Western Tech has overcome adversity in big games all season and they did it again on the biggest stage of all in the Class 1A state championship game on Saturday night at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
The Wolverines earned a thrilling 46-40 triumph over two-time defending state champion Dunbar and captured the school’s first-ever basketball state crown.
Western Tech junior Sydney Clopton (game-high 17 points) connected on six straight free throws in the fourth quarter, including two with 29 seconds left that gave the Wolverines a 44-40 lead, and the Lady Poets never scored again.
The Wolverines avenged a 50-42 loss to Dunbar in last year’s state finals.
Western Tech was outrebounded, 49-41, and only shot 26 percent from the field, but they committed 10 less turnovers (24-14) and made 21 of 34 free throws (62 percent).
Dunbar, gunning for its seventh state title, shot 25 percent from the field and connected on 10 of 22 free throws (46 percent).
“We just win ugly,” said Western Tech coach Nolan Roe, whose squad was tied after the first quarter at seven and 17-17 at halftime.
They built a 30-21 lead in the third quarter when freshman Ashley Gourdine contributed four points, but Dunbar rallied behind four points from Brina Smith and a big three-pointer by Leslie Anne James (seven points) and they only trailed 32-31 after three quarters.
Western Tech’s senior leader Daija Coles (six rebounds) fouled out with 6:56 left in the fourth quarter and the Wolverines trailing 35-32.
Roe inserted freshman Bria Johnson, who was called up from junior varsity during the season.
Johnson made her only basket of the game off a feed from Ebonee Dixon (13 points, six rebounds) to cut the deficit to one, 35-34, and spark a 10-0 run.
Two free throws by Clopton with 6:03 left gave the Wolverines a lead they would never relinquish.
Clopton’s steal led to a fast break basket by Dixon for 39-35 lead with 5:17 left.
Clopton (12 of 14 free throws) sunk two more free throws and Dixon added one with 2:10 remaining before Dunbar broke the drought on a layup by Aliyah Brockington (nine points, nine rebounds), making it 42-37 with 1:32 left.
Western Tech maintained the lead until a dramatic turn of events at midcourt.
Dixon was called for an offensive foul and technical foul and James made two free throws and Julia Gunthrop made one, cutting the deficit to 42-40 with 41 seconds remaining.
But, strong interior defense from Autumn Tapley (nine rebounds), Deja Dennis (seven points, five rebounds) and Johnson led to a pair of errant shots and Clopton grabbed the rebound and made the clutch free throws.
Dixon and Johnson added one more each for the final margin.
“It really came down to free throws at the end,” said Roe, who praised his team’s back-to-back state final appearances. “We are here to make sure Western Tech is on the map as a basketball school.”