URBANA — Despite being a freshman, Urbana’s Brianna Shuttlewood is no basketball novice — she’s been playing since second grade.
Nonetheless, at this stage of her career, there’s always some new challenge to handle. Shuttlewood dealt with one of them Friday, when she made her high school postseason debut.
“A little bit of the jitters in the beginning because it was the first high school playoff game,” she said. “But it just felt like any other game after that.”
And in the third quarter, Shuttlewood and fellow freshman teammate Hannah Miles played prominent roles for the Hawks as they strived to shake upset-minded Thomas Johnson.
With their team trailing by one point early in the third, Shuttlewood and Miles combined for 17 points, including two 3-pointers apiece, to fuel a 23-11 run that helped Urbana beat visiting TJ 49-34 in the Class 4A West Region II first round.
The Hawks advance to the region semis, where they’ll play Monday against Quince Orchard.
Urbana’s season appeared to be in jeopardy at halftime Friday. The Hawks were held to two points in the second quarter.
TJ’s defense had a lot to do with that, clamping down on post player Carmen Kweti, Urbana’s top scorer, in the paint. Still, the Hawks were getting decent looks from the perimeter, but none of their jumpers fell in the second quarter.
At halftime, Urbana coach Joe Blaser told his players to keep shooting.
“That’s a really well-coached team there, they’re really big, really physical,” Blaser said of TJ. “We knew it was going to be a grind. We’ve got good shooters, and they were taking good shots.”
One of those good shooters is Miles, and her 3 — Urbana’s first of the night — gave the Hawks a 20-16 lead with 6:01 left in the third quarter.
Miles hit from behind the arc again with 2½ minutes left, and then Shuttlewood scored eight of her 10 points during the final 2:16 of the third, starting her spurt with a 3 from the right corner.
“Sometimes it’s really off,” she said of her team’s shooting. “But when it’s starting to fall, it just keeps going.”
After she hit a floater, using a soft, one-handed shot, Shuttlewood completed Urbana’s pivotal run by nailing a 3 from well beyond the arc with 23 seconds left. She wasn’t fazed by shooting from such a long distance.
“It doesn’t feel like that in the game,” she said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to shoot it there.”
Such shots were often set up by working the ball around.
“I just think we took over the pace and slowed things down and started to think about the right passes and what to do,” Kweti said.
The Hawks took a 38-27 lead into the fourth quarter and never let TJ back in the game.
“They hit some shots at key times that kind of stretched the game out,” TJ coach Bill Miskell said. “But I think they were shocked when it was only a one possession game at halftime.”
Miles, who hit her third 3 in the fourth quarter, finished with a game-high 18 points. Kweti had 13 points and 13 rebounds, and many of her points were hard-earned in the paint on a night when she often had to battle more than one defender after getting the ball in her hands.
“That zone made it tough,” Blaser said of TJ’s defense. “I thought a big difference for us was attacking the paint in the second half, and that opens things up on the outside.”
TJ’s ability to hang around most of the night with the Hawks, a team the Patriots lost to by 22 points in both regular-season meetings, shows the strides the young team has made.
On Friday, TJ’s starting lineup was comprised of one freshman, two sophomores and two juniors.
“We were leading in the third quarter, so I was really happy,” Miskell said. “With as young as our team was and where we started and where we finished up, I was tickled to death with ’em.”
Shawn Jones had a team-high 14 points for the Patriots (6-14). Elizabeth Nwachuwn had nine points and six rebounds, Dre Owusu had six steals and three assists, Jule Powe had three steals, and Jazmine Hardy had 11 rebounds.
“We’re excited about where we’re going, what we’ve got coming back,” Miskell said.