Mount Hebron's girls basketball team continues to bring special meaning to the term "big finish."
The Vikings have made a habit of ending seasons on a high note during coach Dave Greenberg's 13-year tenure, particularly during the past five seasons. Four of those have yielded a Class 2A state championship.
Hebron is on that course again, as it proved Tuesday with a 61-47dismantling of Oakland Mills, easily Hebron's most satisfying victory of the season. Not only did the Vikings avenge their 43-42 defeat to the Scorpions last month, they all but clinched their 11th county title in the last 13 years, and probably convinced themselves that another March visit to Catonsville Community College, the state playoffssite, is likely.
The Vikings (11-1, 17-3) also followed what has become a familiar, game-by-game script -- the big finish. Combining scrappy defense, terrific foul shooting and depth that had Oakland Mills gasping for air down the stretch, the Vikings outscored the Scorpions, 21-13 in the fourth period.
Hebron has done this consistentlysince losing to Oakland Mills last month, and the ability to apply asecond-half knockout punch has been magnified in its tougher tests. Hebron warmed up for the Oakland Mills rematch by turning a five-point halftime lead at Howard into an 11-point third-quarter lead and eventually, a 14-point victory. Against Glenelg a week earlier, the Vikings blitzed the Gladiators, 20-10, in the third quarter en route to a12-point victory.
It wouldn't be fair to say that Tuesday marked the meeting of two teams going in opposite directions, since Oakland Mills still looks formidable. But the Scorpions' confidence must be shaken a bit today, while Hebron, after scoring a season-high 61 points, has resolved any lingering self-doubt.
The second-place Scorpions -- whose 50-49 loss to Glenelg last month cost them a realistic chance to share the league title with Hebron -- don't have much time torecover.
They'll visit Howard Thursday in what could be the Lions' golden opportunity to seize the second seed in the Class 3A Region I playoffs.
Oakland Mills (10-2, 18-2) is a lock for the top seed.But a Lions victory -- they nearly knocked off the Scorpions last month before falling 50-48 -- could put them in a position to play Oakland Mills for the Region I title and a trip to the state playoffs.
Some suggestions for Scorpions' coach Teresa Waters on getting her team back on track:
* Get point guard Stefanie Magro back in a confident frame of mind. Break her of a bad habit quickly. Magro, a steady yet unsung player who competes in the shadow of Mia Dammen, was hurting Tuesday after committing a season-high 16 turnovers. Nearly halfof them were palming calls. That might have been the difference in the game.
* Keep track of team fouls. Allowing forward Andrea Romich to collect her fourth foul before halftime killed Oakland Mills. Romich spent the entire third period on the bench, while Hebron was slowly taking control of the game. A mistake like that could prove costly in the playoffs.
* Get Suzanne Willis and Katrina Overton more involved in the offense. They've both shot well from the outside -- a definite shortcoming on this team.
While the pieces may have been jostled a bit at Oakland Mills last week, the puzzle is coming together nicely for Hebron.
In addition to their ever-improving man-to-man defense, the Vikings have quietly become the best free-throw shooting team Greenberg has ever had.
Hebron is shooting 65 percent from the line, and four players are hitting at least 70 percent of theirfreebies. Senior guard Christy McCauley (80 percent) is heading for the all-time school mark, and is followed by sophomores Sandra Benson(75) and Erica McCauley (71) and freshman guard Emily Yanero (70).
Speaking of Yanero, has any player in the county -- let alone any freshman -- improved more in the last month? I doubt it. All she did Tuesday was score 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting from the floor Tuesday and hold Mia Dammen to 11 points. Dammen averages over 18.
The Vikings' chemistry may have been upset by the loss of senior Melissa Murdza, who went down with an injured knee in the first half against Oakland Mills. She could return this week. As the first guard off thebench, Murdza gives Hebron dogged defense.
Hebron also needs to getsix-foot sophomore center Kris Bryant back to 100 percent. Bryant isstill shaking off the effects of the flu. The Vikings need her rebounding in the playoffs.
As for the rest of the team, one must be picky to find fault. Erica McCauley is still the league's best point guard and best player. Her sister, Christy has rediscovered her outsideshooting touch. Cescili Drake continues to play great defense and sink clutch baskets. Andrea Day has become a true defensive force inside. Benson is still one of the top substitutes in the county.