MIDDLEBURG - Middleburg High opened up in a flash with freshman guard Brittany Range sinking two quick three-pointers to set up a 13-6 first quarter lead in the Broncos’ region 1-7A quarterfinal …
MIDDLEBURG - Middleburg High opened up in a flash with freshman guard Brittany Range sinking two quick three-pointers to set up a 13-6 first quarter lead in the Broncos’ region 1-7A quarterfinal matchup with Vanguard High of Ocala, but it was all Middleburg could do to hold off a second half surge by the Knights to win 60-58 Tuesday night at Middleburg High School. The win was the first playoff win in Middleburg High history with three first round losses from 1994, 1995 and 2000.
“We survived. My girls test my nerves,” said Middleburg coach Michael Hayward. “Lots of careless turnovers at the end, but they recovered. I love that they have been at this same point in numerous games and were still able to bounce back and win the game. That’s the true grit of a champion.”
Middleburg returns home on Thurs., Feb. 18 to host the region semifinal in the fifth meeting with Nease High School, who defeated Gainesville High 54-23 in their region quarterfinal. Middleburg beat Nease for the district 3-7A title, but lost twice in regular season play to the Lady Panthers.
In that first quarter, Range came out firing from deep in the corner in front of the Broncos’ Stampede fan section to thrill the packed gymnasium in what looked to be a romp for the Lady Broncos.
“If she can get a hot hand, we’re going to feed her the ball,” said Hayward. “If we have three shooters on target, that’s a tough cover. She’s a great addition to Hannah and Mallory.”
With sophomore guard Mallory Roney snagging rebounds, steals and a huge blocked shot with 30 seconds left in the stanza, Middleburg finished with a 17-12 opening salvo in their first playoff game in nearly 20 years. Katie Bryan sunk two free throws after the buzzer after she crashed in for a layup and drew a two-shot foul.
“Katie had a nice layup plus one,” said Hayward. “My sixth and seventh girls are bought in and know they are just as critical to the team.”
Roney ended as the top scorer for Middleburg with 27 points (3-3 pointers) on the night with Vanguard sophomore guard Essence Bell matching Roney’s 27 points to lead the Knights.
In the second quarter, Middleburg kept the foot on the gas with Roney hitting two of her three-three pointers on her first two shots of the quarter while sister Hannah Roney handled steals and layups for her 11 points on the night. Hannah Roney was using alley-oop passes to sister Mallory throughout the night to take advantage of her height to gain layups for the Lady Broncos.
“When we get the mismatch, we go power,” said Hayward. “If they want to match Mallory up with a shorter girl, we always want to get the ball to her. If they collapse on her, she dishes out.”
Middleburg ended the half up 36-22.
In the third, Middleburg’s hot hand cooled as Bell started exacting some revenge with her soft three-pointer landing four times to close the gap to 46-42 with a 44-42 score with just 1:31 before the fourth quarter.
“I kept trying to get a different look on her, but I overheard their coach yelling for her to keep shooting and running,” said Hayward. “She was dangerous.”
Bell again was the catalyst for the Vanguard surge, but Middleburg answered with tough rebounding from Sieanna Hardison and an earth-shattering three pointer from Mallory Roney with 2:33 to go that squelched the Vanguard enthusiasm and pushed Middleburg to a 57-50 lead.
Vanguard gave one final shot to overtaking the Broncos with guard Jaeda Jackson nailing a three-pointer and Zyariah Duffy hitting a layup to bring the score to 57-55 with 1:47 to go. Bell got awarded and sank three foul shots off a foul on Garielle Huffman who got a wrist defending a Bell three point attempt.
“I think we stopped moving the ball and get stagnant in the second half,” said Hannah Roney. “When we move the ball, we’re hard to stop.”
From there, Hannah Roney took over with a steal and a pair of free throws and Mallory Roney snagged a final rebound to end the game at 60-58.