By José Umaña
The Sports Pulse Contributing Writer
WASHINGTON – After receiving the final inbound pass with 2.8 seconds remaining in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) Girls Basketball Tournament Championship, guard Madison Scott completed one dribble before launching the ball into the air in celebration at Bender Arena on Feb. 24.
As time expired, her Bishop McNamara High School teammates rushed to the floor to celebrate with Scott and the rest of the Lady Mustangs. The hugs and cheers pushed the guard and fellow senior Liatu King to the ground, but the passion was welcomed.
“It all the hard work paying off,” Scott said. “The last four years have been crazy, and we had a lot of obstacles, but we had a lot of sacrifices and hard work and dedication. When that buzzer went off, it was a weight lifted off my shoulders. We did what we came here to do, and it felt amazing.”
It was the completion of a long journey for head coach Frank Oliver and the Lady Mustangs, which began after he was hired in 2013. Under his tenure, McNamara restored itself into a girls basketball powerhouse in the metropolitan region. The only thing missing was a WCAC title.
Against Paul VI on Monday night, McNamara showed its defensive prowess, limiting WCAC Co-Player of the Year Lee Volker to nine points. Meanwhile, the senior duo combined for 23 points to lead the Lady Mustangs to a 43-40 victory to capture the school’s first tournament championship since 2008.
The win was more than just a historic one for McNamara as they avenge losing in last year’s final to St. John’s, a defeat that bothered many players heading into the offseason. McNamara (27-5) was able to silence its long-time rivals in this year’s semifinals.
“It fueled our fire all summer long because it left a bad taste in our mouths,” Oliver said. “Sometimes, you have to go through setbacks, trials and tribulations. But these young ladies persevered, learn their lessons from last year, came back, and they were committed to winning a championship for Bishop McNamara.”
Both teams started off slow as McNamara committed five turnovers in the opening five minutes while Paul VI did not score their first basket until their seventh attempt. However, the Lady Mustangs settled down and began attacking the rim with ease, going on a 12-1 run that bled through the second quarter.
McNamara’s run was aided by the team’s veterans Liatu King and Madison Scott, as they facilitated the majority of the offense while causing multiple turnovers. During the run, Scott darted down the court for a transition layup while the shortest Mustang on the court, 5-foot-2 Hope Evans, forced a quick steal off an inbounded pass for an easy basket.
“We weren’t always good at analyzing zones, but after working at it, we were able to attack the zone,” King said on what sparked their offensive spurts. “Once we did that, you saw the outcome. We were scoring layups and getting fouls by attacking the zone. The zone is nothing. They are just sitting there; they are not actually playing defense.”
With Volker limited to two points before halftime, Paul VI turned to sophomore Jaelyn Talley to provide help offensively. The forward scored a game-high 14 points, including seven in the first half, to bring their deficit down to five points.
However, the Lady Panthers were unable to break through for the first six minutes of the second half as McNamara grew its advantage into the double digits.
McNamara’s lesser-known players provided the most impact in the fourth quarter. First, sophomore point guard Yonta Vaughn ended a four-minute drought with a driving layup to keep their advantage at seven points. Senior Hope Evans was 5-of-8 at the free-throw line as time began to wind down.
Paul VI rallied late with Volker scoring five fourth-quarter points and Talley firing off a 3-pointer with 4.6 seconds remaining. With the ball in their hands, King said her teammates kept their intensity through the final inbounded play until the final buzzer sounded.
“It was just hard work paying off,” Scott said. “We played good defense, we trusted one another and won the game.”
Oliver said winning the WCAC title was just the beginning of what McNamara plans to accomplish. With Vaughn and freshman Sahnya Jah returning to the program next year, there is no limit to what they can do in the future.
“Once you get a taste of it, you want to do it again,” Oliver said. “So, we are ready to do it again next year.”