FISHERSVILLE — Fort Defiance put itself on the cusp of winning the Shenandoah District regular season title Tuesday night after the Indians cooled off the Wilson Memorial Green Hornets 58-51 in a girls basketball showdown.
The two teams came into the clash tied with identical 6-2 district records, which determines the Shenandoah’s lone automatic slot into the eight-team Region 3C field.
Fort, which won 66-58 in overtime against the Hornets in the season’s first meeting, now enjoys a one-game lead with one game left in the regular season. The Indians host Buffalo Gap on Friday where a victory clinches the spot. The Hornets are on the road Friday at Staunton. If the teams do end up in a tie, a special playoff is scheduled for Tuesday at Stuarts Draft High School.
Despite Tuesday’s seven-point win for the Indians, both teams are squarely in the Region 3C tournament, which starts Feb. 21. Fort (16-4, 7-2) is a virtual lock for the No. 4 seed, which brings a first-round home game, but also puts the Indians in the same bracket as top-seeded Spotswood. Wilson (12-9, 6-3) is assured of the No. 7 slot and a road trip to No. 2 Charlottesville.
The Hornets, who had won five straight, including four in district play, since losing to Fort the first time, had been chasing Fort for the automatic bid virtually from the start of district play, and finally caught the Indians on Friday when Stuarts Draft knocked off Fort 61-56 in overtime. Unfortunately they couldn’t overtake the Indians.
Fort, looking for its first regular season district title since 2004, did all the little things that it takes to win big games like controlling the boards, limiting the turnovers and hitting shots. Wilson did none of those key items on a consistent basis.
Both teams focused their defense on the other’s top scoring threats, leaving the supporting casts to do the damage. MaKayla Kershner and Lilian Berry stepped into the scoring roles for the Indians with 17 and 13 points, respectively.
Wilson got 16 points from Madison Flint and a trio of 3s from LeAnna Rankin, two in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough.
“We knew it was going to be a high-stakes game for both teams, and everyone was going to have to step up,” Fort head coach Patrick Hartley said. “We saw some shots go in early, and that just boosted our confidence.”
Wilson seized early control when Flint scored the first seven points of a 9-0 run for a 13-4 lead midway of the first quarter.
“I told the girls during the timeout I called there that we were down 12-2 in the first game and everything turned out alright,” Hartley said. “That seemed to relax them.”
The Hornets never scored again in the period after the 13-4 margin.
Brianna Allen had two baskets and Kershner connected right before the buzzer as the Indians finished on an 8-0 spurt to trail 13-12.
The Hornets led 19-18 before going into another scoring drought. Kershner’s 3-pointer started a personal 6-0 spurt, giving Fort a 24-19 lead, a lead it never gave up the rest of the night. The Indians maintained the five-point advantage, 28-23, at the break. Kershner had 10 first-half points, while Wilson hurt itself with 10 turnovers and poor shooting.
“MaKayla can shoot the ball,” Hartley said. “The key for her is seeing that first shot go in and it’s on from there.”
Wilson head coach Jackie Bryan, who was denied her 200th career win at Wilson, was left wondering what happened in the first half.
“I truthfully have no answers,” she said. “We played tight and Fort ramped up its offense. We didn’t play tonight like we had been playing the last few games.”
After Wilson opened the second half with a Brooke Cason basket, Kershner and Kiersten Ransome drilled back-to-back 3s for a 34-25 margin, Fort’s biggest of the game, at the 6:13 mark.
The two team kept throwing punches and counterpunches, with the Hornets scoring the last five points on a Flint triple and an Ashley Morani bucket that left Wilson trailing 43-41 entering the final eight minutes.
Fort extended the lead back to seven, 48-41, early in the fourth period. The Hornets kept within striking distance, and when Rankin nailed her second 3 of the quarter, Wilson was only down 53-51 with 1:06 left.
However, the Hornets never scored again, missing their final five shots. Fort sealed the deal at the line, going 8-of-10 in the quarter and 4-of-5 in the last minute.
“We spent about 45 minutes in practice Monday working on free throws because we knew the game would likely come down to the line,” Hartley said.
Bryan added: “We couldn’t get any shots to drop down the stretch. It came down to which supporting cast would step up the most.”
Fort has one final piece of nondistrict business to handle Wednesday with a road trip to Stonewall Jackson before turning its full attention to the Bison on Friday.
Fort won the jayvee game 28-26. Taliyah Hostetter led the Indians with 10 points and Trinity Hedrick added nine. Hailey Flint had a game-high 11 points for the Hornets.