By Tom Robinson
OXON HILL, Md. – The JB Hoops Bucci girls wrapped up a special season early Tuesday afternoon by recovering from an extended second-half drought just in time to fight off Team Durant 17 and claim the Platinum Consolation bracket title at the USJN 17U Girls Championships with a 45-42 victory.
“They responded like they always do,” coach John Bucci said.
The bracket title, in the season finale, was the first ever for the JB Hoops program at USJN Nationals. It came in the fourth attempt – one each of the last two years and with two teams qualifying this season.
Leah Hodick scored the game-winning basket in the final minute and Rachael Rose added insurance at the free throw line.
“I wasn’t really thinking too much about the score and how much time was left,” Hodick, who is entering her senior year at Riverside, said after breaking a 41-41 tie by taking a Nya Johnson pass from the high post and turning in the lane to score from close range with 48 seconds left. “I got the ball. I just turned and laid it in.
“Luckily it went in. It was a good way to end my senior season.”
Team Durant, playing in its hometown, held JB Hoops without a point for a stretch of 6:18 and without a basket for 6:57 of the second half. That allowed Team Durant to tie the game twice in the second half, but it never managed to go ahead.
The teams threw streaks at each other, generally built on a series of defensive stops.
Hodick, Rose and Leah Charlton then led JB Hoops down the stretch.
Rose broke the scoring drought by making two free throws with 5:07 left. Hodick followed with a basket and Charlton hit a 3-pointer for a seven-point burst to regain command at 41-34.
When Team Durant fought back one last time, sending the game into the final minute tied, Hodick hit the winning basket and Rose converted two more vital free throws, keeping Team Durant from having the ball again while within one possession.
“You have some times where you miss your free throws and some times where you make them,” said Rose, who shot 75 percent from the line in the tournament. “But I practice them every day and I’m making sure I get up a bunch every day and am putting pressure on myself, just so in these pressure situations like I was in today, I was able to knock them down.”
Rose’s free throws made it 45-41 with 13.4 seconds left.
“We all played well together,” said Rose, a rising junior at Scranton Prep who finished with 14 points, including 10 in the first half when she made two of the team’s six 3-pointers. “For those six minutes, we kind of fell apart, but then we worked to put it back together.
“We wanted to end the season on a high note. We wanted to do it for the seniors. We just played hard and luckily it all worked out.”
Charlton made three 3-pointers to account for her nine points.
Hodick, who made all three of her shots, and Johnson scored six each.
The assist on the winning basket was the third of the game for Johnson.
Lindsey Welsh led the team with four assists and made the defensive play that set Rose loose to draw the foul that ended the slump. Welsh first blocked a shot on a drive to the basket, then followed it up with a steal on the ensuing play.
Team Durant jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first minute, but JB Hoops closed the half with an 18-4 run to a 29-21 lead and never trailed again.
Welsh’s 3-pointer put JB Hoops ahead for the first time, 19-18.
That basket came during a stretch in which JB Hoops held Team Durant to one basket and five points for more than 12 minutes – the last 8:31 of the first half and the first 3:38 of the second.
Rose followed Welsh’s 3-pointer with another. Rose and Mackenzie Steele each scored two baskets in the last 2:04 of the half to make it 29-20 at the break.
By the time Team Durant hit its first basket of the second half, the run was at 23-5 and the lead was at 34-21.
Charlton opened the second half with a 3-pointer and Hodick added a turnaround shot in the lane for what turned out to be the game’s biggest lead.
The win completed a 27-2 season in the live events that are part of the college recruiting process.
“They’re a great team,” Bucci said. “The bottomline is our seniors are great and we have some real good younger players.
“That’s the reality of it. Their high school coaches are going to be thrilled to get them back.”
Charlton, Hodick, Steele and Taylor Huyck ended a run of several years in the program while fellow seniors Welsh and Johnson were valuable additions to this year’s string of accomplishments.
Cecelia Collins, who had three assists in the final, and Rachael Rose are underclassmen on the team from Scranton Prep. Moriah Murray, who played the first six games, but missed the final, is another underclassman.
Clair Marion and Kayla Rose pulled double duty at nationals, playing every game for JB Hoops Rose when it won its pool and adding depth to JB Hoops Bucci in most games.