Leesburg, Va. — In a highly anticipated battle between the top two teams in the Dulles District, the Tuscarora High School girls basketball team (5-0, 9-1) erased a 17-point, third-quarter deficit to secure a massive 61-52 overtime road victory against rival Heritage High School (4-1, 7-4) on January 6 in Leesburg.
The Huskies started the game playing sloppy basketball, turning the ball over eleven times in the first half and quickly found themselves down by double digits heading into the halftime break.
Midway through the third quarter, the Pride had extended the lead to 17 points at which point Tuscarora senior point guard Grace Middleton had seen enough.
“I didn’t do much in the first half,” Middleton said. “I knew I had to flip the switch and take over.”
And that’s exactly what she did. Down 33-16 midway through the third quarter, the Huskies put together an explosive 23-point run led by Middleton—who scored 14 of her 25 points during this stretch—including a 12-1 Tuscarora run where all 12 points were scored by their senior guard.
“Things were just going really, really wrong for us in the first half; we looked really slow,” Tuscarora head coach Tayler Dodson said. “We turned it up defensively, which got Grace those easy transition buckets which got her going, and once you have her going, everything else opens up.”
Along with 25 points, Middleton finished with 4 assists, 5 steals, and 13 rebounds which gave her another double-double.
In the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, Tuscarora was down by two and needed a basket to win the game or go to overtime. When the entire gym believed the ball would be going to Middleton, the Huskies elected to run a play for senior forward Alysa Carrigan, who was limited for most of the game due to foul trouble. Carrigan ended up going around a screen and knocking down a short floater to tie it and send the game to overtime.
“We wanted the ball to go to Alysa, because we figured everyone was going to be paying attention to Grace,” Dodson said. “We got Alysa the ball and let her do what she does best, which is get to the rim. We only needed two, so we just went for the two, and sent it to overtime.”
From that point on, Tuscarora got back to business and dominated overtime, which included a 7-0 run to begin extra time. In a game where multiple players were in foul trouble, Tuscarora showed they have the depth in their roster to outlast good teams down the stretch.
“We had three players with four fouls, so we had to play hard, but we had to play smart,” Dodson said. “We needed those three to make it through at least the first two minutes of overtime.”
The Heritage Pride had an exceptional game plan heading into the game which included backcourt pressure against the Huskies guards. The game plan worked to perfection forcing multiple turnovers which turned into easy transition baskets for Heritage. However, the script was flipped in favor of Tuscarora to begin the second half. The Huskies started to apply their own backcourt pressure on Heritage’s guards which led to the collapse for the Pride.
“Alysa just gets her hands on things,” Dodson said. “She gives us another big threat that teams are just naturally drawn to and paying attention to, and then everything opens up.”
Heritage freshman point guard Riley Makitka filled up the stat sheet finishing with an 11-point, 10-rebound double double while adding 6 steals and 4 assists. Sophomore guard Kaitlyn Puzenski led the scoring for Heritage with 15 points and senior forward Ayanna McNair added 12 points and 5 rebounds. But even that wasn’t enough to keep Heritage in it down the stretch as the Pride finished with 18 second-half turnovers after turning the ball over just 8 times in the first half.
The Pride will look to bounce back with Independence, Dominion, and Loudoun County in the upcoming week, while the Huskies have a three-game home stretch against Lightridge, Woodgrove, and Broad Run.
“We are really focused on getting everyone involved as much as possible,” Dodson said. “We know Grace is going to get her 20; we know Alysa is going to end up with 15, so we just keep preaching that that’s going to happen whether everyone else shoots or not, so we’re really encouraging everyone to take their shots.”