RICHMOND – It wasn’t the easy finish to the regular season coach Joe Burnham and the Winthrop girls basketball team would have preferred.

But even as the Ramblers found themselves sweating out their final test before the postseason, they knew it was probably the type of game that would most help them.

Winthrop nearly let an 11-point fourth quarter lead slip away before hanging on for a 45-44 victory for Richmond in the regular-season finale for both teams.

Winthrop’s Jillian Schmelzer, right, draws a foul from Richmond’s Marybeth Sloat during a Class C South game Tuesday in Richmond.

Winthrop heads into the C South playoffs at 16-2, while Richmond, which twice narrowed the deficit to one point but never caught the Ramblers, goes in at 8-10.

“We know that, moving forward, there are not going to be any nights off,” said Burnham, whose team was led by 10 points from Layne Audet and nine apiece from Jillian Schmelzer and Kena Souza. “(There aren’t) any easy games once you get up to Augusta. It’s a pretty loaded tournament right now. Being able to survive one of these games, even though not in the way we wanted to, we can certainly draw from that.”

Winthrop didn’t appear to be headed for one of those tests when it took a 41-30 lead into the fourth quarter, but Richmond quickly began fighting back. Hannah Moholland hit a 3-pointer and then a pair of free throws within the first minute of the fourth to suddenly make it a two-possession game at 41-35, and Bryannah Shea and Lindsie Irish had back-to-back baskets to make it 43-42 with 2:04 to go.

“I just told the girls at the start of the fourth quarter (that) we had nothing to lose. We had eight minutes left,” said Bobcats coach Mike Ladner, whose team got 14 points from Moholland and 12 from Macy Carver. “Especially the seniors. I said ‘You girls have nothing to lose.’ ”

Winthrop had an answer, with freshman Maddie Perkins cutting through the Richmond defense for a layup with 1:53 left. Richmond responded when Shea (11 points) hit a pair of free throws to cut the gap to one again at 45-44 with 1:37 left. The Bobcats had a chance at the lead after Winthrop threw away the inbounds pass, but Aaliyah WilsonFalcone gathered a rebound, Perkins rebounded a missed 1-and-1 free throw with 27 seconds to go and the Bobcats didn’t get the ball again.

“I’m sure we’re all very nervous,” Audet said, “but we know what we need to do, and we focus on those little things that will hopefully keep us ahead.”

The junior said the opportunities to be tested like that have their benefits.

“Having it be so close at the end and ending up with the win is just so exciting for us,” she said. “It shows us what we need to work on at the end of games. The Civic Center is going to be pressure like this. … (This is) helping us get ready for that big environment. We’ve never had that before.”

No, but they’ve seemed destined for those kinds of games since even before the season began. Winthrop won only three games two years ago, but had a core made up almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores. Now those players are juniors and seniors, and Burnham said that as they’ve gotten better, games like Tuesday’s have made them tougher as well.

Winthrop’s Aayliyah WilsonFalcone, right, and Richmond’s Hannah Moholland chase after the ball during a Mountain Valley Conference game Tuesday in Richmond.

“This group was always incredibly talented athletes,” he said. “In the winter, they turn themselves into good basketball players too. That’s always nice, and I think their success in other sports allows them at the end of a game like this to not lose their heads like we have in the past. They’ve been in those tough championship situations before.”

So has Richmond, which at 0-6 appeared headed for a lost season before re-establishing itself as a contender with eight wins in its final 12 games — and coming one possession away from making it nine.

“There are a lot of positives to pull from this game,” Ladner said. “To be down as we were at halftime and come back … and have a chance to win it at the end, I’m very proud of the girls. They didn’t quit.”


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