Junior forward Deja Hawkins didn’t think the shot was going in. Coach Rick Smith was hesitant to even call it a shot. With the Patriots clinging to a two-point lead against Severna Park, it was more of a desperate heave than anything else.
But it went in.
After Old Mill’s constant defensive pressure forced 21 turnovers, and after Severna Park’s Rachel VanderKolk led a furious comeback down the stretch, that three-pointer by Afi was the game’s decisive turn. The Patriots held on to win, 51-44, and claim sole possession of first place in the Anne Arundel County standings.
Hawkins led Old Mill (10-1, 7-0) with 15 points, while Afi had 14, including the most important three of the game.
“Just trying to beat the buzzer,” Afi said. “I knew I just had to toss it up.”
The shot represented one final burst of effort in a frenetic game that left both teams — and their histrionic parents — physically and emotionally beat. Both teams were playing their third game in three nights after snow wiped out Friday and Saturday’s slate of games.
The Patriots, as always, tried to exploit their opponent’s carelessness by pressing throughout the game. And given the relentless schedule of games this week, that strategy seemed to be even more effective than usual as the usually crisp Falcons looked sloppy and fatigued.
“It was tiring,” Afi agreed, “but we knew we had to play hard, not foul and play aggressive.”
VanderKolk, Anne Arundel County’s leading scorer, was her typically productive self with 19 points and 10 rebounds while keying an 11-2 run in the third quarter that kept the game close. It wasn’t enough.
With the win, Old Mill avenged a loss to Severna Park in the Maryland 4A East playoffs last season.
“We usually don’t get this victory over Severna Park,” Hawkins said, “but today was our day.”
Off to the side, Afi grinned as she posed for a photo. She couldn’t have agreed more.