By MITZI THOMPSON
NEW WASHINGTON —
A strong start and an equally strong finish allowed the New Washington girls’ basketball team to hold off visiting Brownstown Central 56-51 on Tuesday night in the first meeting in recent memory for the two programs.
The win was the seventh straight for the Class A 11th-ranked Mustangs, who improved to 13-2 overall after outlasting the Braves in the waning minutes on key possessions and trips to the free throw line.
“We showed a lot of confidence at the end of the game, and that made the difference,” said New Wash junior guard Ashley Johnson, who finished with a team-best 16 points, seven of which came from the foul line in the final two minutes of the game.
After leading by as many as 16 earlier and maintaining a respectable lead throughout the game, the Mustangs’ advantage shrunk to three points with one minute to go in regulation after a three-pointer by Brownstown senior Kaylee Bennett, making the score 50-47.
That’s when the game-changing free throws came into play.
New Washington scored the next three points of the game at the charity stripe for a 6-point lead with 37 seconds to go.
A jumper by Braves guard Presley Dmitriev and a couple of foul shots by her teammate Trinity Booher closed the gap again, but three made free throws by Johnson in the final 11 seconds put the game away.
“It’s great that we’re getting some experience in challenging late-game situations,” said New Washington coach Terry White, whose team overcame a late charge by 4A Jeffersonville last Thursday. “That kind of play, those situations, are difficult to replicate in practice so we welcome them. We knew this game would be a battle. We respect their program and what they’ve built, and we know that they’re a team that is mentally focused and fundamentally sound.”
Which is why the Mustangs never got completely comfortable — not even after jumping ahead 15-6 early on and stretching that lead to 24-8 midway through the second quarter or taking a 29-17 advantage into halftime.
“I think we were very fortunate in the beginning there to put some separation on the scoreboard,” White said.
Fortunate, yes, but gritty too.
The Mustangs outrebounded the Braves 19-13 in the first half, seven of which were offensive rebounds which led to 12 second-chance points.
New Washington also took better care of the ball in the opening half while forcing the Braves (6-7) into taking rushed shots.
“That’s what we wanted,” said White. “We wanted them to not get too many good outside looks at the basket because they’re a very good outside-shooting team.”
Brownstown drove the ball inside a couple times to open the second half and converted on a pair of three-point plays during a 12-3 run. The Mustangs scored just five points in the third quarter.
“Our goal as a team is to put four quarters together in a ball game,” said Brownstown coach Karla Rieckers. “If we put four quarters of basketball together, I think we’re going to give some teams a run for their money, but up to this point we just haven’t been able to do that.”
Brownstown was led by Booher’s 19 points. Caroline Ricks turned in a double-double for the Mustangs with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
Next for New Washington is three straight Southern Athletic Conference games, beginning with a matchup at South Central on Saturday.