WALES — Winthrop erased a nine-point fourth quarter deficit on the backs of its senior leaders for a thrilling 62-60 victory over Oak Hill on Friday night. 

With six minutes remaining in the contest, Oak Hill (7-3) hit four consecutive free throws and got a banked-in 3-pointer to fall to go up 55-46. At that time, Winthrop (9-1) had to do some soul searching. The Ramblers had held a 32-28 lead at halftime but was on the brink of losing its second game in a row, and of the season. 

“We were down nine and we just had some of our upperclassmen really will us back into this one,” Winthrop coach Joe Burnham said. “They strapped the team to their back and refused to let us lose.”

Senior guards Aaliyah WilsonFalcone (13 points) and Jillian Schmelzer (11 points) stepped up to the plate for the Ramblers and jump-started the comeback. 

WilsonFalcone hit a free throw with just under four minutes remaining in the game and then, on the next Oak Hill possession, stole the ball under the basket and started a breakaway where she found Schmelzer for an spot-up three to make it a 58-56 deficit with 3:45 left. 

“I felt like I needed to step up my game, personally, because I felt slow in the first half,” WilsonFalcone said. “I knew that I felt everybody’s energy pick up so my energy picked up and I was doing it for my team. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Despite the 122 total points scored, both teams played suffocating defense. Schmelzer and WilsoneFalcone combined for 11 steals in the game, while Desirae Dumais had four blocks and four steals for Oak Hill to go along with her game-high 20 points. 

“They worked extremely hard and Oak Hill is a phenomenal team and they play great defense, even if the score doesn’t show it,” Burnham said. “They are so tough defensively.”

The Ramblers had their hands full guarding Dumais all game long, who scored 11 in the second half to keep Oak Hill alive. The senior was a big part of the Raiders’ 14-0 run that spanned the second and third quarters. 

“I respect Desirae a lot,” WilsonFalcone said, who guarded Dumais most of the game. “I have been playing with her since we were really young and we learned how to play defense from the same people. I kind of just knew how she played but we also knew she was a good player… I like guarding people like that.”

Oak Hill’s run was coupled with stronger man-to-man defense in the second half. 

“We were just playing man straight up,” Oak Hill coach Mike Labonte said of adjustments made at halftime. “We were getting after them and making sure that we were helping. I think we didn’t have as many kids jumping help-side so we were able to rotate a little bit better and that made a big difference.”

 With 2:30 left, WilsonFalcone grabbed an offensive rebound and scored a layup to tie the game at 58-58. On the ensuing possession, Oak Hill’s Gabby Chessie (seven points) found an opening and took back the lead with a layup. 

“They have some really good shooters and the problem is every kid on the floor can handle the ball, shoot and they’re tough,” Labonte said. “We like to think we are kind of the same way. It was a good game and it was one of those that you hate to have somebody lose but unfortunately somebody does.”

Winthrop continued to lean on its seniors and in the final two minutes earned play after play from outdoor track state 100-meter and 400 meter sprint champion Jillian Schmelzer. 

Schmelzer’s quickness led to a steal, a layup, then a steal on the inbounds that turned into a quick layup that gave the Ramblers an instant 62-60 lead with 1:22 left in the game. 

“Those are two of the best athletes in the state of Maine and tonight they played like two of the best basketball players, so we are really happy they’re on our side,” Burnham said of Schmelzer and WilsonFalcone. 

Oak Hill had a chance at the end with an open 3-point attempt from the top of the key from Chessie, but it was just off at the buzzer. 

“The big thing for us is we battled. We have to make better decisions in crunch time,” Labonte said. “We’ve lost three games close this year. We have a couple of sophomore guards out there that are really good players but they get a little bit anxious at times. It was a really good game.”

Kena Souza scored all 11 of her points in the first half thanks to three 3-pointers, while Madison Forgue chipped in 10 in the contest. 

Oak Hill’s Audrey Dillman finished with 10 points.

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