WINTHROP — The game couldn’t have started much better for the Winthrop girls basketball team. And a hot start Wednesday night ended up being all the Ramblers needed to extend what’s been a hot start to the season as well.

Winthrop used a hot first quarter to get out to an early lead, then withstood a late Richmond push to top the Bobcats 41-32 in Mountain Valley Conference action.

It’s the fourth straight win to start the season for the Ramblers, continuing what’s been an impressive about-face after the team lost its final 11 games of last year.

“Our girls have done a tremendous job to start this season, being focused on an ultimate goal,” coach Joe Burnham said. “We had a terrible finish to our year last year. … We knew here, at the beginning, it was important to get rid of some of those bad thoughts from last year, and we’ve been doing a lot of that.”

Aaliyah WilsonFalcone led the way for Winthrop with 16 points, two of which came on a putback in the last minute that sealed the win.

“I like how we’ve never given up and we’ve always worked as a team,” she said. “Last year we struggled a little bit finding who we were, but I feel like this year we’ve totally found that out, and we keep getting there and pushing ourselves.”

While Winthrop’s jumped to the top of the MVC standings, Richmond is trying to fight from the bottom. The Bobcats fell to 0-5, and coach Mike Ladner said it’s been a challenge to find a go-to scorer after center Sydney Underhill-Tilton graduated.

“Overall, I was pleased with the girls’ effort. We played with them the whole game, we had chances and they’re a good team,” said Ladner, whose team was led by 15 points from Hannah Moholland. “It seems to be our M.O., though, where we struggle to put the ball in the basket. We have all season, we still are.”

Winthrop wasted little time taking control, grabbing a 14-6 lead in the first quarter on 6-of-11 shooting. The Ramblers also had some success with their attacking defense, which early on pressured Richmond ballhandlers for the length of the floor.

“We certainly liked the way that we started, and we liked the way that we came out at halftime,” Burnham said. “(But) we keep hitting this lull in the middle of the third quarter. That’s something that we’ve identified, but haven’t fixed as a problem yet.”

Richmond took advantage of the Ramblers’ lackluster second half, turning an 11-point deficit midway through the third into a two-possession game in the fourth. The Bobcats narrowed the gap to six points three times, then cut the deficit to 37-32 with 51.1 seconds left.

A missed Winthrop free throw gave Richmond a chance to continue its rally, but WilsonFalcone, who scored 11 points in the second half and seven in the fourth quarter, made her biggest play of the night, leaping in to grab the rebound and then quickly putting up a shot that fell to bump the lead to seven and cripple the Bobcats’ hopes.

“You just don’t want to let anything slip by,” WilsonFalcone said. “I just thought ‘If I help myself, maybe my energy will rub off on everyone else and pick them up too.'”

Burnham said he was impressed by the junior guard’s efforts in putting the game away.

“It was really nice to see Aaliyah kind of have her best game of the season so far tonight,” he said. “She’s the ultimate competitor. It’s like that every day in practice, where she’s out there just working hard and making her teammates better. When we needed someone at the end there, she was there to answer the call.”

She wasn’t the only Rambler making an impact, as Natalie Frost (six points) came off the bench to grab seven rebounds and spark Winthrop’s 35-28 rebounding edge.

“That was a big point of emphasis for us, limiting them to one shot,” Burnham said. “Natalie’s our first girl off the bench, but there aren’t many schools she wouldn’t start on in the MVC.”

Richmond got six points and five rebounds from Caitlin Kendrick.

“We’ve had the lead in every single game we’ve played. All five,” Ladner said. “We’ve had the lead at halftime in three of them. … It’s a matter of finding a way to finish.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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