DAMASCUS – It wasn’t a playoff game, but it felt like one.
The Damascus High School varsity girls basketball team hosted the Paint Branch Panthers on Friday to celebrate Senior Night on Feb 15. The game that followed the Senior Night festivities went down to the wire as the Swarmin’ Hornets, after enduring a second quarter double-digit deficit, came from behind to tie and win, 61-60.
The matchup was the second to last regular season game for both squads and proved to be a great preview of the high level of competition that will be featured in the upcoming postseason. Paint Branch, despite battling through injuries, jumped out in front from tipoff and didn’t relinquish the lead until the third quarter.
Meanwhile, the Hornets reached into their bag of tricks to find a way to stymie Paint Branch’s offensive onslaught.
“We had girls that were doing things that they normally don’t do. Offensively they would drive and we told them to drive; some of the girls aren’t used to that,” said Damascus head coach Scott Marko. “This is the first time [Paint Branch] took a punch all year and I’m not sure they knew how to handle it. We just got in their heads.”
Hornets guard Julia Tomlinson led the drive from the start of the game. The senior repeatedly shoved her way through the paint and often pulled a foul in the process. In fact, the Panthers were penalized five times in the first quarter and all but one of those penalties sent Tomlinson to the free throw line.
Tomlinson registered a game-high 26 points. The Panthers, despite foul trouble, spread the ball around and had three different players finish with double-digit points.
Two of those players, Cynthia Stewart (14 points) and Patricia Anumgba (16 points) generated several first half turnovers, often by stealing the ball right out of the air as the Hornets tried to pass to one another.
However, Paint Branch’s large lead began to fall away as Tomlinson and junior Claire Bradshaw combined for 13 points in the third quarter. Damascus pulled ahead for the first time since the start of the game before Stewart dropped a 3-pointer right before the buzzer to tie the score at 47 before the final period.
The score seesawed in the fourth quarter as neither team could stay ahead by more than a point or two before the opponent would land another bucket and take the lead. Paint Branch Athletic Director and interim head coach Heather Podosek called for a timeout with 60 seconds left to play and tried to rally the Panthers.
Tomlinson, relying on her tried-and-true formula, drove through the paint, generated a foul and made both free throws. The Hornets led by three points when Anumgba took aim from behind the arc for the game-tying shot. The trey missed its mark, but Anumgba grabbed a second chance rebound and completed the layup.
Podosek called another timeout with one second left on the game clock. However, the Hornets held onto the ball for one more tick, and the victory belonged to Damascus.
“We’re battling a lot of injuries. I give my kids a lot of props for just the effort they put out tonight. We just didn’t have anything in the gas tank, and (Damascus) had everything. They came with a lot of passion and heart; we knew they were going to play hard for 32 minutes and physically we just couldn’t match their intensity,” said Podosek.
After such a close loss, Podosek said the Panthers plan to use this game as a coaching experience, particularly for the postseason.
“Losses aren’t fatal unless it’s in the playoffs, because then it ends your season,” she said. “This will be a good learning point for us, and we’ll take a lot more positives than negatives out of this loss.”
Next up, Paint Branch is set to close out the season against Clarksburg. The Hornets will face their rival Poolesville to determine the winner of the 2A West conference.