When the final buzzer sounded, there was time enough to savor the victory, even time to feast on yellow-frosted chocolate cupcakes.
To Destiny Galloway, there’s a simple reason the Patriots fared as well as they did Tuesday night.
“Coach said play defense,” she said. “We got to press, go after every loose ball. That’s about it.”
Even as Arundel unearthed its scoring grooves in the second quarter and beyond, the top-seeded Patriots continued to carve out wider and wider leads, knocking out the fourth-seeded Wildcats, 55-38, in a Class 4A East Region Section I semifinal.
Galloway wasn’t keen on a rematch with Severna Park, which defeated Old Mill in their last meeting and has a track record of ruining Patriots postseason runs. But facing the Mustangs instead? That was a little more manageable of a matchup.
“I prefer seeing Meade,” Galloway said. “We could [beat Severna Park], but, we got a better chance with Meade.”
Galloway led Old Mill (19-4) with 11 points, nine of which she tallied off 3-pointers. The senior guard seemed positively relaxed when she settled her feet beyond the arc, her teammates and Wildcats whirling around her, and her shots fell with the same ease. The strings barely moved.
She produced more chances than any of her teammates too, accounting for 10 of Old Mill’s 17 3-point attempts.
“Probably about the last five or six games, she’s been really good about hitting the threes. She’s found her stroke,” Old Mill coach Rick Smith said. “The only times she’s missing is when she turns around and doesn’t set her feet, rushes a little bit. Those threes are at crucial times, too. It’s pretty important when she’s hitting them.”
When Old Mill rumbled to a slower start, Smith attributed it to a bit of nerves. After all, the Patriots, with the bye, hadn’t played in over a week. It was, at first, difficult for Old Mill’s shooters, even the tallest players like 6-foot-2 center Sydney Faulcon, to find a safe position to fire with a swarm of green surrounding them.
The Patriots needed one of their four seniors to take the first step – Briana White answered the call. After depositing the icebreaker, she enlisted junior Deja Atkinson to take turns making baskets. Meanwhile, Galloway hunted the Wildcats’ ball-handlers, making her first two steals of the night. Faulcon, after making a putback of her own, magnetized foul opportunities to her and made three of four.
It wasn’t long before Old Mill had pushed out a 13-point advantage.
“We’ve got senior leadership this year that is carrying us through this kind of game,” Smith said.
The example the seniors set transcended offensive ability. When Wildcats scorers looked to end their drought earlier, they met a wall in Faulcon.
“Well, she makes people come in the paint and change their shot,” Smith said. “She’s just a physical presence that nobody else really has. For us, she takes care of what’s going on in the middle. It makes it a little easier to defend the outside.”
Arundel junior Ariana Harmon notched a last-second field goal, but the Wildcats had fallen in too deep of a hole at the end of the quarter, 17-6.
It’d prove to haunt them as time waned. Even as Arundel struck first in the second quarter – sophomore Nikki Seven (14 points) cut through the Patriots defense to hit the first layup of the frame – Galloway replied with three points.
Then, freshman Heather Middleton stripped Old Mill, flicking the pass to Seven for another two. The Wildcats were getting hotter by the minute, doubling their score before half the quarter was even gone. If the Patriots got too comfortable, their somewhat comfortable lead would begin to feel a little less so.
And yet, Julia Bagnell (nine points) always seemed to know where to be to prevent that. The second she’d flash by an Arundel ballhandler, she’d more than likely be dribbling her steal down to convert for a basket – she did twice in a minute to compliment her opening number, a 3-pointer.
“She does so many things well, you can’t even put it into words or stats what she does,” Smith said.
The senior totaled six steals by game’s end, Galloway, four, Atkinson, three. Steals, of which Old Mill compiled 18, proved as essential to dismantling Arundel’s rally efforts as 32 rebounds, including 21 defensive, prevented the Wildcats from second chances.
All a product of practice, Galloway said.
“We do 30 minutes of defense, and we do close-out drills,” she said. “We know how to follow the ball, how to track the ball from side to side and if they’re shooting.”
By halftime, the Patriots maintained a 13-point gap despite a far more productive frame for the Wildcats, 34-21. It was in the third quarter that Old Mill really began to dig a bigger one.
After Galloway hit another three, she charged back into fray, returned with Arundel’s ball in her hands, dished to Bagnell, who fired for another two points. Then, it was Atkinson with the sticky fingers, plucking possession to the Patriots’ favor, tossing it to Bagnell as she fell down over her guard, Seven. To come full circle, Bagnell passed to Galloway in the paint, who drained the layup.
By then, Old Mill led by 20 points. There wasn’t much Arundel could do to slow it down either, only scoring six points in the quarter. Even as they added another 11 points in the fourth, an effort spread wide across the players on the floor, it was far too late.
No matter how effective Galloway found their defensive schemes on Tuesday, she knew before knowing who her next opponent would be that they’d need to crank it up before Thursday.
“Defense, we got to work on big,” she said. “We’re good on the offensive side, but we’ve got to trap balls, box out and get rebounds.”