CATONSVILLE — The Century girls' basketball team frustrated opponents with pressure defense all season long.
But the Knights met their match on Saturday afternoon, when a talented and athletic Calvert High squad utilized a full-court defense and impressive teamwork at the offensive end to post a 57-22 victory over Century in the Class 2A state championship game at UMBC's Retriever Athletic Center.
Century, the first Carroll County girls' basketball team to reach a state championship game in 15 years, finished the best season in school history with a 24-3 record.
Calvert, which won its first state championship last March, closed with a 26-1 mark. The Cavaliers are an astounding 79-5 during the last three years.
"We got in a big hole where we couldn't score, and we didn't shoot well throughout the game," said Century head coach Joel Beard, the Knights' mentor since the school opened in 2001. "They're the first team all year that's been able to do that to us, and that's why they've won two straight championships. They deserved it."
Century, which allowed just 20 points in Friday's semifinal win over Owings Mills, figured to get a much stiffer challenge from a Calvert squad that beat Patterson Mill of Harford County 42-31 in the other state semifinal and featured three players with over 1,000 career points.
The Knights held a 4-3 lead at the five-minute mark of the first quarter following early baskets from junior center Jamie Clark and senior guard Alice Mercer. But Calvert's full-court press forced Century into 15 first-half turnovers and enabled the Cavaliers to take over the game.
From that early 4-3 deficit, Calvert went on a torrid 29-5 run that effectively ended any chance for Century's first state championship. Two free throws by point guard Rachel Loube started the game-deciding spurt, which ended with a baseline jumper by junior guard Jasmine Weems that boosted Calvert's lead to 32-9 with 3:08 remaining in the first half.
Mercer, who closed her four-year varsity career with a team-high 11 points and two steals, was the lone Century scorer in the third period.
Her layup with 2:48 left in the quarter narrowed the Calvert lead to 36-20. But the Cavaliers from Calvert County blitzed the Knights for 21 unanswered points to take their largest lead of the game at 57-20 with 1:18 remaining. A basket by Century senior Alyssa Dixon finally ended a 10-minute, 41-second Knight scoring drought with just seven seconds remaining in the game.
The Cavaliers' three career 1,000-point scorers were their top producers in the title game. Junior guard Alexis Smith, who averaged 21 points per game through the regional tournament, led all scorers with 16 points. Loube finished with 15 points, four assists, and two steals, while senior forward Tiara Lester contributed ten points, seven rebounds, and two blocks.
"Their offense was just amazing," said Angela Flister, one of two senior starters for the Knights. "It seemed like they were hitting every shot. We've always relied on our defense to get us through games, but they knew how to break our defense today. They were so fast, and they didn't slow down."
Calvert struggled offensively in Friday's win over Patterson Mill, and head coach Frank Moore reminded his team of the need to play better against Century.
"We played well today," said Moore, the first coach to guide Calvert to a state basketball championship. "We made them turn the ball over and shot the ball better than we did yesterday. For the majority of today's game, you saw the true Calvert team. We're just proud that we were able to win back-to-back (titles)."
Mercer was the only Knight to score more than four points, as Century shot just 23 percent from the field and missed seven of eight free throws. The Knights finished with a season-worst 26 turnovers against Calvert, which swept Patuxent, Gwynn Park, and Glenelg by an average of 26 points in the Class 2A South regional tournament.
After beating Liberty, Walkersville, and Poolesville for the Class 2A West Region crown, Century pounded an overmatched Owings Mills team by a 47-20 score to reach its first state title game. But the Cavaliers, who turned the ball over just nine times, were easily the best team that the Carroll County champions faced all year.
As key players for the Century girls' lacrosse team, Mercer and Flister made three previous trips to the UMBC campus for the Class 2A/1A state title game in that sport. Mercer was especially grateful to get the chance at a basketball championship inside UMBC's arena.
"This was so cool," said Mercer, who will attend the University of Maryland on a lacrosse scholarship. "In my senior year, we were playing at UMBC for a state championship in basketball. It was so surreal for us."
Mercer, Flister, and three other seniors will graduate, but the Knights have enough key players returning for another shot at states.
Three junior starters are back for the 2012-13 Knights: Clark, forward Haley Bordner, and point guard Cassidy Jones. Bordner felt satisfied that the Knights had silenced their doubters.
"I don't think anyone has any regrets about this season," Bordner said. "We made history. Nobody thought we'd make it out of the region or be county champs, and we're sitting here having just played in the state finals. That gives us a lot to work for next year."
Calvert 57, Century 22
Calvert 15 198 15 57
Halftime: Calvert, 34-143rd Quarter: Calvert, 42-20
Calvert - Alexis Smith 16, Rachel Loube 15, Tiara Lester 10, Jasmine Weems 8, Daijha Thomas 4, Endia Butler 4
Century - Alice Mercer 11, Jamie Clark 4, Angela Flister 2, Brooke Snyder 2, Alyssa Dixon 2, Cassidy Jones 1Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun