, Madden 1.
Half: 32-18 OM.
Howard 47, Wilde Lake 15
The Lions got a game-high 15 points from Anii Harris to lead the way to the bounce-back victory over the Wildecats. The team built a 20-2 lead through the first quarter.
Ho (6-2, 10-2): Harris 15, Scott 9, Russell 8, Durkee 6, Malagar 5, Fritz 2, Denicola 2.
WL (0-8, 1-11): Swaby-Rowe 7, Corkeron 6, Zimmerman 2.
Half: 28-8 Ho.
Reservoir 46, Glenelg 35
The Gators built a big lead, 42-15, through the first three quarters and cruised the rest of the way. Tiffany Hooker (18 points, 3 assists and 3 steals) and Emily Dorn (13 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) had big games to lead the way. Abby Bailey also chipped in with six points and 10 rebounds.
Re (7-1, 10-2): Hooker 18, Dorn 13, Bailey 6, Abunassar 4, Davis 3, Salkeld 2.
G (1-7, 2-11): LePage 10, Gillespie 6, Salafia 5, Hesen 4, Castor 3, Hirsch 3, Anderson 2, Tolbert 2.
Half: 27-12 Re.
River Hill 63, Centennial 48
The Hawks won their second straight game, methodically pulling away in the second half behind a balanced offensive effort. Emily Masker (18 points) and Kennedy Clark (17) led the way, while Anihya Smith (9), Saniah Jackson (9) and Maggie O’Keefe (8) all chipped in with timely baskets.
Brook Anderson had a huge game in the loss for the Eagles, hitting seven 3-pointers on the way to a season-high 25 points.
RH (5-3, 8-5): Masker 18, Clark 17, Smith 9, Jackson 9, O’Keefe 8, Devine 2.
C (3-5, 5-6): Anderson 25, Welsh 6, Molz 5, Dassett 4, Pearson 4, Reese 3, Jackson 1.
Half: 31-27 RH.
Hammond 67, Atholton 51
The Golden Bears snapped a two-game losing skid, getting huge double-double efforts from Nyelle Allen (18 points, 23 rebounds) and Jocelyn Fogle (11 points and 12 rebounds) to go along with a game-high 21 points from Imani Reid to knock off the Raiders.
Taylor Liguori also chipped in with 15 points and four assists, as Hammond won the second half by 16 points.
For Atholton, Zhuri Cannon led the way with 20 points.
Ha (4-3, 7-4): Reid 21, Allen 18, Liguori 15, Fogle 11, Sannie-Ariyibi 2.
A (1-7, 3-10): Cannon 20, A. Hargrett 11, Blair 8, Sowah 6, Perlin 3, C. Morton 2, Ruley 1.
Long Reach 45, Marriotts Ridge 44
Down by six points with less than two minutes to go, the Lightning rallied to earn the narrow victory. Lyric Swann (18 points, 4 assists) made the deciding layup with roughly 30 second left.
Rebecca Ford (10 points, 11 rebounds) chipped in with a double-double and Long Reach got other solid controbutions from Jaelyn Swann (7 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals) and Haley Thompson (6 points, 7 rebounds).
The Mustangs, which lost for the seventh time this season by single digits, were led by 10 points apiece from Emma Morath and Mallory Conroy.
LR (6-2, 6-4): L. Swann 18, Ford 10, J. Swann 7, Thompson 6, Richardson 4.
MR (3-4, 5-8): Morath 10, Conroy 10, Miller 7, Bryan 6, Lee 6, Crawford 4, Kohler 1.
Half: 27-18 LR.
St. Paul’s 61, Glenelg Country 37
A season-high 22 points from Ashlyn Bender wasn’t enough for the Dragons, who fell behind 29-17 at the half and never fully recovered.
SP: Destiny 20, Ava 11, Alex 10, Laurie 8, Devon 6, Leah 2, Madison 2.
GC (6-3, 10-7): Bender 22, Denny 7, Haynes 3, Chun 3, Lisk 2.
Half: 29-17 SP.
Glenelg Country 31, Gerstell 21 (Tuesday)
The Dragons led from start to finish in the low-scoring IAAM B Conference affair, with Taylor Denny, Brianna Chun and Caroline Haynes leading the way with seven points apiece.
GC (6-2, 10-6): Denny 7, Chun 7, Haynes 7, Bender 6, J. Pell 4.
G: Talbot 6, Polk 4, Penn 3, Messinese 2, Gochnaver 2, Echevarria 2, Manning 2.
Half: 14-4 GC.
Liberty 42, Glenelg 39 (Tuesday)
Rachel Thiem notched her first triple double of the season with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 steals for the visiting Lions (4-8). Jess Littlejohn added 11 points and Alex Bull scored seven.
In the loss, Abby Gillespie scored a season-high 18 points for the Gladiators.
L (4-8): Thiem 20, Littlejohn 11, Bull 7, Nastos 3, Goetz 1.
G (2-10): Gillespie 18, Anderson 7, Salafia 7, LePage 4, Hirsch 3.
Half: 23-16 L.
Reach Brent Kennedy at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports