In Monday night’s season opener, offense did not come easily to Manchester Valley’s girls basketball team. Defense, however, did.
After a couple of 3-pointers late in the first half, the No. 14 Mavericks opened the second with a full-court press that forced 10 Harford Tech turnovers. They ran up a 15-point lead by the end of the third quarter en route to a 32-23 victory over the No. 15 Cobras.
“Our defense comes into play really well when we work together and we talk a lot, and we’re getting better at sharing this bond that we have to really pull through,” said sophomore point guard Emma Penczek, who had eight points and four steals.
Mavericks coach Heather DeWees said her team is well conditioned and has the depth to pressure teams as much as they need to, but, she said, it wasn’t just the physical part of the game that made a difference in the second half.
“I think it was more the mentality that we played with in the second half,” DeWees said. “because at halftime, to me, we weren’t playing necessarily offensively great, but we can always play defensively great, so I feel like our tempo and our aggressiveness got a little bit stronger and more focused on what we needed to do… I think we started doing things that we know we need to do to win instead of worrying about it being the first game.”
In what has become a regular early season matchup over the past five years, the Mavericks have won them all but this year, by the slimmest margin yet.
Junior guard Reese Kresslein led the defending Carroll County champions with 14 points and eight rebounds, including one of two 3-pointers late in the first half that gave the Mavericks the lead for good.
She and Casey Meredith hit back-to-back 20-footers that flipped a 12-11 Harford Tech lead to a 17-11 Mavericks advantage at the half.
Those two baskets followed by the strong defensive effort to open the second half carried the Mavericks on a 21-1 run.
Harford Tech went 9:42 without a point before Anyia Gibson’s free throw stopped a 14-point Manchester Valley spurt with 3:01 left in the third quarter. The Cobras didn’t score again until 3:46 remained in the game, going nearly 17 minutes with just one point.
“Their press rattled us a little bit in the third quarter,” Harford Tech coach Brad Hunt said, “and I think we made an adjustment to it, but early on, they turned us over a few times and made some baskets off of it, got a little momentum from it. We dug ourselves too much of a hole going into that fourth quarter where it was hard to dig ourselves out.”
The Mavericks took their biggest lead of the game, 32-13, when Kresslein scored off a feed from Aubrey Chopper on an inbound pass with 5:40 left in the game. The Cobras then finished the game with 10 straight points. Gibson, a senior wing who led the Cobras with 11 points, scored eight and had an assist in the final stretch.
The strong finish was too little too late to make up for the mid-game scoring slump, but it could bode well for the future as the Cobras prepare to jump into Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference play Wednesday night when they host Bel Air.
“We showed something at the end of the game,” said Hunt, who returns his top eight players from last season. “We’ve got to clean up some things. Can’t feel sorry for ourselves. That’s a good team. Hopefully, we can clean up some of the stuff offensively. Defensively, I thought we played really well. We did a good job switching between man and zone, keeping them off balance.”
The Mavericks travel to Western Tech Wednesday before opening their Carroll County league schedule Friday night at Westminster.
“There are definitely some things that we need to work on and that’s what practice is for,” Penczek said. “We’ll get better in practice and we’ll learn from our mistakes, but I’m really excited to see where this team can do.”
NO. 14 MANCHESTER VALLEY 32, NO. 15 HARFORD TECH 23
HARFORD TECH 7 5 1 10 — 23
MAN VALLEY 9 8 11 4 — 32
Harford Tech — Anyia Gibson 11, Madisen Morgan 2, Jessica Castro 3, Jordan Strang 2, Amya Goodsell. 5 Totals: 8 6-10 23.
Man Valley — Emma Penczek 8, Casey Meredith 5, Reese Kresslein 14, Molly Smith 2, Aubrey Chopper 2, Brenna Murphy 1.Totals: 12 5-8 32.