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Hawks escape with well-earned win

February 18, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

When luck - and the game - was going against the Hagerstown Community College women's basketball team, coach Marlys Palmer just went to the wishing well.

Or make that, Palmer started wishing well.

The Hawks responded by improving the defense, getting more aggressive on offense and finding a sudden burst of a 3-pointer fountain named Veronica Johnson as HCC took Frederick out of its patient inside game Wednesday, pulling out a 66-64 victory in the play-in game of the Maryland JuCo Conference tournament at HCC's athletic complex.

Johnson, who started to let her shooting ability flow in the second half of the season, hit three 3s in the second half - two in the first three minutes and the third in the final minute - to move HCC (15-12) into the tournament's quarterfinal Friday at 7 p.m. at HCC against top-seeded Howard.

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"This is a sigh of relief," Palmer said. "We just played our man well enough. We just pressed well enough. We just rebounded well enough. And we just shot the 3s well enough to win. This team feeds off of its offense and it was just enough."

HCC needed everything it had to hold of Frederick, which entered the tournament as the ninth seed. The Cougars scored at will in the first half as Kacie Escamilla and Holly Steinacker combined for 24 of FCC's 31 first-half points. The Hawks put up little resistance to the inside game, but managed to stay in touch to only trail 31-28 at intermission.

But HCC found something in the second half, turning up the defense and the tempo to take the game away from the Cougars. Still, even with the turnaround, HCC was far from dominating.

The game was still in doubt until the final 35 seconds, when Johnson's final 3 gave the Hawks a 66-60 lead.

Frederick put HCC on the foul line to take advantage of one-and-one foul shooting pressure.

It worked as Dee Brown missed two bonus tries, but Frederick couldn't rebound. Then Eariel Gholson missed a two-shot foul and the Cougars cleared the ball, but there were only eight seconds left with a 66-62 deficit.

"They denied the middle in the second half," FCC coach Todd Bono said. "They got into their man and that created turnovers ... and then we couldn't get the rebound in the final 35 seconds."

Rebounding became the highest priority for the Hawks.

"Those were big rebounds," Palmer said. "We were sending three players to the boards and told them to get every offensive rebound and pull it out. We had to because Frederick was scoring on every possession."

HCC needed to change the flow after Escamilla scored 16 of her game-high 27 in the first half. The Hawks needed to turn up the heat, and it came from Johnson. The freshman scored eight of HCC's first 10 points of the second half, including two of her five total 3s.

"I wasn't confident in my shot earlier in the year," Johnson said. "When someone steps up, it turns the whole team around. We get going when the guards start scoring and we get hyped."

Despite HCC's quick hitting offense, Frederick fought back from eight-point deficits three times to take leads ... time and rebounding prevented the Cougars for doing it a fourth time.

Johnson led HCC with 20 points while Gholson finished with 16, including four 3s. Alicia Romero had 15 points and 12 rebounds. Steinacker and Amanda Milsteadk had 12 each for Frederick.

"Our 3-point shooting helped us today," Palmer said. "We have been using it a lot ... we are relying on it more than I'd like to."

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