Dateline – Atlanta, Ga. The Lady Cougars intruded into the nest of The Howard Hawks, managing to pull out a 40 – 35 road victory.  The conference win serves to enhance TCS hopes for favorable playoff positioning, and also marked the first time that your Lady Cougars secured a win in Howard’s new campus gymnasium.  To make the victory even sweater, the young ladies achieved it with a true team effort, as everyone stepped up to compensate for the absence of senior center Shakirah Wazeerud-Din, who traveled an entire continent away as part of a long planned family trip.

The game started with a frantic pace, as Howard unveiled an early trap defense, and as both squads looked to force the issue on offense.  What the first moments lacked in smooth play and efficiency, it made up for with the raw energy of a running street battle.  Howard’s foremost distance shooter , Drambil, dialed up an early three pointer.  Lady Hawk’s All – Star guard DeHaan’s added  patented drives to the rim.  The early buckets pushed Howard to an early advantage.  After recovering from this initial blow, the Lady Cougars began to fill up some hoops of their own, as four different players got into the scoring act, accounting for 11 first quarter points,  to counter Howard’s 7.  Alyssa Briggs sank two hoops, while fellow eighth grader Larissa Brient knocked down a banker from the low post, substitute Nalalia Hoeve squared up for a mid-ranger, and Alex Nebel unleashed a trey to amp up the Cougar Nation.

In the second quarter the visitors increased their offensive proficiently as evidenced by a bonanza of buckets.  A dizzying array of shots: a free throw, another three point harpoon, tip-ins, strong drives, and jumpers accounted for a total of 14 second stanza points.  While DeHaan often found herself blocked off from the lane, Drambil busted out with two more three point strikes to prevent the game from getting out of hand.  At the half, TCS boasted a 25 to 15 advantage.

As the team re-charged and re-focused during the halftime break, the Lady Hawks convened a war council of their own, resolving to snatch victory from their uncouth guests.  True to their intent the contest began to ebb in the other direction.  A re-animated Howard defense made crisp ball movement and easy drives to the hoop impossible.  While Cottage found it increasingly difficult to score, Howard also seemed mired in an offensive funk as well, until the last moments of the third.  At that point the shots fell in a flurry,  a problem compounded by far too many Cottage turnovers.  At the close of the third quarter, the Lady Cougars held on to a 31 – 28 lead, setting the stage for the final eight minutes.

Cottage desperately needed an offensive lift.  Briggs and Freshman Emma Altermatt delivered.  Briggs got things rolling with a stop and pop.  On the next trip down Altermatt yanked down an errant shot, and drew a foul as she hoisted up a power move.  Stepping up to the line, she drained the second of her two free throws to record her first score of the season.  The breathing room served to calm the jitters, but Howard refused to concede anything.  A fourth three pointer of the night by Drambil, and determined drives by DeHaan kept fans on the edge of their seats until the very end.  In the last minute of play TCS made stops, but turned the ball over again, giving Howard new hope. With five seconds left, Howard inbounded to DeHaan who made a beeline for the three point arc.  Instinctively, a defender rushed out to contest the trifecta, only to be whistled up for the foul.  On the way down DeHaan seemed to tweak her ankle, coming up shaky after gathering herself on the court for a long moment.  Clearly favoring the healthy foot, DeHaan gamely attempted the three free throws with only 0.8 seconds showing on the clock.  Converting on the three free throws would make the match a one possession game.  While unlikely, a misstep on the baseline, or an errant pass by the visitors could have set the stage for the most improbable and spectacular of comebacks.  Fortunately for the Cougar faithful the nightmare scenario did not transpire as the injured guard could not convert.  Nebel corralled the rebound, and time expired giving Cottage a 40 – 35 win.

Pandemonium ensued, as an alter Maria Knezek contacted Wazeerud-Din via facetime to rely the happy news to her teammate.  Hopefully DeHaan’s injury will not prove to be too serious.  Serious A.A.C. fans would like nothing better than to see the two teams meet again in the post-season, at full strength.

GAME NOTES

Going into the contest, everyone knew that the post players would need to step up in a big way.  To say that they answered the call would dismissively understate their efforts.  Let us begin with the undisputedly largest story of the night, freshman Ana Mills, who stood her ground and grabbed NINETEEN huge rebound.  Wazeerud-Din owned the  previous season high with 15 back in early November.  Three of the boards came from the offensive end.  Without Mills claiming all of those boards, this game could have very easily have gone the other way.  In addition to her strong, strong night off the glass, Mills also  came up with a pair of steals.  Fellow corner man Alex Nebel received the starting nod for the absent center.  Operating almost exclusively from the positon that Nebel enjoys least, the junior also turned in a gem of a game.  Eclipsing Coach Cutchin’s pre-game challenge to grab 8 rebounds, Nebel claimed 11 (with 2 off the offensive end).  She also passed for 3 assists, gained a steal, and shred the nets for 8 points, including a pair of her beloved threes.

Emmi Dillehay, Emma Altermatt, and Leighton Braglia all provided frontcourt depth.  Dillehay forced a steal, hauled home a defensive ‘bound, and also muscled home an offensive rebound to tally two points.  Emma Altermatt continued her effective play.  She also claimed 1 rebound from each end of the court, passed for an assist, gained a steal, and made her well timed free throw to stop the bleeding in the early fourth quarter.  Braglia helped to close out the first half, denying easy access to the post, and running the floor effectively.

Larissa Brient  again suited up as a starter, and ended up playing all positons, which may not have been entirely fair, as with only four practices it is nearly impossible to pick up on all nuances of each positon.  However, Brient again contributed mightily to her team’s success.  For the evening she chased down 5 rebounds (3 offensive), dished for a nifty assist, and stole three balls.  For good measure the eighth grader used a conventional shot and a free throw to score 3 points.

Natalia Hoeve, guard and swim team member extraordinaire,  came off of a taxing swim competition on Thursday evening and contributed key minutes in this basketball game.  She shuttled between different defensive positions in the zone scheme.  Her tally sheet credits 1 offensive rebound and 2 points for her efforts.

Maria Knezek played nearly wire to wire in a gutty performance.  Unofficially the “Thief of Roswell” led the game with 10 steals.  These turnovers fueled her two baskets, both scored on her preferred “grab and go” ambush.  Knezek also stepped into the passing game with 4 assists, while also claiming 4 rebounds (2 offensive).

On a night where so many players stepped up, Alyssa Briggs made a headline of her own, scoring a career high 20 points in this most important game.  Eighteen of the points came on conventional field goals, and the rookie also hit two of two free throws.  Briggs really put her foot to the accelerator in the final quarter when she tossed in 8 to keep the Hawks at bay.  She also stole 4 balls, and wrestled her way to 6 rebounds (3 offensive).

The road does not get any easier, as the Lady Cougars will test themselves against Lyndon Academy and conference rival Atlanta Area School in another week of exciting round ball action.