Despite looking at a 10-point hole late in the third quarter, Mt. Hebron coach Anthony Bell remained confident in his group.
The Vikings slowly chipped away at the Westminster lead Monday night, and ultimately completed a fourth-quarter rally thanks to a game-winning steal by senior Shane Devine in the final seconds.
“I knew we could do it and they do have the ‘no quit attitude,’ so I was never worried even when I kept looking up at 10 points,” Bell said after the, 57-55, win. “I was like, ‘we’re good guys, let’s just play our game.’ And we slowly started creeping back in there, big shots, big steals. I am just proud of them. We fought hard.”
Mt. Hebron (9-6) had trouble matching up with the Owls (11-5) size inside. Thirty of Westminster’s points came in the paint, while 18 came at the foul line. But the Owls had difficulty handling the Vikings pressure, as they turned the ball over 29 times, including a game-deciding turnover in the final seconds.
“I just think we made too many mental mistakes at the end of it,” said Westminster coach Shawn Minnier. “We want to be in these situations, especially as we prepare for the playoffs. I think this is a good learning lesson. We are a young team and being in games like this is only going to help us moving forward.”
Mt. Hebron trailed the visiting Owls for more than three quarters, and even looked at a 46-36 deficit with a minute to play in the third. However, like it had done over the course of their season-high four-game winning streak, the Vikings had contributions from different players all over the floor to complete the team win.
Julia Rodriguez scored four points on the night, but both baskets came at a crucial time at the end of the third quarter.
After Devine hit a pair of free throws to end a Westminster 8-0 run, Rodriguez grabbed the offensive board off her own shot and cut the deficit to six. Then on the ensuing play, she picked off an Owls pass and netted her second basket of the game with five seconds remaining in the quarter. Her four points gave the Vikings momentum entering the final eight minutes, as they cut the deficit to four.
“We basically said new year, new team,” said Devine. “We’re just going to start pushing, flowing together, really working as a team and that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re playing for each other on and off the court. In practices we’re really jelling together and working through different lineups and it is really showing on the court.”
At the 4-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Maura Devine knocked down a big three that cut the score, 52-49, which also led to a Mt. Hebron 6-0 run.
With three minutes to go Shane Devine tied the score for the first time since the first quarter at 52-all.
About a minute later Nicole Roberts gave Westminster back the lead, but Erin Demek quickly answered for the Vikings. The junior guard knocked down a clutch 3-pointer at the edge of the arc to give her team their first advantage of the second half.
Sydney Popielski tied the game up once more for the Owls, as her made free throw knotted up the score at 55.
However with 1:39 remaining, freshman point guard Satori Valentine made the go-ahead free throw on the front end of a 1-and-1 to put Mt. Hebron in front for good.
After missing a pair of free throws with 35 seconds remaining, the Owls had one last opportunity to take the lead.
Roberts brought the ball down the floor and tried fitting in a pass to Popielski in the corner, but Shane Devine read it all the way, and picked the ball off for the steal.
“We were trying to set up a play and we couldn’t get the play setup,” Minnier said. “We just made a mistake on the end there and forced us to turn the ball over.”
Devine was fouled right away, and knew her free throws with 5.6 seconds left were key to ice the win.
She made the first, but the second was just off target. However, teammate Meredith Williams snatched the offensive rebound and held on until time expired.
“We take foul shots every practice and I knew I had the rhythm and I was ready to knock down the shots,” Devine said. “When Mere got the rebound I was really excited, because I know when she grabs the rebound she can handle the pressure and that’s exactly what she did.”
Valentine was the catalyst for the Vikings, as she finished with a career-high 19 points and hit 4 of 5 from the foul line. Shane and Maura Devine followed with 10 points apiece, while Demek and Eve Chase added six each.
“This win at the beginning of the week is really exciting, and really getting us ready for the next two games,” Shane Devine said. “We’re just ready to keep stepping it up and get more wins”
Zoe Costley had a solid night on the block for the Owls, as she finished with a team-high 16 points. Lillian Harris followed with 10, while Sarah O’Donnell and Roberts added eight points each.
“Anytime you can play a close game against another 3A opponent that is out of your county and out of your region it is a good opportunity,” Minnier added. “So we have to learn from this and got to go back and fix the things we need to fix, so we are ready come playoff time.”
Since the start of the New Year, Mt. Hebron is 6-2, and has won six out of their last seven games.
“They are bigger. They are the second place team in Carroll County. We have to come and do it and the result was awesome,” Bell said. “I am on top of the world. Seeing the smiles on their faces compared to 2016. This is what it’s all about, smiling and laughing after games. This January has been great. I wish it would stay January because I think we’ve only lost like once, but we’ll see what February brings.”
Mt. Hebron 57, Westminster 55
MH (4-1, 9-6): Valentine 19, S. Devine 10, M. Devine 10, Chase 6, Demek 6, Rodriguez 4, Oliver 2.
W (11-5): Costley 16, Harris 10, O’Donnell 8, Roberts 8, Hynson 7, Popielski 3, Pfaff 3.
Halftime: 34-23, Westminster.