By Josh Brown
PLEASANT HILL — Both Newton and Covington had chances to win in the closing seconds of regulation — and the Buccaneers’ Brooke Gostomsky even nailed a half-court shot … a second after the buzzer.
The Indians took control early in overtime, but in the end, the Buccs’ experience and composure won out.
Jessie Crowell — who had been held largely in check through four quarters — hit a putback with 1:20 left in overtime to give the Buccs (7-2) the lead, then she hit four free throws late to help them hold on for an exciting and hard-fought 60-57 victory over the Cross County Conference rival Indians Tuesday at Newton High School, a thrilling beginning to a girls-boys basketball doubleheader.
“We told the girls that we’ve been here before,” Covington girls basketball coach Craig Maschino said. “We missed a couple of close ones at the end of regulation that could’ve won it there. They went up three early in the overtime, and we told the girls that we’ve been in these situations before, and that great teams find a way to win. And that’s what the girls did.”
And while, in the end, it came down to experience, the rest of the game was a showcase for two of the area’s talented young players.
Both teams’ leading scorers — Newton’s Maddie Mollette and Covington’s Crowell — were held well below their averages throughout regulation, with both only scoring six points each through regulation. With the defenses focused on those threats, Newton sophomore Tatum McBride and Covington freshman Sammi Whiteman took control.
McBride scored six first-quarter points for the Indians (6-2) but spent most of the half on the bench in foul trouble, and Whiteman countered with eight points in the half to help the Buccs grab a tenuous 24-23 lead at the break.
“When McBride went out of the game in foul trouble in the first half, we got a little wild with the ball,” Newton coach Neal Hans said. “We’d held control until then, had a seven-point lead at one point, but we panicked a little bit and let them back into the game. But we didn’t box Gostomsky off the boards, and she got way too many offensive rebounds in the first half.”
In the third, though, Whiteman took over the game.
The freshman scored 10 of her team-high 23 points in the third, driving to the basket at will and finishing at the rim. McBride helped the Indians remain within striking distance at 33-30, but a drive by Jordan Crowell, a score by Whiteman and a fast-break layup by Gostomsky made it a nine-point game — a 10-2 run that put the Buccs up 41-32 going into the fourth quarter.
“We knew going in it would be a tough environment,” Maschino said. “Newton is a much-improved program over the last couple years. We started kind of slow, and that’s on me. I had us in a zone defense to start the game, but we went to our traditional man in the second quarter, and I thought the girls responded.
“Sammi’s been kind of under the radar early on. She could be one of the best players in the area, let alone the best freshmen. She’s just had to get comfortable and find her confidence. I think tonight she showed that she’s found it. Once she got on a roll, we just told her to take it until they could stop her.”
“We didn’t find the right defensive matchup for (Whiteman) right away,” Hans said. “She’s a good player, and tonight, she was the difference in the game for them.”
The Indians weren’t done, though.
Mollette scored, McBride hit two free throws and Aliya Stine converted after a Mollette steal, a 6-0 run to begin the fourth and cut the lead to three. Jordan Crowell hit a 3 to make it 46-40, but McBride answered with a 3 of her own, and later a Stine steal led to a Mallory Dunlevy layup that made it 48-47 Covington.
With less than a minute left, Whiteman hit a free throw to make it 51-49 Covington, but a McBride drive tied the score at 51-51 with 47 seconds remaining. The Buccs missed a shot in the paint, giving the Indians the ball with 38.2 seconds to go, and they ran the clock down to take the final shot. Gostomsky blocked that shot, though, and ended up with the ball at half court. The buzzer sounded right before she heaved her desperation attempt — which rattled home but didn’t count.
McBride canned a jumper to open the extra frame, then moments later she hit a free throw to give the Indians a 54-51 lead right before fouling out with 2:54 remaining. Covington then missed a series of four free throws — but Whiteman scored a putback on the fourth miss to keep the Buccs alive. Jessie Crowell then connected on another putback with 1:20 left to give the Buccs the lead, Newton missed a pair of free throws and Crowell 3 of her next 4 to make it a four-point game. Newton’s Kaylee Kesler scored on a drive to make it 58-56 with 7.6 seconds remaining and Crowell hit a free throw to make it a three-point game.
Newton went to the free throw line with less than five second left, hitting the first and aiming to miss the second intentionally — but she didn’t hit the rim and Covington was able to hold on from there.
“The bottom line is we didn’t take care of the ball well enough, and we missed free throws and layups when we had opportunities to win,” Hans said. “We made a good run after they went up nine to tie the score, had control in overtime, but I told the girls after that the more experienced team won. They’ve got more seniors, and it came down to us not knowing the game well enough to take advantage of little things late. But I’m proud of the girls. They fought hard.”
McBride led all scorers with 24 points, Stine added nine points and eight rebounds, Macy Flanary scored seven, Mollette finished with six and Dunlevy had five points for the Indians, who face Dixie Monday.
Whiteman led the Buccs with 23 points and six rebounds, Gostomsky had a double-double with 12 points and 15 rebounds and Jessie Crowell added 12 points, six in overtime. Jordan Crowell scored six points, Arianna Richards had three and Rayna Horner and Tori Lyle each had two.
“Jessie wants to play at the next level,” Maschino said. “It was a mental thing for her today. She’s got to be able to forget about the last play. She was obviously frustrated early tonight, but I thought she responded well and knocked down some big free throws for us late.”
Covington will look for its fifth straight win Saturday in Miami East’s Barnball Classic tournament, where it faces Troy at 6 p.m.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.