It didn’t take very long for Byram Hills sophomore guard Jennifer Mui to find redemption on Friday evening.
Just moments after missing a pair of free throws that could have sealed a Bobcat victory over visiting Rye, she delivered a huge 3-point shot to end an 11-0 Garnet run, break the tie on the scoreboard and lift her team to a thrilling 51-47 win in a key league matchup.
“I mean, that’s a big shot,” said Bobcats head coach Tara Ryan afterwards about the Mui trey from the right elbow that rattled in with nine seconds remaining as the shot clock was just about to expire. “That’s a senior shot, someone that has a lot of experience and confidence. And she, being only a sophomore, it’s just amazing that she’s able to recover, move on, and mentally have it to make that shot.”
Mui’s clutch basket rescued the Bobcats on a night they shockingly let an 11-point lead with only 2:40 left completely disappear. She had a chance to put an end to the Garnets’ late comeback when she stepped to the foul line with 55 seconds to go and the Bobcats leading by four points, but misfired on both of her free-throw attempts.
That opened the door for a rare 4-point play at the other end of the court with 38 seconds on the clock by the Garnets’ Bela Krslovic, whose 3-point jumper while getting fouled and subsequent free throw capped the big Rye run and tied the contest at 47 apiece.
Ryan, asked what was going through her mind as Krslovic connected on her improbable shot while falling to the floor, said, “You know, the typical things anyone thinks — why did it happen, why are we fouling? But good or bad, my kids always hear me say, ‘On to the next play.’ So the foul was called, what are we going to do next, and that’s what we focused on.”
For a good portion of the final quarter, it didn’t seem as if the Bobcats would be needing any last-second heroics from Mui. They held a 37-30 advantage after three periods and their lead grew to 10 points after Mui provided three free throws in the first 64 seconds of the fourth.
When sharp-shooting forward Maggie Walsh, who finished with a game-high 21 points, drilled her fourth 3-pointer of the game, from the left corner with 4:21 remaining, the Bobcats’ margin stretched to 43-32. Byram Hills built its largest lead of the night, 12 points, a minute later on a fast-break lefty layup by Beth Corelli.
But the Garnets’ Amanda Latkany soon answered with a 15-foot jumper and Rye proceeded to outscore the Bobcats 13-1 over a two-and-a-half-minute stretch that nearly changed the outcome.
“You know, just a couple mistakes and Rye is a fantastic team and they executed on it,” said Ryan. “They kept going inside to number 24 (Latkany) and number 32 (Ava Greto), who are fantastic players. So then we switched our game plan up and we took that away and, what do you know, number 4 (Krslovic) comes out and hits two extremely big shots for them.”
Krslovic hadn’t scored at all until she made a 3-pointer during the Garnets’ huge late spurt, trimming the Byram Hills lead to just six points with 1:40 to go. After her 4-point play, the ball wound up in the hands of Mui, who dribbled near the top of the key as the final seconds ticked off the clock. With the shot clock set to expire, Mui sent her decisive 3-pointer over the Garnets’ Julia Bateman. Krslovic then misfired on a contested 3-point shot from the left wing that would have tied the game again, and Walsh sealed the Bobcat win by making one of two free throws with a second remaining.
The Bobcats had seized early control of the game when a Mui 3-pointer that broke a 5-5 tie was soon followed by another one from Walsh. Byram had an 11-7 lead after one quarter, then Walsh started the second with a spinning move toward the left baseline for a bucket. A Walsh 3-pointer from the right wing with 5:52 left in the half extended the Bobcats’ edge to 16-8.
The Garnets, though, scored the last four points of the second quarter, and Greto’s layup at the buzzer pulled them to within 19-16 at halftime. In the third quarter, Walsh erupted for nine points and Stefana Latella added five as the Bobcats outscored Rye 18-14.
When Rye closed to within 25-24 with 3:12 to go in the third quarter, consecutive baskets by Latella, Walsh and Corelli gave the Bobcats some breathing room again. A pair of layups by Walsh in the final minute of the period enabled Byram Hills to increase its lead to nine points.
“Maggie’s a phenomenal player and she’s come so far at Byram Hills,” said Ryan. “She showed up with her ‘A’ game tonight and played like the senior we needed and a true leader on the floor. She absolutely did a fantastic job on defense, kept everybody’s’ heads in and then was able to create on offense and let everyone keep their cool.”
The Bobcats, currently 13-3 and sitting atop the Conference II, League D standings, host a big showdown with Pelham on Thursday evening. Ryan can only hope to see the same kind of last-minute fortitude from her players that helped them avert a crushing loss against Rye.
“Anyone can win in this league and we know we have to show up each game,” she said. “It’s fantastic to say we’re in the running to win the league title this year and we know we still have a tough three games against our competitors. But we’re looking forward to it and getting ready for playoffs.”