Hylton girls avenge loss

DUMFRIES — The Hylton High School girls basketball team prepared for Tuesday’s game at Potomac the same way it does for any other opponent.

The Bulldogs ran through their normal drills, stayed with the usual game plan and rehearsed their renowned diamond press.

For the most part, it was business as usual — with the exception of one tiny thing.

“We didn’t have a special practice for them or anything,” Bulldogs senior Monique Mason said. “But we practiced a little harder than we have in a long time.”

Every player wearing Hylton’s blue road jersey Tuesday night knew that this wasn’t just another game. The Bulldogs waited five weeks for a chance to avenge their only loss of the season and payback time had finally arrived.

They wanted to make it clear that they are, without question, the area’s premier team.

“We really, really wanted this win,” Mason said, after scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the Bulldogs’ 51-45 victory.

“Last time we played we felt horrible,” she continued. “All we had on our minds was revenge.”

The climate of girls basketball in the Northwest Region has changed dramatically since Potomac defeated the Bulldogs, 53-47, on Dec. 21. Following that loss, Hylton reeled off 10 consecutive wins to move into first place in the Cardinal District.

The Panthers, meanwhile, have been aggravatingly inconsistent. They upset Woodbridge at home to briefly take over the area’s top ranking, but then lost to Forest Park and Stonewall Jackson on the road. After opening the season with seven straight wins, Potomac is now 12-4 overall and is playing just .500 basketball over the past two weeks.

“Right now we’re struggling,” Panthers coach Mike Adkins said. “But this is a game we can learn from.”

Both teams discovered a little more about themselves in a game that wasn’t decided until the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Bulldogs (15-1) found out they have a fledgling star in sophomore point guard Shareka Purnell and that their often overlooked front court of Mason and Starr Allen is capable of dominating in the lane.

Purnell scored a game-high 16 points — going 8 for 8 from the foul line in the fourth quarter — while Mason and Allen won the battle down low by combining for 17 points and 16 rebounds.

“Me and Starr enjoyed it a lot,” Mason said. “They were bigger than we are so we had to work hard.”

“We just knew we had to hold our ground,” added Allen, who contributed six points and nine rebounds.

Going up against the area’s most formidable front line — Erica Dabney, Erika McDavid and Rayna Henry — certainly didn’t intimidate the Bulldogs. In fact, it played right into their game plan.

After scoring just five points in the first quarter, Hylton put the ball in Purnell’s hands and let her drive to the basket. That strategy had the desired effect because it produced scoring opportunities and eventually took Dabney out of the game.

“That’s my baby. I love her,” said Allen, of Purnell. “She played great and did a good job taking the ball to the basket.”

With the Panthers focusing their defensive attention on Hylton guards Jasmine Byrd and Jennifer Rhodan, it was Purnell who came through with the big plays. Her ability to drive the lane was the main reason Dabney spent the entire night in foul trouble.

Dabney scored 11 points, but she ran out of fouls with seven minutes remaining and, without her, the Panthers faltered down the stretch.

“Losing Erica hurt us a little bit,” Adkins said.

Potomac owned a 35-33 lead when Dabney left the game, but Byrd capped a 14-point night with a three-pointer to put the Bulldogs back in front and they gradually pulled away.

The Panthers had a checklist of three things they needed to do to beat Hylton, but accomplished only one. They’d wanted to control the perimeter by forcing the Bulldogs to work the ball from side-to-side, but Purnell negated that plan. They succeeded in playing solid man-to-man defense against Rhodan and Byrd, but they lost the battle underneath and that cost them the game.

“This takes away all the doubt anyone had,” Allen said. “Now, we know we can beat them.”

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