Dateline – Roswell, Ga. In a sport notoriously characterized by dramatic surges and frustrating droughts, the ladies of Howard and Cottage drove their Friday contest to a most theatrical limit. In the process they packed away a vault full of memories that neither the athletes nor the spectators will ever forget.
In the early going, Howard pressed the accelerator to the floor, rocking the home town squad with a series of haymakers, which under normal conditions could have settled the issue early. After an opening Cottage possession miss, Howard’s frosh phenomena Olivia Dethan powered home a bucket. In a bang, bang succession a pair of turnovers resulted in consecutive field goals for the visitors. After another stymied possession, Howard scored on a fourth basket. At this juncture of the game, both sides settled into a stalemate, with each team limited to one shot per offensive sequence. At just under the four minute mark, Brandy Michelle Finnell claimed a rebound, and completed an outlet pass to a streaking Emily Daugherty, who drew a foul, and a trip to the charity stripe. Unfortunately both foul shots rimmed out, which Howard followed up with yet another field goal, netting their ninth and tenth points of the game. Based on this blitzkrieg of a start, impartial observers might easily conclude that this was Howard’s night to howl. Rather than packing it in, and folding up like a cheap lawn chair, the Lady Cougars doubled down. With one minute on the clock, a fast break opportunity found the ball in the hands of Maria Knezek, who could not convert the shot. Not taking “no” for an answer, Finnell filled the lane, controlled the board, and connected on her team’s first points of the game. On the very next possession, Alex Nebel grabbed a rebound, passed to Maria Knezek who outraced the field to score a lay-up. Not to be outdone, Howard’s Dethan responded with a jumper of her own push her team’s advantage to 12 – 4. Julia Baumohl found the ball in her hands as the last second counted down to zero. Her desperation half court heave fell short.
The second quarter witnessed more balanced game, as both teams pumped in eight points each. In the first 90 seconds of action, Knezek scored consecutive points in a half court set, and with a fast break finish. After a series of defensive stops, Howard’s Senior MacGahan scored on an offensive rebound to push their lead back to six points. A few possessions later, the Lady Hawks converted another jump shot, re-establishing an eight point cushion. With a little over three minutes left in the half, traded hoops as Cottage exited the court trailing by a score of 20- 12.
Second half action began with both teams misfiring on four straight possessions. Natalie Yager then stole a ball, and threaded the needle to Baumohl who scored from the foul line. Howard then drained a short jumper. A couple of plays later, the Lady Cougars clawed back when Finnell scored on a tough shot assisted by Knezek. In an exciting flurry of activity, Howard managed to turn back a determined Cottage stampede. Yager forced a steal, Emily Daugherty appeared to convert a lay-up only to have the officials call a charge to erase the score. Howard forced the issue on offense again, only to see freshman Tracy Li fight her way to the rebound. In their next foray, Howard tried to hit MacGahan near the top of the key, only to see Knezek steal the ball. As Knezek achieved separation, MacGahan hit the ground hard, prompting the officials to stop play. MacGahan eventually returned to the hardwoods to complete the game, but needed to take a few minutes to recoup. As action resumed, Li came up with a rebound, and delivered the ball to Knezek who drew a foul as she unloaded. At the charity strip Knezek calmly drained both foul shorts to pull within four points. With a little under three minutes on the clock, Maria Knezek pocked a pass away, and outraced the defenders to lay the ball in. Howard’s MacGahan then tipped in an offensive board to close out the scoring for the third quarter.
Entering the final frame with a four point advantage, with Cottage knocking at the door. Cottage gained possession, and hit the offensive boards three times, but could not get the ball to drop through the hoop. With a little over a minute burned, Howard knocked down a jumper under pressure to push the lead to a more comfortable six point bulge. Not wanting to let the game slip away, Finnell drew a foul as she operated in the post, and nailed one of two free throws to trim the margin. For the next three minutes, the defensive intensity ramped up, and no one scored any buckets. Daugherty finally broke the scoring drought with a jumper to cut the lead to three. After turning back a Howard play, Cottage took possession and misfired. Knezek snuck up from the weak side to control the rebound, and absorbed contact from an overzealous defender, but the basketball gods conspired to prevent the foul shots from rattling home. Howard controlled the boards, and with two minutes showing on the scoreboard, MacGahan let fly with a three point harpoon. In the process of contending the rebound, Finnell hit the hardwoods and laid their stunned for a moment, before gathering herself to rise. As her coach went out on the court to assess the situation, Shakirah Wazeerud-Din needed to check in for Finnell. After another 60 seconds of defensive intensity, MacGahan scored another field goal to keep Howard ahead by a 23 – 28 margin. Now needing points in a hurry, Finnell inbounded to Baumhol, to tossed it back to Finnell, who searched out Knezek who scored with 45 seconds remaining. Picking up Howard with full court man to man, Howard rimmed out their shot, Daugherty fought for the rebound, but Cottage turned the ball over, and committed a foul. Howard then inbounded the ball, only to see Daugherty step up and gain the steal, who then passed to Knezek who found herself sandwiched between Lady Hawks. Finding an opening, Knezek fired off a pass to Yager who measured her shot and banked home a fifteen foot jumper to pull Cottage to within 1 point. Again going to the full court man pressure, Howard advanced the ball to halfcourt, only to see “The Thief of Roswell” work her magic again with a steal. Knezek took off on a slant drive toward the hoop, but Howard blocked the shot out of bounds with 5.8 seconds left. Taking the ball out of bounds under their own hoop, Yager got the ball into the hands of Daugherty who squeezed off a field goal. The shot caromed off the glass, and ended with multiple Cottage and Howard hands stuck to the ball. The possession arrow pointed to TCS, setting the stage for a second inbound, this time with 1.8 seconds left. Quick Howard hands knocked the next pass out of bounds. For a third time the teams lined up for a final play. This time the clock started as the ball touched hands, but time expired before anyone could cleanly claim possession.
Thus concluded one of the most dramatic finishes in storied history of the Cottage – Howard rivalry, setting the stage for a most potentially intriguing playoff matchup in February.
Alex Nebel battled illness but drew the starting nod. She chased down 2 rebounds (1 on each end of the court), 1 assist, and 2 steals. Although she did not score, Nebel stretched the defense with a couple of close misses from three point territory.
The bench again came up big. Sixth man Emily Daugherty scored 2 points, and banged her way to 5 rebounds (including 1 offensive board). In her second game back Shakirah Wazeerud-Din returned to the post where she recorded a steal, and claimed 6 rebounds (including 1 offensive board). Hannah Katz stepped in to provide backcourt relief at the end of the wild first frame. Tracy Li hit the boards three times and contributed frontcourt relief during both halves.
Julia Baumohl and Brandy Michelle Finnell teamed in the post. Finnell attacked the boards for 5 offensive and 5 defensive rebounds, handed out 2 assists, 1 steal, and 5 points. Baumohl grabbed 11 boards (3 offensive), 1 steal, and 4 points.
Natalie Yager and Maria Knezek efficiently anchored the backcourt. Yager scored her 2 points when she nailed one of the most pressured shots of the season. Yager patrolled the boards, scooping up 6 boards (4 of them offensive), pushed the ball around for 2 assists, and 6 steals. Knezek scored a team high 14 points, to go along with 5 rebounds (3 offensive), 1 assist, and 9 steals.