In hindsight, Oakland Mills coach Walt Hagins believes his team’s lowest point of the season thus far might have been its most important.
A 15-point loss at the hands of Howard in early January marked the Scorpions’ first setback of the season and served as a reminder that there was still plenty of work to be done in order to reach the team’s potential. It was, in short, a wake up call.
On Friday night in a battle for first place on the road against Reservoir, Oakland Mills (9-1, 13-1) showed just how much it’s grown in the weeks since.
Aislynn Riggs registered a triple-double (11 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks), while Jazmine Washington (19 points) and Kiyah King (14 points) joined her in double figures offensively, to help the Scorpions pull away down the stretch for a 55-47 statement victory over the Gators.
“That loss really kind of brought us back to reality, not just the girls but us as coaches. We had to challenge ourselves to get better and, I have no doubt in my mind, going through that changed the course of our season,” Hagins said. “Our practices improved right away, from our starters to our reserve players. Everyone has refocused and we’ve gotten back to our identity … the confidence we’ve built these last few games has been tremendous.”
The win over Reservoir (8-2, 11-3) marks the fourth straight for the Scorpions since the defeat at the hands of the Lions and it creates a one-game lead in the county standings over a trio of two-loss teams — the Gators, Howard and Long Reach.
For Reservoir, the loss snapped a seven-game winning streak. Emily Dorn (18 points and 16 rebounds) and Tiffany Hooker (18 points) each did their part, carrying the team in stretches.
Ultimately, however, foul trouble, Oakland Mills’ aggressive defense and some key baskets late in the fourth quarter ended up swinging the game’s outcome.
“I think the physicality of that game from all five positions was something that we necessarily hadn’t seen before. We struggled to adjust to that, resulting in some foul trouble and some turnovers that I thought ended up being the difference tonight,” Reservoir coach Deb Taylor said. “Oakland Mills won the 50-50 balls and beat us to some key offensive rebounds, which is something we talked about going in as an area we thought we needed to win.”
Both teams struggled offensively at the onset, with Oakland Mills holding a narrow 5-4 lead at the end of the first quarter. The two squads then went back-and-forth in the second period, trading the lead six times.
Reservoir opened up a lead of as many as seven points with 2:48 remaining in the half, but the Scorpions regrouped to grab back the momentum. A buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Washington going into intermission put Oakland Mills back ahead, 24-22.
“This team really feeds off momentum plays, they have all season … so that play going into half was huge. It really sparked us and I think it absolutely did carry over into the second half,” Hagins said.
The lead changed hands again a couple times in the third quarter and the game was tied at 39-39 early in the fourth following a layup by Hooker.
But over the final 6:27 of regulation, the game belonged to Oakland Mills. King took over with a mix of layups and outside shots, Washington hit a key 3-pointer and the team then iced things with some key conversions from the foul line.
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Just as importantly, though, during that final decisive stretch the Scorpions held Reservoir to just two field goals.
“I thought the key to our victory was keeping our intensity up and our defense,” King said. “Even though Tiffany Hooker had a really good game, we found a way to stop her and contain her … I just thought our defense was what won us the game at the end.”
Both Oakland Mills and Reservoir have six county games remaining in the regular season. For Taylor, her hope is that the setback springboards her team toward achieving bigger things down the road.
“It’s disappointing because this was an opportunity for us, and we know that. But in the long run, this game only makes us better as individuals and as a team,” Taylor said. “That kind of physical play is something we are only going to see more of as we get into the playoffs.”
Oakland Mills 55, Reservoir 47
OM (9-1, 13-1): Washington 19, King 14, Riggs 11, Scott-Pearson 9, McDuffie 2.
Re (8-2, 11-3): Dorn 18, Hooker 18, Bailey 6, Davis 5.
Half: 24-22 OM.