By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
POTOMAC, Md. — Just 20 seconds stood between the Episcopal girls basketball team and victory in the final of the Independent Schools League’s A division tournament final Sunday, but regular-season champion Flint Hill was determined to wrest the title from the Maroon’s grasp.
Up 41-40 against the Huskies at host school Bullis, the No. 2-seeded Maroon had to mount one last defensive stand, as No. 1 Flint Hill had an inbounds pass almost directly under Episcopal’s hoop. Episcopal head coach Katrina Reed pulled her team around her at a timeout for a final set of directions.
“I said, ‘This is the most important defensive stop of your lives,” Reed said after the game. “‘In terms of on the ball defense and in terms of rebounding, this is the most important rebound that you will ever have all season.’”
That proved to be sage advice, as the Huskies’ shot missed and was gathered by Maroon freshman Kailyn Shepherd. The guard missed both of her free throws after being fouled, but her rebound was enough to secure Episcopal’s victory by just one point.
“I just had to get it,” Shepherd said, and in doing so, she helped win her side the ISL A tournament title. Shepherd finished the game with 21 points and 6 rebounds and accounted for 11 of the Maroon’s 15 points in the fourth quarter.
The final was a culmination of an intense run of games in the ISL postseason for the Maroon, who had to play three games in three days on the team’s run to the championship. Episcopal first beat Madeira 39-14 on its home court in the quarterfinals on February 26, then took down No. 3 Potomac 48-38 in the semifinals the following day.
Those games and the final against Flint Hill — with that game and the semifinal hosted by Bullis — came after a series of injuries left the Maroon without two starters and only eight players in uniform. It meant an enormous physical effort for those left on the court.
“It’s definitely been a challenge,” said Episcopal sophomore guard/forward Lexi Weger. “We’ve had a lot of injuries that have really made it difficult to get as far as we have, but we were able to pull it out and I’m so proud of this team…We knew that there was nothing we could do about it, so we had to take care of business and get the banner.”
The Maroon went into halftime behind 16-15, punished by some solid free throw shooting by the Huskies after leading by 7 points early in the second quarter. Episcopal would never lead by more than 4 points in the second half, and fell behind 36-35 with just 3 minutes remaining after a lay-up in transition by Flint Hill senior Lindsey Wiley.
But Episcopal regained the lead late in the fourth and did enough to hold off a furious Huskies charge. Weger had 11 points, 10 rebounds and several blocked shots to cap a strong all-around display.
Having split their encounters with Flint Hill during the regular season, Reed said it was a great psychological boost to beat them in the final. The victory came in part due to great team spirit.
“It was in the second half, and it wasn’t even the kids on the floor, it was the kids on the bench,” she said. “I heard them starting to come together and starting to cheer. I kept hearing, ‘Let’s go guys, we’re a family.’ That was the moment when I was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to win this game today,’ because they were feeding the energy on the court.”
The Maroon will stay in the ISL’s A division next season, with Flint Hill moving up to AA after winning the regular season championship. But Reed said the tournament championship will give them great hope for next season, when the aim will be to earn promotion to the upper tier.
With only two seniors — guards Bea Huffines and Porter Geer — graduating, there will be plenty of chances for the freshman and sophomore-heavy roster to earn further success.
“I think the whole way we approach next year is going to probably be different from the one that it was this year,” Reed said. “This year, we weren’t expected to do anything; we surprised even ourselves. Next year, I feel like they’re going to come into practice in November and are going to be ready to go, ready to compete not only for this banner but also for an opportunity to move up and play with the big boys.”