CHARLOTTESVILLE — Eastern Hancock’s 57-49 girls’ basketball victory over Southwestern checked off a lot of the boxes that go with winning basketball games against quality opponents.
Coming back from a second-half deficit. Check.
Shoot a high percentage from the free-throw line. Check.
Get balanced scoring. Check.
Get a fourth-quarter lead and put your opponent away. Check.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” Eastern Hancock head coach Shari Doud said. “We had some adverse times in the second half. We got down (eight), but we didn’t drop our heads. We battled back, took the lead and maintained it.”
Midway through the third quarter, Eastern Hancock trailed 34-26. By the end of the period, the Royals had taken a one-point lead, 37-36.
Junior Chloe O’Neal stole the ball and found senior Jocelyn Duncan for an easy layup with just 10 seconds left.
In the fourth, tied 42-42 with 5:38 to go, the Royals went on a 7-0 run and led the rest of the way, leading by as much as nine points in the final minute.
Freshman point guard Grace Stapleton was key during the team’s impressive final quarter. She was instrumental in 10 points during a 12-point Royal stretch that saw the hosts take the lead and get some breathing room.
She hit a three-pointer to put them ahead 42-40. She fed Duncan on a backdoor layup for a 44-42 lead, then connected with Duncan again on a breakaway that extended Eastern Hancock’s advantage to 49-42.
Her second three-pointer of the night, with 2:20 remaining, gave the Royals a 52-45 lead.
“Coming in as a freshman point guard, in general, she has just been awesome,” Duncan said. “She’s a playmaker for us and I love playing with her. She can see the court very well.”
“She’ll find people and she’ll get them the ball without them having to struggle to catch it,” Doud added. “This was a huge night for her to have a breakout game from the perimeter. She’s been right on, but just hasn’t been able to get them to fall in a consistent way. Tonight she came up huge at the most critical time when we needed a bucket. She didn’t play like a freshman today.”
All of the Royals points came from their starters, and all scored in double figures.
Duncan led the balanced attack with 14. O’Neal scored 12 and Stapleton added 11. Caroline Stapleton and Aly Spaulding both scored 10 points.
“They’re a group of kids that just share the ball,” Doud said. “I told them in the locker room I saw a quote today, ‘A team has one heart.’ That’s how they play. They don’t appear to care who gets credit. It’s always nice to see balance, from a coaching stand point.”
And, the Royals hit their free throws.
They were 13-of-14 (92.9 percent) for the night. That wasn’t the case for the Spartans.
Southwestern got out to an early lead, but couldn’t extend it due to struggles at the line. The Spartans missed five free throws in the first quarter and hit only 11-of-24 (45.8 percent) for the game.
Eastern Hancock played with a limited bench. Senior Skyla Smith, who came in averaging 7.0 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds was out, as was freshman frontcourt player Alivia Coffin, who is averaging 4.8 points per contest.
With two regulars out, Doud praised the work off the bench of freshman Emma Bolding, who helped spell the coach’s starting five.
Southwestern’s Lexi Wilkins led all scorers with 17 points.
The Royals improved to 6-2 on the season. Southwestern, a Class A school that was 2-0 against 2A competition prior to Tuesday, fell to 5-3. The Spartans beat the Royals 50-49 last year.
Eastern is back in action Saturday against Hagerstown. The game, originally to be played on the road, has been moved to Eastern Hancock. The junior varsity game starts at 12 p.m.