Makayla Daniels walked off the floor Saturday night at Towson University's SECU Arena and had no idea what she had accomplished.
The sophomore guard went off for 47 points — the third highest ever at the MPSSAA girls basketball state tournament — to lead Frederick to a 3A state championship.
And yet, as she sat down on the bench with the final seconds ticking down in a 72-60 victory, she said afterward that she was oblivious to it all.
“Coach Whittney [Miguel] told me when I sat down,” Daniels said. “I didn’t believe her because it didn’t seem [like that many points] and she jokes around a lot. I just thought she was kidding … I just laughed.”
Daniels ultimately finished with 47 points on 13-for-22 shooting from the floor, 17-for-25 from the foul line, and also added seven rebounds and three assists. Aided by her prolific night, the sophomore broke a state tournament record with a combined 76 points in the finals and semifinals — after scoring 29 in the Cadets state semifinal against Oxon Hill.
The previous record was 73 held by Tammy Joy of Catoctin in 1986.
“I guess [Daniels] was our biggest problem on the floor,” said Raiders senior Ryan Jones. “We tried to stop her, but I guess she was just quite frankly better I guess. We just knew she was a good overall player, good attacker, finisher, foul shooter, so we just tried our best to do what we came here to do. We are both good teams. It’s just a game of runs and they just had the better run.”
Atholton had a productive offensive night as well, shooting 35 percent from the field and 78 percent from the foul line (14-18). Jones (25 points) and Francesca Vanegas (20) paced the team's scoring.
Frederick had given up 50 or more points just twice all season before Saturday, and the Raiders’ 60 points was the second most allowed by the Cadets this year.
But every time that Atholton closed to within striking distance, Frederick had an answer.
“One thing that I learned throughout this run is that great teams aren’t about doing everything perfect. It’s not a perfect game, it’s not waiting for that perfect game where you make all your free throws or you make all your shots or you get all the rebounds,” Cadets coach Ashley Bush said. “Being a great team is learning how to make adjustments when stuff like that [run] happens. Teams are going to make runs, basketball is a game of runs and we called a timeout and we just talked to them.”
Atholton opened up the game with a quick 6-0 advantage, but the Cadets slowly came back and took their first lead of the night with 3:37 left in the first quarter after a bucket by Monet Wade.
The Raiders tied the game at 9 and 11, but Frederick answered with a 7-0 run to gain back the lead. Jones made back-to-back shots to end the period and cut the deficit to 18-15.
The Cadets, after hitting just 7 of 17 from the field in the first eight minutes got going in the second quarter, knocking down 8 of 11 attempts. Daniels was the catalyst, as the sophomore guard scored 11 of her 20 first-half points in the period. She ended the prolific half with a highlight play as time ticked down, crossing over to her right then kissing her shot off the glass to push the Cadets lead to 10 at the break.
“She is a very talented player,” Atholton coach Julia Reynold said of Daniels. “She can create off the dribble, but she can also pull a step back shot on you so it makes it challenging to guard. Apparently we also had some girls in foul trouble so we had to be careful on a couple of adjustments that we made. We tried to double on a couple of the screens and she was able to just get a step on us and get to go to the foul line as well.”
The Raiders foul troubles caught up to them in the second half. Starting guard Sofia Harrison was called on her fifth midway through the third quarter, and Jones ultimately fouled out herself with about a minute left in the game, while three other players finished with four personals.
“We fought hard. We did the best that we could and that’s just how the cards fell. I believe in the first half the fouls were like 16 to 6 so that’s just how the game was called in their favor,” Jones said. “Sofia is an amazing player. She hustles. She rebounds, gets on the ground, she gives it her all... losing her was a tough loss but we had Alex [Hargrett] coming off the bench with a lot of energy. She was doing her best trying to guard [Daniels]. Losing Sofia was detrimental, but that’s why we have other players to step up when one of us falls.”
But Atholton continued battling through. Vanegas facilitated a Raiders 8-3 run to end the third quarter and cut the score to 51-42 entering the fourth.
“I think we played tough and to come back after halftime and make some adjustments I think shows a lot of heart especially from [Jones and Vanegas], just trying to keep us together and stay in the game in the second half," Reynold said.
Atholton limited the Cadets to just three made shots from the field in the fourth quarter, but they capitalized on their trips to the free throw line. Frederick was in the bonus with 5:20 remaining and double-bonus about one minute later, making 15 of 22 of its attempts in the quarter, while ultimately finishing 25 of 34 in the game.
The Cadets pushed their lead to 13 midway through the fourth quarter but the Raiders didn’t go away. They rallied to get within four twice in the last four minutes, thanks in large part to a quick 6-0 run led by Jones and Vanegas. Vanegas assisted Jones on two fast-break buckets, and laid in a transition basket herself to cut the score 60-54 with 3:45 remaining.
“I think our defense [allowed us back in the game],” Vanegas said. “On defense we were keeping our hands up a lot and we were looking more for the steals. We were trying to tell where they were going to pass and read their passes.”
Daniels ended the surge with a made free throw on the ensuing play, but Jones trimmed the deficit once again after getting an and-one with 2:33 remaining. But the Raiders couldn’t get over the hump, as Daniels and Wade answered with four straight points to extend Frederick's lead to seven.
“Once you get it to four it takes a lot of energy to fight back, so I am really proud of our girls for sticking with it all the way to the end,” Reynold said. “And at that point, Frederick is a very tough team that you need to continue to fight for every bucket. I think we just ran out of a little steam. I think we had some opportunities that we didn’t quite take advantage of, couple layups finishing on the offensive put-backs but that’s going to happen. I don’t necessarily see one point being the difference in the game.”
The Cadets didn’t allow another Atholton basket from that point forward, and added six more points from the foul line to ice the championship victory.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to say. You dream about this, you work so hard for it and now living it I almost don’t think it’s hit me yet,” Bush said. “Earning this championship, I don’t think people realize all the work they have put in. All the challenges us as coaches have thrown at these kids, all the hours that we have put in … I’m just proud of them.”
Wade finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Kyrsten Linthicum added five points and five rebounds.
For the Raiders, Bryce Bathras chipped in with eight points and four boards, while Zhuri Cannon added five points and 10 rebounds.
But as it has been all season, it was the play of Vanegas and Jones that paced Atholton. Along with a combined 45 points scored, Vanegas also added six rebounds, two assists and nine steals, while Jones recorded four boards, three assists and two steals.
“I am very proud of our team,” Vanegas said. “I think we were really underestimated this season and we came out and just played our game and proved a lot of people wrong.”
Both Vanegas and Jones lettered for four years on varsity and during that span were apart of three region finals appearances, a county championship and this year brought the program a 3A East title and its first state finals appearance since 2008.
“They are pretty spectacular,” Reynold said. “Not just basketball players to me, I call them my kids because I love the two of them. They set the expectations. They are the reason why Atholton basketball has really improved the last couple years. We’ve got here this year. We were in two regional finals their freshman and sophomore year, so out of four years that’s pretty impressive. I think it’s been a lot of fun. You can’t replace them, but we’re going to try. They have set the bar really high and left some big shoes to fill.”
Frederick 72, Atholton 60
F (26-2): Daniels 47, Wade 14, Linthicsum 5, Abdul-Rahman 4, Washington 2
A (20-6): Jones 25, Vanegas 20, Bathras 8, Cannon 5, Hargrett 2.
Half: 39-29, Frederick.