One down. One to go.
Hagerstown increased its chances of a second Tri-Eastern Conference title in three years by halting Union City 33-26 on Thursday in a game dominated by defense.
Next up for the Tigers is a 6 p.m. Saturday home game with Northeastern. Win, and Hagerstown forces a three-way tie atop the TEC’s girls basketball standings with Tri High and Lincoln.
Tri and Lincoln both finished 6-1 in conference play to earn a share of the championship.
The Tigers improved to 5-1 with Thursday’s win, and they did it with stifling defense — and by hitting free throws down the stretch.
Gabby Willis, Hayley Rogers and Savannah Houck all connected from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, turning a two-point advantage into another critical TEC victory.
“I thought we played well enough to win. Not our best game, but defensively might be our best game,” said Hagerstown coach Chris Oliger, whose team rose to 13-5 overall.
Oliger praised the defense of Kaley Caudill and Brytni Dale, who shared the assignment of guarding Union City’s Brittany Osborne.
Osborne finished with a team-high nine points, but Caudill and Dale kept the senior out of double figures.
“Our goal was to hold her in single digits, and we did that,” Oliger said. “I thought they both did a great job.”
Osborne hit two free throws in the final seconds of the third quarter to cut Hagerstown’s lead to 19-17.
Caudill swished a 3-pointer to lift the Tigers to a five-point lead to start the final frame, and Dale followed with another bucket for a seven-point advantage.
Union City pulled within four, 27-23 with 1:46 to play, but Rogers and Willis combined for six points on free throws in the final 1:31 to put the game out of reach.
“We just fouled a lot and put them on the line, especially there at the end,” said Union City coach Sarah Hines. “No. 11 (Willis) is a good free-throw shooter. She was hitting her free throws, and all of them, they closed out the game with the free throws.
“That’s what good teams do. They finish at the free-throw line.”
Rogers led all scorers with 10 points and added four rebounds.
Houck finished with seven points and a game-high eight rebounds, while Tawni Brown added six rebounds.
“She was getting every rebound inside,” Oliger said of Houck. “There was nobody going to deny her from getting the ball. I thought she had an extremely good basketball game.”
Raelynn Mills had four points and seven rebounds for Union City (10-6, 4-3), and Kristen King grabbed five rebounds.
This was the regular-season finale for Union City. The Indians will face Tri High next week in the opening game of Class A Sectional 56 at Randolph Southern.
“It was a tough game,” Hines said of Thursday’s contest. “Hagerstown, they always have good defense and they get at it on defense. That’s good for us to have that kind of pressure going into sectional, and see that kind of defense before we go into the postseason.”
Hagerstown won its last TEC championship in 2012. Saturday’s game versus Northeastern is a makeup contest, and will be part of a TEC doubleheader with the Tigers and Knights also playing in boys basketball that night.
“It’s a great opportunity to close it out at home and be TEC champs on the home floor,” Oliger said.