Hornets pull off upset victory at home

By Jerry Holsworth — sports@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER — Facing one of the powerhouse teams in NCAA Division III women’s basketball in your home opener in tough enough, but add to that the fact that Shenandoah University hasn’t beaten Mary Washington since 1992, and few people gave the Hornets a chance when they faced off with the Eagles on Tuesday.

But the pesky Hornets were equal to the challenge, upsetting the Eagles 56-54 in a thriller at Shingleton Gymnasium.

“Every year, we talk to the team about taking care of our home court,” Shenandoah coach Michelle Guyant-Holloway said. “For the most part, we’ve done a good job of that. Mary Washington is a very tough opponent and this is a very good way to begin the Thanksgiving holidays.”

Three dramatic plays with time running out put Shenandoah over the top.

With the Hornets trailing 48-42 with 7:53 left in the second half, Shenandoah point guard Katherine Flint got open for a 3-pointer thanks to a screen by Crystal Williams. Flint not only made the shot, narrowing the Eagles’ lead to 48-44, but Williams also drew a foul, giving the ball back to the Hornets.

Flint responded by nailing another jumper to draw Shenandoah to within two, 48-46, with 7:07 to play.

“We actually work on that in practice,” Williams said. “We practice holding our position and taking the fall. That play wasn’t really planned, but it worked out great.”

The second big play required the Hornets to make a complete turnaround from their dismal performance at the free-throw line through most of the game. Shenandoah had managed to connect on just 3-of-11 free throws with 1:17 remaining in the game.

“We definitely didn’t shoot our free throws well tonight,” Guyant-Holloway said. “Unfortunately, that was the one glaring problem in an otherwise great performance by our team. If we had done a better job at the line, the game wouldn’t have been nearly as close.”

With Mary Washington holding a slim 52-51 lead, the Eagles’ defense tightened up and left the Hornets without a real scoring chance as the shot clock neared zero. When Hornets guard Crystal Williams launched a desperation shot at the buzzer from 25 feet out, Mary Washington center Lauren Kornacki fouled her.

The play sent Kornacki, the Eagles’ leading rebounder with nine, to the bench with five fouls and gave Williams a chance to put Shenandoah up by two with three free-throw attempts.

“At that moment, I actually didn’t know that we were shooting that poorly,” Williams said. “There was still a lot of pressure, but I really don’t mind that.”

The Hornets junior knocked down two of her three free throws to put Shenandoah up, 53-52.

The Eagles responded immediately with a tip-in by Kate Carlezon to give Mary Washington the lead with 51 seconds left, but Alexis Hargbol got the Hornets back on top 55-54 with 36 seconds left on a jumper.

With the possession arrow pointing Shenandoah’s way, the Hornets got the ball back with seven seconds to go after a scramble for a loose ball. Mandy Johnston hit the first of her 1-and-1 at the free-throw line after the Eagles were forced to foul, putting the Hornets up 56-54 with 4.8 seconds left and leaving the Eagles with one last chance to send the game into overtime.

Flint, however, provided the final big play for the Hornets, refusing to let Eagles guard Jenna McRae get a shot off as the clock ran out.

“I just wanted to do everything I could to keep them from putting the ball in the hole,” Flint said.

Shenandoah took advantage of poor shooting by the Eagles to jump ahead 14-8 five minutes into the game. The Hornets maintained the lead until the second half, thanks to a 1-for-7 performance from 3-point range by Mary Washington.

The Eagles began to find their range in the second half, and took a 33-32 lead with 13:31 left in the game on a jumper by Claire Brooks.

Mary Washington was able to expand its lead over the next 10 minutes, but the Hornets never gave up, and fought their way back into the game.

“Everyone contributed tonight,” Guyant-Holloway said. “Our bench was critical in our success. It was just a total team effort.”

Hargbol led the Hornets in rebounding with 14 and contributed 10 points to the win. Flint was the top scorer for Shenandoah with 15, but Johnston wasn’t far behind with 14 points, including a 3-for-6 performance from beyond the 3-point line.

McRae was the top scorer for the Eagles with 18 points.