Dateline – Roswell, Ga. In a long-anticipated match up of the only two undefeated teams in AAC play, the Lady Cougars played host to The Howard School as part of the Senior night festivities. The season-long anticipation lived up to the advanced hype as both teams approached the game like seasoned prize fighters who landed haymaker after haymaker for the full twelve rounds. In the end, both squads staggered off the hardwoods with nothing left in the tank, but with the heroines of TCS claiming a 36 – 30 victory.
An illness riven Cottage struck first as eighth grade phenome Gabby Pressnall splashed home a trifecta launched from international waters. While a relentless TCS press continually generated turnovers, Howard rode on the shoulders of center Ava Beck who powered home 9 first quarter points, all from the paint, and often converting offensive rebounds. Cougars senior Alyssa Briggs countered with two buckets of her own to keep her team within striking distance, as the first eight minutes ended with the Hawks owning a 9 – 7 lead.
Offensive efficiency picked up to a large degree for both squads in the second period as both posed double digit scoring. Howard posted 10 second quarter tallies, as Beck scored 4, but more attentive post defense forced other teammates to pick up the scoring load. Most of the Lady Cougar’s 11 points came from steals. Pressnall and Briggs collaborated for all TCS points, but Howard managed to maintain a slim 1 point lead going into the break
At halftime the coaching staff challenged the players to mark up their foes with even greater intensity and to block out more effectively. The result, sixteen minutes of attritional warfare that slowly wore down the visitors. In the third frame Beck only scored on a pair of free throws while teammate Bella Bland knocked down a conventional field goal. The TCS press picked up in intensity, and every loose ball sent the black clad Cougars diving to the floor to force jump balls and to grab turnovers. The dynamic duo of Briggs and Pressnall continued their offensive assault turning the halftime deficit into a 26 – 23 advantage.
In the final frame Howard put together a mini-run to reclaim the lead. Again Beck found little daylight, only scoring a basket in the final eight minutes. With just 2 and a half minutes to go in the contest Howard clung to a two point lead. Cottage activated their offense, swinging the ball from one side of the court to the other. Junior Finley Love found Pressnall sneaking toward the baseline. Pressnall caught the pass, and hoisted a jumper that caught nothing but net to knot the game up. The press then geared up into hyperdrive as the Hawks simply could not score another point.
Coming out of a timeout, the last minute and 24 seconds was the stuff of legends. Off a missed shot that looked to be going out of bounds, Natalie Taylor rushed to the corner to save the ball from going out of bounds. In a moment of pure inspiration she passed it to Alyssa Briggs who hit a remarkable 17 foot corner jumpshot to send the crowd into a frenzy. The score was 32-20 What came next might very well have been the play of the year. Instead of focusing on the great shot she had just made, Briggs had the presence of mind to switch to defense. She swiped the inbounds pass and went right to the rack with a dagger of a steal and layup. As if that weren’t remarkable enough, Briggs then raced back on defense, came out of nowhere and blocked a wide open shot by Hawks guard Caitlyn Forgione. She then raced down the floor and threw a dime of a pass to Sarah Tolchinsky who converted the layup to put the game away.
With the hard fought 36 – 30 victory, the Lady Cougars now stand alone atop the AAC standings. Before savoring this instant classic too much, fans must recognize that the two heavyweights will square off yet again on Thursday February 8th at Howard to close out the season series. Discerning fans also suspect a third rematch come tournament time.
What a way to send out the two seniors. . .and what a way to jazz up the hometown faithful.
Use of the full court press necessitated constant quick stints for all of the players. Sixth grader Grace Workman ended up guarding all positions on the court (including center Ava Beck!) She rounded up 2 steals. Malia Richards and Eleanor Gaffneystone demonstrated similar versatility in bodying up against all comers. Richard’s stat line provides her a tally mark in the steal column. She also squeezed off 2 sound jumpers, but the basketball gods conspired to deny her the score. No one should undersell the impact that freshman Natalie Taylor provided for her team. Although the line of 7 boards (1 offensive), one steal, and one assist may not sound overwhelming, most of the statistical activity occurred in the second half when big plays were needed to keep the Hawks at bay. Taylor also drew the unenviable task of shadowing Beck every time she took the floor.
Junior Finley Love tried to shake off the after effects of an illness, gamely rising to the occasion. Unable to establish her jump shooting rhythm, Love nevertheless banged her way to 4 offensive boards and an assist.
Sara Tolchinsky gained the starting nod and transformed herself into a human cruise missile, launching herself into the press with complete abandon. The game book credits Tolchinsky with 3 steals, but the tally underestimates her work in completely gumming up the Howard offense. She also scored 2 points, got an assist, and grabbed 2 rebounds (one at each end of the court).
Gabby Pressnall ended up nailing double digits in the scoring column with her season high of 13 points. She also pocked her way to 3 steals, and boxed out for 3 boards (2 offensive).
The seniors came out in a big way on their big night. . .both rising from their sickbeds to aid the Lady Cougars. Kendall Betzer marked up exclusively on Ava Beck. She grabbed rebounds on both sides of the court and came away with a steal. Alyssa Briggs pulled the scoring wagon, ringing up 21 highly contested points. She also dished 4 assists, amassed 13 rebounds (3 offensive) and grabbed 9 steals (leaving her one shy of another triple double). She made a clear case for conference player of the year with her game changing performance in the last minute of the contest.
A special thank you to the parents, staff and alumni who helped to carry our team over the hump.