Trailing 55-50 with 7:05 remaining, the Royals dug in. They held visiting Hilbert to just five points the rest of the way and gritted out a 65-60 win on day one of the EMU Tip-Off Classic in Harrisonburg.
Eastern Mennonite takes their 2-0 record into Saturday's game against Penn State Altoona. Start time in Yoder Arena is set for 3:00pm.
The basketball women used their pressure and tempo to jump to a quick lead, scoring five points in the opening 33 seconds en route to a 14-4 margin. The lead was still at ten after Jess Washington (Chesapeake, Va./Great Bridge) sunk a pair of free throws at the 1:45 mark of the first period, making the score 18-8.
After the Hawks chiseled into the cushion, the Royals again bumped it up to ten when Chrissy Delawder (Broadway, Va./Broadway) converted inside to make it 33-23.
Hilbert answered with eight quick points in a span of just over a minute, though, slicing EMU's lead down to two. The Hawks eventually tied the score before the Royals again built up a small lead. Emily McCombs (Culpeper, Va./Eastern View) drained a three pointer with 3:49 left in the third to put it back up to 47-39.
But the visitors wouldn't go away. They hit a pair of three balls in the opening 54 seconds of the fourth to tie the score at 50-50. Kelsi Ebert drained two free throws to give the Hawks their first lead of the night. The senior later converted a three-point play to cap an 11-2 streak to open the period, building the 55-50 lead.
That's when Washington sparked her team once again. The 5-10 forward got an offensive putback to end Hilbert's surge. McCombs flushed a long two and then nailed a three pointer to flip the Royals back in front, 57-55. The Hawks had the score tied at 57-57 and 59-59 before a steal and jumper from McCombs gave EMU the lead for good.
The defense held Hilbert to just one more point the rest of the way, keeping them without a field goal over the final 3:30 of the game. Neither team scored for a stretch of more than two minutes before Delawder cut to the hoop and laid in a bucket to push the lead to 63-60 with 28 seconds left.
The teams traded turnovers before the Hawks missed a shot with four seconds left. Delawder put in a pair of free throws with 0.5 seconds left, icing the five-point win.
Eastern Mennonite owned a comfy 48.2% to 34.4% shooting margin, but the Hawks stayed close by hitting seven three pointers and grabbing 14 offensive rebounds.
McCombs came off the bench to lead the Royals with 15 points, including a trio of triples. She also had four steals and three assists. Delawder added 10 points and seven boards. Despite being saddled with foul trouble, Washington came in with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Ebert led a balanced effort for Hilbert with 13 points, seven assists and four steals. Taylor Corts scored 13 while Emily Gawlak added 12 points and 10 rebounds.