Refuse to lose.
That’s what Indian River High School head girls’ basketball coach Donna Polk told her squad before taking the court against Henlopen South rival Milford on Tuesday, Jan. 3.
And despite not having been able to take down the Bucs since the 2011-2012 season, that’s exactly what the Indians did, in a second-half comeback and eventual 23-19 division victory.
“After practice, we always do an assessment, and one of our seniors, Madi McGee, said at the last practice, ‘We have to get it together.’ So today, that’s what we said we had to do,” Polk explained of the mindset heading into the game and coming off of back-to-back losses at the Pat Burowski tournament over winter break.
“We had to get it together. Refuse to lose. Step up and do what we’re supposed to do. Today was just a total team effort. We saw a lot of good things today.”
After going up 2-0 on a pair of free-throws and managing to hold the lead until midway through the second quarter, a three-pointer from Milford senior Kiarra Brittingham broke the scoring drought and gave the Bucs a 3-2 advantage.
IR sophomore center Julia Jordan would answer and tie the game at 4-4 after putting back an offensive rebound, then end up doing it again just before the half; but Milford would still manage to take a 9-6 lead into the break.
That’s when junior captain Fabrea McCray knew it was time to get things going.
“In the huddle, we asked each other, ‘If today was our last game, what would we give? How would we feel when we walked off the court?’” McCray said.
“Being up in the first quarter showed us that we were capable of anything. Even though we weren’t up big, we had never been up on Milford, and we knew that we were going to give it our all.”
Right out of the second-half gate, the offense showed some new life, with McGee getting it down to Jordan, to cut the lead to 9-8.
McCray would give the Indians back the lead when she beat a defender on a fast break for a quick score, then drove through the paint and tacked on the “and one” to make it 13-9.
Then, McGee added her second assist of the night when she found senior forward Maggie Ford open under the net, to put the Indians up 15-9.
“The just executed in the second half — they finished,” Polk said of the turnaround. “Their body language changed a little bit. I think they wanted it, and I think that made the biggest difference.”
By the end of the third quarter, Milford had tied it back up at 15-15, but Ford would find McCray for two, to give the Indians a 17-15 advantage headed into the fourth quarter.
The Bucs would pull back within one with less than five minutes to go, but a key rebound and put-back from junior point guard Trayona Nock and steal from McGee would keep the Bucs at bay as the Indians held on for the win.
“Trayona did a good job today at the point. She entreated the gap, she got to the hole, she did the things that we’ve been working on, and she took her time and actually did it and got to the line,” Polk said. “For us to win this game today, we said that they couldn’t score more than 30 points. The defense actually won the game for us.”
“When we got in the locker room, we were definitely hype. At least since any of us have been here, we’ve never beat Milford, so that was a big goal for us,” added McCray. We know that we have confidence in each other, and we just have to take this game and keep moving forward.”
McCray finished the night leading the team with eight points and adding on a steal and two rebounds, while Jordan led the team with 12 boards and four blocks on the night while also tacking on seven points.
The win improved the Indians to 4-1 in the Henlopen South division and 5-3 overall on the season, already matching their 2015-2016 win total in just eight games.
“It’s one of the goals, that we had to at least get one more win than we did last year. So, right now, we’re one step closer to that,” said Polk.
“The big thing for me today was that we bounced back from two tournament games last week. Today was a good indicator for what we can potentially continue to do if we stay the course.”
The Indians will look to continue “refusing to lose” and keep the win streak going when they host Lake Forest (5-3, 4-1) in another division matchup on Friday, Jan. 6, at 5 p.m.
IR game stats vs. Milford
Points: F. McCray (8), J. Jordan (7), T. Nock (3), M. McGee (3), M. Ford (2)
Assists: M. Ford (2), M. McGee (2)
Steals: M. Ford (1), F. McCray (1), M. McGee (1), T. Nock (1)
Rebounds: J. Jordan (12), T. Nock (3), M. Ford (2), F. McCray (2), M. McGee (2), B. Whitman (1)
Blocks: J. Jordan (4)