Dateline – Atlanta, Ga: The basketball gods smiled when the Athletic Directors of the AAC finalized the Ladies basketball schedule last spring. The final day of the regular season featured three games that would decide playoff seedings, including the big game on the big stage where the Howard Hawks hosted the Lady Cougars on their Senior Night. On the line, bragging rights between the two rivals, and the number one seeding for next week’s tournament.
Playing to a raucous and amped up crowd, the two teams imposed an understanding that this game would feature adrenaline and unrelenting action. The opening tip set the stage as neither team controlled the tip, and a scrum of players hit the hardwoods to tie up the ball, necessitating a second jump ball – a scenario that this writer never witnessed at any level of play. Predictably, Howard spent the quarter setting up their All Star Center Ava Beck and their imposing frontcourt. Howard struck first scoring a pair of buckets in the early going. When it looked like the Hawks might put together the first surge of the night, the Cougars collectively turned up the defensive pressure as Alyssa Briggs powered home 5 points of her own. The score stood at an 8 – 5 THS advantage at the end of the first eight minutes. The second stanza witnessed similar defensive heroics as each side struggled to find offensive rhythm. Beck found her groove, netting 8 of her team’s 11 second quarter scores. TCS retaliated with 7 of their own on the strength of a Grace Workman steal and score, and a bevy of foul shots as Briggs successfully took the rock into the teeth of the Howard frontcourt.
Now holding a 19 – 12 lead the student section of the Howard gym made their presence felt in anticipation of a big run. For a while everything seemed to go in the home towner’s direction as they sailed to an eighteen point bulge. Veteran observers of this storied rivalry knew better than to check out of the auditorium early as dramatic swings and the unexpected always seem to manifest. Although Briggs only scored a single bucket in this third quarter, others stepped up to allow the Lady Cougars to close the gap to ten points by quarter’s end. Gabby Pressnall nailed a three point harpoon, Finley Love canned a pair of free throws, and Malia Richards hoisted a rainbow jumper to keep the game within reach.
The fourth quarter served up another helping of scramble ball. TCS sold on on press coverage, forcing a number of turnovers, but the wily Beck converted two big buckets to keep the Cougars at bay. Briggs attacked the lane with abandon scoring 8 points in the last eight minutes. In the end time ran out and Howard closed out the game and the regular season title.
Fans from both schools left the arena with the sneaking suspicion that they just walked away from the preview of the AAC championship game. . .the ultimate rubber match between two evenly matched rivals in a game where both teams will have no choice but to push all of their chips to the center of the table.
Kendal Betzer, Malia Richards, and Eleanor Gaffneystone shuttled in and out to put the brakes on Beck and the Howard post players. Betzer outjumped the white jerseys to claim 2 boards while sticking to Beck like green on grass. Richards connected on the third quarter jump shot described in the game report and used her speed to great effect. Gaffneystone took her turn on the All-Star Center as well, not shying away from contact to try to push her from the post.
The Middle School duo of Bonnie Bolton-Hogg and Grace Workman check in to keep the defensive pace at the fastest gear possible. Bolton-Hogg gained a steal, but her best moment came in the final quarter when she pulled down a huge offensive rebound. Workman scored 4 points, claimed 3 rebounds (1 offensive), passed for an assist, and forced 4 steals.
Sara Tolchinsky played a leading role in jamming the Howard playmakers. Her stat line may not have been as full of tally marks (2 defensive/1 offensive rebound and 1 steal), but her consistent pressure forced a number of travels, double dribbles, and hurried passes.
Finley Love canned a pair of free throws, adroitly threaded the needle for 4 assists, grabbed 3 steals, and showcased her uncanny rebounding abilities (1 defensive and 4 offensive rebounds).
Gabby Pressnall added five points to the cause, including the three pointer to close out the third quarter. She added 2 steals, and also bossed her way to 6 boards (4 offensive).
Center Natlie Taylor returned from sick bay to match up with Ava Beck. Taylor put up some good shots from the post, earned a trip to the charity stripe and patrolled the boards, cashing in for 4 defensive an 2 offensive rebounds.
Alyssa Briggs set the pace on both ends of the court. Defensively she boxed out for 15 boards, blocked 7 shots, and picked 4 steals. Offensively she snuck in for 4 offensive rebounds and netted 20 points.
First round playoff action takes place at Mills Springs Academy on Monday!