CHARLOTTESVILLE — It took nearly 12 minutes of trial and error Thursday night, but the Eastern Hancock Royals finally found their shot.
Opening up their Mid-Eastern Conference matchup with visiting Cowan, the Royals fell behind 6-2 and a pair of ties early before a second-half surge carried them to a 53-36 victory.
The win improved Eastern Hancock’s conference record to 2-0 and their overall total to 3-2 after a decisive 59-3 league win against Union (Modoc) on the road Tuesday night.
However, nothing was certain in the first quarter as Eastern Hancock shot 3-for-21 and narrowly led 9-8 through eight minutes.
Story continues below gallery
After knocking down 50 percent of their shots in the second quarter, the Royals stayed hot, shooting 6 of 13 in the third to stretch a 27-19 halftime advantage into a 44-24 lead.
“I really wish it didn’t take a heated halftime speech to play like they are capable of from the start,” Eastern Hancock head coach Shari Doud said. “We talked about that at the beginning, being mentally ready to go first minute, rather than halfway through. That’s what got us in trouble in Hagerstown. The same scenario.”
Falling to Hagerstown 57-55 in overtime during the season-opener on the road, Eastern Hancock refused to let history repeat, winning its second home game this season to remain perfect on their own floor.
Royals’ junior Haley Best led all scorers with 17 points on 5 of 10 shooting, including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.
Junior forward Jenna Smith added 10 points and 11 rebounds, but sophomore guard Aly Spaulding provided the spark off the bench.
“We still have a lot to polish up. We’re in a hurry on offense. We force passes and force shots. We just have to slow down that end of our game,” Doud said. “If Aly Spaulding wouldn’t have shown up in the first half, we would have been in big trouble.”
Spaulding snapped an 10-all tie in the second quarter with a steal and a transition bucket, which she followed up with an up-and-under basket 30 seconds later to put Eastern Hancock ahead 14-10.
Her third shot for a 16-12 lead motivated the offense, which went on 6-2 run afterwards. Best drained a buzzer-beating layup before halftime that foreshadowed what was to come.
“(Aly) was phenomenal. Her energy was fantastic. She’s one of our smaller players on the court, but she elevates and rebounds like a big (player). My hat goes off to her,” Doud said.
Spaulding added six rebounds for the Royals, who outworked the glass 40-22.
“Aly was on fire today with the rebounds,” Best said. “I’m really proud of Aly, she did amazing for us.”
Best took over in the third, scoring seven points during the Royals’ 17-point frame. Eastern Hancock’s lead grew to a game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter after Bailey Allen went inside for two points. The Royals controlled the game 48-25 before they dialed down the defensive pressure.
Elizabeth Clevenger paced Cowan (0-3) with 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting from the field. She was 4 of 8 from the foul line. Cowan was 10 of 29 from the charity stripe. Eastern Hancock finished the night 12 of 20 from the free-throw line and 35 percent from the field.
“I’m proud of my team for working hard and coming back,” Best said. “We really pushed.”
Eastern Hancock returns to the court on Tuesday for its third straight MEC game at Shenandoah (5-0), the favorite to challenge for the 10-team league title.