The final score says that the George C. Marshall High School girls varsity basketball team defeated the Madison Warhawks by 12 points in their grudge match for first place in the Liberty District. Those inside the Marshall High gymnasium know that final margin belies the full tale of the Statesmen’s 48-36 victory last Friday night.
Before a large and vocal crowd, the Statesmen and the Warhawks duked it out for 28 minutes before Marshall’s Maya Al-Shingieti sparked her team with eight fourth-quarter points to create enough separation to allow her team to coast to its eighth consecutive win and into a tie with the Warhawks for first place in the Liberty District.
The Statesmen started strong, taking a 14-10 lead after the first quarter, thanks primarily to the play of Nicole Harrison. The team trailing 8-4, Harrison went on a personal 8-0 run, keyed by pressure on the defensive end, to give her team a 12-8 advantage. Tough defense by the Statesmen allowed the team to extend the lead to 20-10 with four minutes remaining until the half after a sloppy stretch by both teams to start the second quarter. Marshall kept their rivals off the board until a free throw by Megan Soffer with 2:39 to go. But as the half wound down, Marshall began to falter. The Statesmen began giving up second-chance points on the defensive end and several time settled for long three-pointers when they had possession. The Marshall shots wouldn’t fall and Madison crept back from 10 points down to within three, 20-17 at the intermission.
The teams battled neck and neck in the third quarter, with players frequently diving to the hardwood for loose balls and animated fans on both sides screaming for foul calls. A baseline jumper by Kristen Ceglie with 3:38 remaining in the quarter tied the game at 25. A three-pointer by Harrison 25 seconds later quieted the Madison fans that had made the short drive to the game, but an equalizing three-pointer by Natalie Surprise with 51 seconds left whipped them back into a frenzy.
The quarter’s final seconds were fittingly frantic as both teams combined for 10 points in the final minute. Marshall’s KT Mesich gave her team a 30-28 lead with 20 seconds left, only to have Surprise tie it with 10 seconds to go on a layup. Ten seconds was still enough time for Nicole Harrison, however. The veteran guard dripped up court and drained a three-pointer from the top of the key as the clock expired to give the Statesmen a three-point edge heading into the final quarter.
The score remained close until an 8-2 Marshall run, keyed by six points in the post by Al-Shingieti, put Marshall up by seven points with 2:45 left in the game. A series of missed free throws allowed Madison to hang in the game, but the Warhawks could never pull closer than five as the Statesmen eventually pulled away.
“Our defense created several turnovers (28) and stopped them from getting good shots in the post and the guards’ usual shooting spots,” Marshall Head Coach Noel Klippenstein said.
Harrison led the Statesmen with 23 points and six steals, while Al-Shintieti finished with 10 points. Mesich rounded out the top scorers for Marshall with seven points, though contributed an equally important nine steals defensively.
Mary Grace Jay led the Warhawks with 10 points.
The win evens the season series with Madison at one game apiece. Should both teams finish with one loss, the tie breaker goes to common non-district opponents. There are two, Flint Hill and Yorktown. Both Madison and Marshall beat Flint Hill, while the Statesmen dropped their game to Yorktown, giving Madison the edge for now, though several games remain on the schedule for both teams.
Marshall later pushed their winning streak to nine with a 71-32 win over South Lakes on Tuesday night. The Statesmen led 40-9 at the half, as they controlled the game throughout. Al-Shingieti and Harrison led the scorers with 14 and 13 points respectively, while Dawn Emerson and Ali Johnson each scored eight points apiece.
“Our team is greatly improved since December because our leaders have stepped up and the role players understand how to contribute,” Klippenstein said. “The bench is challenging the starters, so they are all gaining confidence going into the second round of the district. We are also having a lot more fun. Humor helps the hard work not seem so hard and the games more exciting.”
The Lady Statesmen next face W.T. Woodson on the road this Thursday, before returning home to face Thomas Jefferson, Tuesday, Jan. 30.