Over the last month, Wilde Lake coach Deon Wingfield could sense the course of his team's season changing for the better. Chemistry was improving and his team was beginning to win some of the close games it had lost early on.
Yet, as he admitted going into the team's game against Atholton on Friday, there was still something missing — a winning streak.
Courtesy of a balanced effort that saw six players score seven or more points, Wingfield and the Wildecats got exactly what they were looking for. Marquis Bullett led the way with 17 points and 11 rebounds and Wilde Lake (4-1, 9-6) pulled away in the second half for a 66-54 victory over the Raiders that secures the team its first three-game winning streak of the season.
"Coming out of midterm week, without full practices the last few days, you never quite know how the team is going to respond, but these guys were all extremely focused for this game. I think they knew how much this one meant," Wingfield said. "We've been talking a lot of about how it's time to start a streak and the guys are buying in, really starting to work more as a team. Tonight was a huge step for us."
Overall, Wilde Lake has now won seven of its last nine games. Afterward, Bullett echoed the sentiment of his coach in terms of the team being ready to take the next step.
"We have had two streaks in a row winning two games and then we lost the third one, so we knew if we were going to jump up in the county rankings, this was a good win to have," said Bullett, who ended up scoring eight of his points in the decisive third quarter. "We've got to play hard the rest of the season, because we are trying to get up there in the top three."
For Atholton (2-3, 5-10), the loss was the team's sixth in its last eight games.
But for coach Jared Albert, who watched his team take a 27-26 lead into the half against the Wildecats, the team is a lot closer to success than its record may indicate.
"I think consistency has been the issue, not lack of effort by any means. I think the kids play hard every night, and tonight was another example, we just didn't hit shots in crunch time and they did," Albert said. "It's tough when you are in these games, you just are always coming up on the losing end. That's what we have to work on now, finding a way to get in the 'W' column."
The two teams went back and forth throughout the first half. The lead changed hands seven times and there were a handful of ties, including after a 3-pointer from Wilde Lake's Trea Keys (12 points) to close the first quarter that tied the game at 11-11.
Atholton ended up holding a narrow lead, 27-26, at the half thanks to a 3-pointer from Jacob Waterworth (team-high 14 points) in the closing minutes of the second quarter.
But Wilde Lake methodically took control in the third quarter and Bullett played a big role. The Wildecats' senior forward began crashing the offensive glass with regularity and finishing around the rim.
It was a hook shot by Bullett late in the third quarter that sparked a 10-0 run between the end of the period and beginning of the fourth that helped Wilde Lake establish its largest lead of the night to that point, 50-41.
"Over the course of the game, I know when I have to turn it up or when I have to be that factor for my team," Bullett said. "We were down at halftime by one and they had a lot of momentum, so I knew that being on the boards and being a force inside was going to help my team."
Atholton did its best to hang around, getting back with six points on three different occasions down the stretch. But Wilde Lake was just too much, as Nick David scored all 10 of his points on the evening in the fourth quarter to help seal the victory.
Other strong efforts from Gerald Van Tassell (10 points), PJ Joseph (8 points) and Ricardo Greene (7) went a long way to helping the Wildecats emerge victorious.
Wilde Lake 66, Atholton 54
WL (4-1, 9-6): Bullett 17, Keys 12, Van Tassell 10, David 10, Joseph 8, Greene 7, Raymond 2.
A (2-3, 5-10): Waterworth 14, Perlin 11, Dobson 10, Rankin 8, Parkins 7, Washington 4.
Half: 27-26 A.
Reservoir 72, Oakland Mills 62
Judge Payne exploded for a career-high 30 points, including five 3-pointers, to help lead the Gators to the victory. Reservoir, which regrouped after trailing 15-12 at the end of the first quarter, has now won four straight games overall.
Simi Ajimatanrareje (12 points) and Ayomi Akinbinu (8) also had strong games in the win for the Gators.
Daeshawn Eaton (13 points) and Jordan Hopkins (12) paced Oakland Mills in the loss.
Re (4-1, 12-3): Payne 30, Ajimatanrareje 12, Akinbinu 8, Carey 6, Ricketts 4, Gunther 4, Upsher 4, Archampong 2, Baker 2.
OM (2-3, 5-10): Eaton 13, Hopkins 12, Burgess 9, Wheelock 6, Simpson 5, Estep 4, McFadden 4, Rondon 4, Ware 3, Chance 2.
Hammond 51, Centennial 45 OT
The Golden Bears got big games from JJ Woodson (12 points) and Micah Henry (11), prevailing in overtime against the Eagles. The win for Hammond snapped a two-game losing skid.
On the other side, the loss was the third in the last four games for Centennial. Hayden Ford led the Eagles with 15 points.
Ha (3-2, 6-10): Woodson 12, Henry 11, Ridgell 9, Gordon 7, Tukpah 6, Goodson 2, Darko 2, Evans 2.
C (3-2, 11-5): Ford 15, White 12, Taylor 7, Eudell 3, Addisu 3, Hohmann 2, Williams 2, Fant 1.
Half: 17-16 Ha; Regulation: 42-42.
River Hill 60, Mt. Hebron 55
The Hawks continued their county-best winning streak, which is now at five straight with the victory over the Vikings. Overall, River Hill is 6-0 in games that count toward the county championship and are alone in first place in the standings.
Jaden Martin led the way for the Hawks with a season-high 21 points, while Jake Robinson chipped in with 12 points.
Mt. Hebron, which has now lost five straight games, was led by JC McCorn (14 points) and Brandon Prox (12).
RH (6-0, 11-5): Martin 21, Robinson 12, Champion 7, Krause 7, Daniels 6, Hirsch 3, Krakat 3, Okojie 1.
MH (0-5, 8-7): McCorn 14, Prox 12, Johnson 8, Linsenmeyer 5, Pearce 5, Shriver 4, Islam 4, Kinloch 3.
Half: 30-24 RH.
Marriotts Ridge 62, Howard 56
The Mustangs picked up the win, getting huge games from Luke Ingersoll (17 points) and Andrew Geiger (16). Marriotts Ridge was down by one, 36-35, after the third quarter but regrouped to pull out the victory down the stretch.
In the decisive final period, the Mustangs hit nine of 10 shots from the foul line.
Dequon Walker had a team-high 15 points in the loss for Howard.
MR (2-3, 6-10): Ingersoll 17, Geiger 16, Held 9, Hettinger 7, Lee 6, Demiral 5, Brennan 3, Olsufka 1.
Ho (2-3, 5-11): Walker 15, Perkins-Cross 10, Cowan 9, Davis 7, Javier 7, Dawkins 4, Blanco 4.
Half: 30-25 MR.
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Glenelg 64, Long Reach 58
After the Gladiators got off to a slow start, Chris Currie caught fire in the second quarter to help Glenelg get going and set the stage for the victory over the Lightning. Currie ended up scoring 19 points on the strength of five made 3-pointers.
Brent Wade (12 points) and Joe Piwowarski (10 points) also had strong games for Glenelg in the win. In the fourth quarter, the Gladiators went 10 of 13 shots from the foul line.
On the other side, Tre Morgan had a game-high 28 points in the losing effort. He scored 20 of those points in the second half.
G (2-4, 11-5): Currie 19, Wade 12, Piwowarski 10, Mills 5, Koele 4, Walsh 4, Davis 3, Dry 3, Powell 2, Boswell 2.
LR (1-4, 6-10): Morgan 28, Brown 14, Dix 6, Young 4, Ekop 4, Jones 2.
Half: 31-27 G.