Western Tech used a swarming second-half defense and offensive penetration to the basket to overcome a nine-point halftime deficit and pull off a 45-40 victory in the Class 1A state semifinals Friday nigh at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
The Wolverines (20-6) handed the Bulldogs (22-3) their third loss of the season and first after six straight wins.
Western Tech earned its second straight berth in the state championship game and will face Dunbar, who defeated them 50-42 in last year’s state title game, again.
Dunbar, gunning for its seventh state title, defeated Mardela 55-43 in the other semifinal.
Junior Sydney Clopton scored 15 of her game-high 20 points in the second half before fouling out with 2:15 left in the fourth quarter and the Wolverines clinging to a 40-34 lead.
Junior Ebonee Dixon (11 points, six rebounds) took over her point guard duties in the final two minutes and she connected on five of six free throws in the final 71 seconds to preserve the victory.
“When she fouled out, sometimes it seems like we fall apart, so I felt like I had to step it up and run the rest of the team,” said Dixon, who was admittedly nervous during the free throws.
When she made the final two free throws with five seconds left to put the Wolverines up five, she reflected on last year’s season, which she missed because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee.
“After I made the one to put us up four I was like, Oh my goodness, if I make this one the game is over and I didn’t get to do this last year so that was a little bit emotional so I had to calm down,” Dixon said.
Hannah Horne (11 points) scored eight points in the final 2:49 to cut an eight-point deficit to two, 42-40, after her second three-pointer with 38 seconds left.
After a steal by Southern’s Alicia Roth with 20 seconds left, Western Tech senior Daija Coles (seven points, 10 rebounds) drew a charge and Dixon knocked down a free throw making it 43-40.
Kambrie Bosley’s three-point tying attempt with seven seconds left caromed off the rim and Dixon secured the rebound and sunk the final free throws.
Southern built the first half lead thanks to strong free throw shooting (10 of 12), but they misfired on six of eight in the second half, including three front ends of one-and-ones.
“We were the best free throw shooting team in the whole area, boys or girls,” Southern coach Danny Bosley said. “We shot 70 percent as a team. That is an umbelievable stat, but that is a true stat.”
Although the Wolverines defense had nothing to do with the free throws, it did help force the Rams into 24 of 30 missed field goal attempts (20 percent) in the second half.
“Their athleticism with a hand in our face hurt us and we kind of went away from getting the ball inside and we missed some birdies inside,” Bosley said.
“The story of the game tonight was defense. We picked it up in the second half,” said Western Tech coach Nolan Roe, who employed a press in the second half and forced nine third-quarter turnovers.
That triggered a rally from a 29-23 deficit with a 9-1 run to close the quarter and lead 32-30 going into the fourth quarter.
Clopton (3 steals) had eight points in the quarter and led the defense that also included strong play from 5-foot-2 Christina Spliedt, who had three steals and five rebounds.
Autumn Tapley and Deja Dennis combined for 11 rebounds and helped forced some poor interior shooting in the second half by the Rams.
Southern’s leading scorers Alicia Roth (12.1 ppg.) and Mandy Sweitzer (11.6 ppg) and Bosley scored seven points each for the Rams.
"We don't really win pretty, but we find a way to win," Roe said. "We outscored them 30-16 in the second half and made a nice run."