MONMOUTH — The dictionary defines a champion as a person or team that defeats all of its rivals in a competition. Players and coaches would agree, with one addendum.

It’s also a team that proves it can win while competing without its best stuff.

The Winthrop girls basketball team overcame an ugly first three quarters on Tuesday night at Foster Gym, riding an 18-2 run to begin the fourth period en route to a 51-41 Mountain Valley Conference win over Monmouth. It wasn’t pretty, but a 21-point effort from senior guard Aaliyah WilsonFalcone and a 13-point night from junior Madison Forgue — all but four of those in the second half — provided enough oomph to get the Ramblers (15-2) over the finish line first.

“I don’t think we were giving it 100 percent, and that’s something that’s going to hurt us,” Forgue said. “We all realized we had to fix it. Definitely, we learned from our mistakes and can grow up from them. We’re never going to be perfect, but we can build on mistakes and then do good things.”

Just four-first half field goals, a paltry 21.1 percent shooting percentage before the break and an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers through three quarters had Winthrop well behind the eight-ball.

Monmouth, on the other hand, played one of its most complete games of the season through 24 minutes.

“I think it was a well-fought battle,” Monmouth coach Katie McAllister said. “But we all know (Winthrop’s potential). … In that fourth quarter, there just seemed to be a couple of lazy passes and they turned them into buckets. Winthrop’s very good at utilizing turnovers and turning them into points.”

Senior Audrey Fletcher scored a team-high 13 points, including seven in the third quarter as the Mustangs (12-6) held off a brief Winthrop rally in the period. Fletcher’s jumper with 4:51 to go in the quarter handed Monmouth a 32-27 lead, and they took a 34-30 advantage into the fourth quarter.

Cue the championship effort from Winthrop, the current No. 2 team in the Class C South regional standings.

“It’s nice when you don’t have your ‘A’ game out there, to still go out and lean on some of your players that have been doing it for three or four years,” Winthrop coach Joe Burnham said. “They’re just competitors. They go out and compete, even when they don’t have their best stuff. We used to mentally kind of crumble when that happened in the past.

“But there’s a lot of possessions in a basketball game.”

And Winthrop focused on using each one of those possessions to its maximum potential instead of trying to win the whole game in one fell swoop.

WilsonFalcone’s dribble-drive gave the Ramblers the lead for good at 35-34 with 6:15 to play, and Forgue’s second 3-pointer of the night less than two minutes later put things out of reach.

Forgue’s effort was made more monumental in the absence of starting point guard Jillian Schmelzer, who rolled her ankle in the third quarter and did not return.

“Madison Forgue absolutely carried us,” Burnham said. “She made big shots, played great defense, was running our offense. Madison stepped up and really proved she’s starting to make that leap into the next level of basketball.”

“It’s been an adjustment for me,” Forgue said. “But I love this team. I want to do anything for them, and we want to do it together.”

Then the Ramblers went to the foul line and cleaned up nicely, hitting nine of 10 from the stripe in the fourth quarter.

“That’s something we haven’t been able to do the last two or three years,” Burnham said.

Maybe that’s because the Ramblers have learned something about what defines a champion just in time for the start of the postseason.


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