Hebron-Hammond rivalry grows Playoffs loom in girls basketball

January 19, 1993|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Staff Writer

Mount Hebron's girls basketball team tries not to put too much stock in midseason victories.

With six state championships during the previous 14 seasons under coach Dave Greenberg, it's easy to see why.

As Wilde Lake's football team lives for Thanksgiving weekend, this team lives for March. It's as if the first 20 games of the season are just a warm-up for the real show.

The Vikings were talking in those terms Friday night after they had worn down Hammond with a gritty defensive effort and held on for a 41-35 victory.

"The next two games [against Hammond] are much bigger," added point guard Erica McCauley. "Last year, we won the county, but Hammond did what was important [in the playoffs]."

"The big thing is, we've got the confidence to play with them [Hammond]," Greenberg said. "Unfortunately, we've got to play each other not once more, but twice more."

Presumptuous as it sounds, you can pencil in that scenario. The Vikings and Golden Bears will have their regular-season rematch at Hebron next month, and they should meet again during the regional playoffs in March. Whoever survives that battle will be a good bet to win the Class 2A championship at UMBC.

With that in mind, both teams are trying to downplay Friday's result. After all, goes the theory, remember how Mount Hebron beat Hammond twice during the regular season? And remember how the Bears turned the tables on Hebron when it counted most, by handing the Vikings their first playoff defeat on their home floor in seven years?

That defeat propelled Hammond to its first state title, and left Hebron with a bitter taste for 10 months.

So, although it was mid-January, Friday night's contest carried the atmosphere of a playoff game. Third-ranked Hebron vs. fourth-ranked Hammond. Packed gym. Noisy crowd.

And the game showcased high school girls basketball as few games can. True, neither team shot well. Hebron made 16 of 49 shots (32.7 percent), including four of 15 from three-point range. Hammond shot 12-for-52 (23.1 percent).

But defense played a huge role in those numbers, and this was a game for defensive purists. Strictly man-to-man alignments by both sides, with full-court pressure and half-court traps mixed in all night. Tenacious rebounding by both teams. Players diving for every loose ball. And despite all the pressure, neither team committed an excessive number of turnovers. For such a low-scoring affair, the game was crisply played.

It also provided a snapshot for two squads that suddenly have become rivals. Hebron came away with some valuable answers. Hammond went home asking itself some questions.

Question No. 1: When are we going to start shooting better? The Bears (7-3, 2-1) began struggling offensively in the IABBO Tournament -- where they finished a disappointing sixth -- during the holiday break. They remain mired in a shooting slump. In three games against the county, they have yet to crack the 30 percent mark.

Question No. 2: What's wrong with Kacy? As many teams depend on their top player, the Golden Bears basically go as Kacy Williams goes. And after struggling offensively in the IABBO Tournament, Williams has taken only 12 shots in three games against the county. Friday night, she scored three points on 1-for-5 shooting before fouling out with 3:50 to go. At that point, Hebron led, 39-29. Ballgame.

Question No. 3: Are we responding well to great expectations? After winning a state crown by upsetting Hebron and returning their entire starting lineup, the Bears are playing under different conditions. They aren't going to sneak up on anyone this year. This is uncharted territory for Hammond. Hebron, on the other hand, has been taking on challengers for years.

And Friday, Hebron produced the answers it needed. Would it be able to contain the quicker Bears defensively? The Vikings sealed off the interior with excellent fundamental defense and countered Hammond's quickness with great positioning and switching.

The Vikings continued to chip away at the doubters who think this team will collapse without 6-foot senior forward Kris Bryant, out for the season with a knee injury. Don't look now, but here comes 5-11 junior Kristen Lloyd. All she has done is average 9.0 points, 5.1 rebounds and become the inside force Hebron needed to complement senior Sandra Benson.

Lloyd scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds Friday, and she made some of the game's biggest plays. As the Vikings began asserting themselves inside in the third quarter, Lloyd beat the Bears twice down low for layups to give Hebron a 26-19 lead midway through the period. And her tap-in of her own miss at the buzzer gave the Vikings a 31-23 advantage at quarter's end.

Then there was Erica McCauley, Hebron's leader who staged one of her clinics. Besides leading the team with 12 points -- including a three-pointer that made it 39-29 with 4:07 left -- McCauley had four assists, three steals, and repeatedly broke Hammond's press with ease.

Eleven regular-season games remain. Besides playing each other again, Hammond and Hebron must contend with Howard twice. Too much basketball remains to make honest projections about where each team is headed. But make no mistake, the Vikings took a major step forward Friday night. Even Greenberg admitted it.

"They [his players] sent themselves a message," he said. "It was a crucial win for us. Don't kid yourselves. It matters."

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