Young basketball teams filled with freshmen have to live and learn on the fly.
In its first five games, the Mountainside girls basketball team put the state on early notice, starting the season out undefeated while relying almost exclusively on freshmen.
The lessons were absorbed while winning, which to a squad without a senior on the roster is the best way to exist.
On Tuesday, for the first time, the emerging Mavs tasted defeat. Though Mountainside was able to erase a double-digit first-half deficit against Cleveland, it couldn't close the gap fully in the fourth quarter, falling beneath a slew of offensive boards off missed free throws and inopportune turnovers. Despite great efforts from the likes of Lindsey Wilson and Halle Hagemen, Mountainside took a 57-51 home loss to the Warriors. Yet, in a season that will be undoubtedly filled with firsts, the initial defeat will be used as a stepping stone moving forward.
"This year we're just learning," Mountainside freshman Abby Crawshaw said. "We'll see what things we did wrong and analyze those and make the change. Our energy could've been a little higher, but for the most part, I think we played pretty well."
Down double digits to begin the second quarter, Mountainside clawed back into the contest behind its young inside-out duo of Wilson and Hageman who combined scored all 14 of the Mavs' points in the second period. Wilson posted up in the paint for jump hooks, Hagemen hit two threes, one off a blinding pick from her fellow freshman co-star. The point guard also made a brilliant jump bullet pass to Wilson who finished inside and finished the half with a steal and lefty layup on the other end. Mountainside's onset sluggishness subsided as head coach Glen Lee installed a half-court trap that helped the Mavs come to life defensively.
"Halle is a great dribbler and she can see the court really well," Crawshaw said. "And Lindsey is great in the post."
At the half, Mountainside trailed just 25-19. And in the third quarter more of the Maverick freshmen stepped up. Aurelia Mafinejad made two free throws and found Wilson for an open jumper. Junior Hailey Lines went strong to the rim for a lefty layup. And Hageman kept having her way, making a layup off a back cut. Then the handsy freshman stole a lazy bounce pass, patiently waited for the Warrior transition defense to crack, froze two Cleveland defenders in the open floor with a hesitation move and bolted to the rim for two to cut the Warriors' lead to 39-33. Mountainside trailed 41–33 at the end of three.
"We came up more as a team mentally," Crawshaw said. "Instead of being down we had a talk and came back up."
Mafinejad hit freshman Taylor Smith for a three to begin the fourth that brought Mountainside within 51-46. Crawshaw came in and gave her team a lift with two hoops. And Smith swished a right-wing three to cut Cleveland's lead to 50-46 with 1:19 to go in the fourth. What Mountainside will remember most not just this season but in the years to come happened in the final minute and change of the fourth. With just seven team fouls, the Mavericks intentionally fouled Cleveland, down four, to stop the clock and send the Warriors to the free throw line for a one-and-one. Cleveland missed the front end of the one and one, but the Warriors corralled the long rebound and forced another Maverick foul. Still not in the double bonus, Cleveland again clanked the front end of the one and one, but somehow snared the offensive board and put it back home to make it 52-46.
Yet, Lines countered with a huge and-one three-point play, slicing Cleveland's lead in half, 52-49 with 54 seconds left. Now in the double bonus, Cleveland missed the first free throw, then overshot second but grabbed the long rebound off the carom, forcing Mountainside to foul yet again. Somehow, Cleveland missed both subsequent free throws, but the shooter, who short-armed the free throw, hustled for the offensive board, wrestled it away and grabbed it. Incredibly, the Warriors missed six straight free throws but wrangled away four offensive boards in the final 80 seconds. Finally, after the cold streak, Cleveland cashed in two attempts at the charity stripe to extend its lead to 54-49 with 30 seconds left and forced Maverick turnover with 24 seconds to go.
It was as strange of an ending to a basketball contest one could find, but surely a game Lee and his coaching staff will use as a teachable moment for the Mavs. Already, Hageman (15 points) and Wilson (10 points) look like stars in the making, eventual difference makers in the Metro League. Smith is a big-time shooter. Crawshaw and Mafinejad have apparent basketball intellect and Lines was a guiding light as one of the few underclassmen on the floor. Mountainside certainly isn't your typical expansion team, if you will.
"We're a young team, but we're not a terrible young team," Crawshaw said. "We want to make it to the playoffs for sure. We think we can get there."
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