But they didn’t follow most of those moves with a completed basket, and the Patriots, more often, did.
The No. 1 Patriots did what most teams find difficult and conquered No. 3 Meade for the third time this winter, 65-50 in the Class 4A East Region Section I final.
“We’ve played them three times, and every time we’ve played them, they’re up and down the court, very physical and aggressive games,” Old Mill coach Rick Smith said. “Now that we’re used to playing them, we settle in, we do a lot better job of running on offense.”
“I just don’t think we showed up tonight,” the coach said. “We fought hard all season. What got us here, we didn’t do. … They were more than capable of it, but we didn’t do what got us here.”
The Patriots (20-4) will battle South River for the rights to claim the region on Saturday, especially thanks to the guardian of the post. Senior guard Sydney Faulcon tallied a game–high 17 points and, given that 10 of her 15 rebounds were offensive, most of her baskets came by way of putback.
As the tallest figure on the court, it’s kind of her forte.
“She’s had a little bit of trouble with handling the ball because some of the passes are coming in there pretty good to her,” Smith said. “She makes a living opposite of the ball being shot and putting it in.”
Once again, senior leadership anchored the Patriots. Faulcon was one of three seniors to total 10 points or more.
One of them, Julia Bagnell (10 points), began that mission from the start. Her first-quarter 3-pointer clipped short what was one of Meade’s most consistent scoring periods. Afterward, the guard did what she always does, routing through the Mustangs defense without hesitation and either hitting a basket of her own or passing it to a teammate who would.
“She hustles,” Smith said, “She gets after everybody and she can handle the ball through all of it.”
Junior Deja Atkinson followed suit with a trey of her own. Meade, meanwhile, was already running into completion problems. Even as the Mustangs were there to pick up turnovers off of Old Mill’s ball-handling miscues, they could not seem to convert into easy layups.
Even those turnovers, O’Connor thinks, weren’t exactly a positive point of Meade’s game.
“Even defensively, a lot of the turnovers weren’t forced,” she said. “We just didn’t play our game. We always tell the girls, ‘No matter who’s in front of us, they don’t alter what we do.’ And tonight we allowed them to do that, so this is the outcome.”
When the Mustangs actually moved within two field goals of tying their hosts, the Patriots simply sped off instead. Senior Briana White hit her trey, Bagnell potted two free throws and Mikiyah Mallet nailed her field goal.
In practically a flash, the Patriots had an 11-point lead.
“Our strategy is keeping our focus … just playing our game, keeping calm,” Faulcon said.
At the end of the second quarter, the Patriots were up 31-22. In Smith’s eyes, there was more to be done to widen that gap.
“Our girls are looking for the mismatches,” Smith said. “What we preached at halftime was whoever had the mismatch, we were going to try to isolate them and make it where we could do some one-on-ones. We did a better job of that in the second half once we got moving.”
Meade, however, refused to let up. When Old Mill had the ball, they were flocked by a herd of Mustangs angling for a loose ball. Even when they’d succeed, though, turning it into a bucket was tricky. Though they’d hold the Patriots to just nine points in the third, they couldn’t catch up. Briel Owens was the only Meade player who was mostly consistent, leading the squad with 15 points.
Then, after their most productive scoring frame of the night, the Mustangs’ offense cooled almost completely. Until Sym Bryant-Brown shot for two midway through the fourth quarter, Meade had scored four points – and none of them were field goals. In that period, Old Mill rattled off four of their own.
To compensate, Meade ramped up its defensive effort.
“That last time out was to tell them to protect the ball because Meade was going to come out harder than even what they’d done the whole game,” Smith said. “At the point, it was nine fouls apiece. I said, every time we’re going to shoot now it’s going to be two shots, so protect the ball and make them foul you, you’re going to the line.”
Mallet took on the advice like Gospel. Of the junior’s 12 overall points, eight came off made free throws in the fourth.
“She actually wanted the ball tonight more than she normally does,” Smith said. “That was a big asset.”
Before Saturday, Faulcon doesn’t think her team needs to make itself over. Instead, they just need to upgrade what they’ve already been doing.
Simply, “Be more aggressive,” she said.