Two defending state champions had something to prove in a Howard County doubleheader at Mount Hebron last night, and that they did.
Class 2A girls champion Mount Hebron (16-3, 10-1) avenged its only county loss this season by defeating Oakland Mills (17-2, 9-1), 61-47, and, in the second game, the Oakland Mills boys did the same, pulling away in the second half for a 73-54 victory over the Vikings.
The encounters were crucial. The girls teams were tied for the county lead, while, for the boys, the first-place Scorpions held a one-game lead over Wilde Lake and Hammond. The Vikings were only two games back coming in.
In the opener, it was sophomore guard Erica McCauley's chance to shine for Mount Hebron. Bearing the brunt of the playmaking and scoring load all season, she led her team with 17 points and had 12 steals as the Vikings' vaunted defense took over from the second quarter on.
The Vikings spotted the Scorpions a six-point first-quarter lead, but outscored the home team by 50-30 the remainder of the game. Freshman Emily Yanero chipped in with 14 points for the Vikings and played a key defensive role.
Oakland Mills Coach Teresa Waters came into the game wanting to stop McCauley, but it was the Vikings' defense against Scorpions star Mia Dammen that was a key factor. Dammen was held to six points under her scoring average and it was Yanero who provided the main defensive effort.
Oakland Mills dominated the backboards early, and that helped build its early lead. Scorpions forward Andrea Romich scored seven points quickly, but also picked up four fouls in the first half.
The Mount Hebron boys (9-10, 6-5) stayed close until halftime, but the bigger and more talented Scorpions (12-6, 9-2) pulled away in the second half to prevent a Vikings sweep of the evening. Oakland Mills was led by Carruthers Grant, who scored 24 points despite a case of tonsillitis diagnosed last night.
"He was a little lethargic," said Scorpion Coach Dave Appleby. "He can play, but tonight showed the kid's got heart."
In their loss to Mount Hebron earlier this season, Appleby felt the Scorpions had not yet come together as a team. Tonight, he felt his players finally reached their peak.
The Vikings stayed close early, largely because of the inside game of Marek Jantac (16 points), who scored 11 points in the first half. His counterpart at center, Marc Terry (20 points), was equally effective, however, scoring 13 points for the half.
Up by 51-47 to start the fourth quarter, Oakland Mills pulled away quickly. Gant hit a three-pointer to start a 22-7 scoring surge, and after that six-minute burst, the Vikings were down by 15 points and were forced to intentionally foul the rest of the game.