Anissa Rivera waited until she saw the ball drop by the hoop before clutching both fists and taking two big stomps up the floor. Her putback had given No. 13 National Christian the lead with 30 seconds left, and the Eagles held on national power Christ the King, 51-49, on Friday night at Paul VI in Fairfax.
"I just put it right back up. I was just thinking: 'I have to make this. I have to, '' Rivera said of his team's win against a powerhouse from New York City in the opener of the Art Turner Memorial Showcase.
Then all the team had to do it, and it did not stop there. USA Today had No. 2 in its preseason rankings.
The Eagles (3-2) were stingy on defense all night, harassing the Royals' prized forwards and keeping their deficits within single digits. National Christian trailed by six at the beginning of the fourth quarter before discovering its offense just in time.
"Coming into this, we knew we had to play defense," Guard Promise Cunningham said. "Just play defense, and everything else will come."
Cunningham was hot down the stretch and got a lot of less than a minute remaining. But the shot is on the rim and fell to Rivera, who was standing alone in front of the basketball. Calmly, she laid the ball in.
The Eagles 'defense clamped down one last time on the Royals' final trip, and Christ the King dropped its season opener.
"Defense was huge tonight," National Christian Coach Henry Anglin said. "They really defended. They stepped up to the challenge, and that allowed us to play through some of our mistakes. "
Rivera finished with 15 points and Cunningham had 18, including two big three-pointers in the fourth quarter.
The victory helped the Eagles, who plays one of the most challenging, end-of-the-game skates, defending WCAC champion St. John's and famed North Carolina squad Southeast Raleigh.
Rivera said this win shows her team that she can compete on that level.
"We just lost to two ranked teams, so we have a good season," she said.