ROCKVILLE — Basketball season may have just begun, but don’t tell that to the Magruder and Northwest girls varsity teams. The two squads clashed Tuesday in a hard-fought seesaw game that saw the visiting Northwest Jaguars pull away at the last minute and hand the Magruder Colonels their third loss, 53-49.
Both teams appeared evenly matched from the very first whistle and neither the Colonels nor the Jaguars trailed by more than four points during the course of the game. Magruder’s Laila Grant and Northwest’s Khienya Benjamin, both senior guards, traded highlight reel plays and finished as the highest scoring player on their respective teams. Grant registered 27 points and Benjamin wasn’t far behind with 20 points of her own.
Even though Northwest missed several big buckets that could have helped them pull away from Magruder, the Jaguars made up for their errors by stealing turnovers and grabbing rebounds.
Benjamin, however, wasn’t worried about the Colonels coming away with the victory.
“I have confidence in myself and I have confidence in my team and I know that we want to win,” she said. “I heard about [Grant] and she is a great player but we matched their intensity.”
The Jaguars trailed by three points at the half after Magruder delivered at the free throw line. Benjamin made sure the Colonels didn’t capitalize on their halftime lead by forcing turnovers in the third quarter and landing easy layups.
Magruder senior guard Dani Fuentes answered by stealing the ball away from Northwest and driving down the court for two points of her own.
Neither team was able to grab the upper hand for more than a few seconds during the fourth quarter due to several lead changes and a pair of ties.
The players seemed to get more aggressive as the seconds ticked off the clock. Grant and Northwest sophomore Laurel Cotton both went to the ground trying to get a rebound. Jaguars junior Precious Battle hit a three-pointer to put Northwest back in the lead.
However, it was another three-point basket that gave the Jaguars the lead for the final time. This bucket came courtesy of freshman Ashley Mostrom, one of three starting underclassmen on Northwest’s varsity squad this season.
Northwest head coach Lawrence Leonard said that the performance of his younger players in high pressure situations is something the team has been working on.
“I was worried more about how they were going to be able to handle the moment and the pressure,” he said. “At the end of the game, we can’t control everything and they have to just play. My biggest fear was that if it got late, would we be smart enough to make the play?”
Leonard’s decision to let Mostrom close out the game paid off, and the freshman delivered with the emphatic trey that brought Jaguars fans to their feet.
“She got thrown in the fire but I figured hey, we throw her in the deep end now,” said Leonard. “I was proud of how everybody played.”
Grant acknowledged that turnovers played a major role in Magruder’s loss.
“We didn’t take care of the ball and we didn’t run the plays like we were supposed to,” she said. “I think sometimes with the speed of the game, people get nervous. I didn’t expect it to get out of hand but we just have to work on that in practice.”
The winless Colonels are set to travel to Sherwood on Friday, while Northwest will host Seneca Valley.
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