WHITEWRIGHT — The second half had not been kind to Bridget Watson.
Leonard’s leading scorer at 18 points per game was well on her way to that number when she scored 12 points in the first half. But as the game was drawing to a close, the senior guard hadn’t produced anything more — not a basket, not even a free throw.
With seven seconds left and the score tied, Watson had the ball in her hands and she was going to take the final shot. It was something everyone in the gym knew was coming.
“I’m a shooter. Eventually I was going to have to make one,” she said. “I would have felt better if I had made three or four threes in the half.”
Watson’s step back three-pointer from the right wing fell through the net as the buzzer sounded and first-place Leonard escaped with a 38-35 victory against Whitewright in District 10-3A action on Friday night.
“The play wasn’t drawn up that way but it’s something I practice every day,” said Watson, who also had 10 rebounds, four steals and three assists. “I’ve always wanted to make a game-winner and I was like, ‘when am I ever going to make one?’”
Leonard (19-3, 4-0) maintained its hold on first place and kept Whitewright (12-14, 2-2) from forcing a virtual four-way tie with Van Alstyne and Howe.
“We haven’t won over here in four years. We knew it was going to be big,” Leonard head coach Rae Holden said. “We’re embracing the whole being-the-hunted thing. We knew people are going to get up for us. We’re still trying to prove, not just to teams we play, but to ourselves, that we’re good.”
Whitewright was ready for a battle from the start, holding a one-point lead after the first quarter and trailing by two points after the third. The final minutes of the contest saw the home team take the lead twice but both times Leonard had the answer.
“They played a great ballgame,” Holden said. “I thought they did a lot of stuff that made it hard for us. At any moment in the game we could have folded. Didn’t panic. We showed a lot of grit.”
And when Jy Johnson, who finished with 10 points and 16 rebounds, sent in a putback with 1:05 left to tie the game one final time, Leonard turned to Watson for one last possession.
“She’s done that move every day in practice I don’t know how many times. I knew it was going in,” Holden said. “I thought we did a good job of not playing our best but still finding a way to win.”
Maddy Butler added eight points and Remi Long chipped in six points for Leonard, which held a 20-14 lead at half-time after Whitewright managed just two baskets in the second quarter.
But Whitewright, which was in the game despite 35 turnovers, managed to pull within a bucket at the end of the third as Leonard scored just six points in that frame. Amaya Rice scored nine of her 15 points in the first half and Kayela Willis scored seven points for Whitewright.
Leonard never trailed in the second half — Willis did make a three late in the third to tie the game at 24 — before Johnson’s putback with 3:55 left had Whitewright in front.
Claudia Ware made a three on the ensuing possession but the Leonard lead was brief. Rice scored on a drive and then Willis had a steal and lay-up seconds later.
Long scored underneath on the next two Leonard possessions to keep the game tight until the end and setting up Watson’s game-winner.