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Shalom Christian girls defeated in MDCC final

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What Shalom Christian's girls basketball team was expecting to see Saturday night was a 1-3-1 zone defense that is Heritage Academy's specialty.

But the Eagles had another thing coming. After falling to Shalom by two points in the regular season, Heritage decided to switch things up, and it worked perfectly in the Mason-Dixon Christian Conference championship.

"When they came out with man-to-man, that definitely threw us for a loop because we weren't expecting that," Shalom junior Brooke Emge said. "We had learned a couple new plays in practice for a 1-3-1 to totally shut them down, so when they came out with a man, that was really shocking."

The strategy resulted in a 54-47 victory for the Eagles.

"Shalom has amazing shooters," Heritage coach Dana Henson said. "They have at least four girls that can knock down threes from anywhere. When they have such talented shooters, we figured we gotta man them up the whole game, so that was our strategy."

Shalom's offense looked out of sorts early on, as the Flames scored just five points in the first quarter.

They finished with only one 3-pointer, and it didn't come until late in the final frame.

"Last night, we had a tremendous night; we couldn't miss anything," Flames coach Brad Eby said. "Tonight, I knew it would be a little different, especially with their man defense. We didn't get good looks, and that's what they wanted to do. It was very smart on their part."

Heritage opened up as much as a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter, but the Flames didn't go down without a fight. They continued to put on the pressure and worked through foul trouble to cut the deficit to single digits.

Emge was a big factor in Shalom's near comeback. She tied her career high with 30 points, including 12 points in the final quarter.

"I felt like if we kept chiseling away little by little, we would come back," Emge said. "When I would see an opening, I just figured I would drive and see what happens. My team was under the basket getting rebounds, so that was helping me out, too."

Eby said, "Brooke has grown so much this year because she had to. She's been around Lydia (Harris) and Tori (Yoder) and seen it, but she hasn't had to do it herself. But boy, these last five games, she's been on a tear. I'm so proud of her that she's learning how to be that point guard and when to take it, when to give it."

Despite the loss, the Flames continued to show off the strength of their girls hoops program.

"The talent that is in this group of girls is amazing; I've been blessed with it from the very beginning," Eby said. "For me, I keep looking at, what is the strength of this team? Back when we had Tori, what can we do to build that strength? Then we had Lydia and Tori, what do you do with that? Now, we have these girls that are really good shooters, so what can we do to play to this strength?"

It seems to be paying off, as the Flames advanced to their fifth straight MDCC championship this season. They have won two of the five.