Heading into its 2A West regional championship game against Walkersville Friday, Marriotts Ridge knew to bring the pressure.
And as it turned out, the Lions did not have an answer for it.
The Mustangs (19-5) caused three-straight turnovers off its full court press resulting in a quick 6-0 lead, which propelled the eventual 46-39 win to clinch the program’s first ever region title.
“I watched some film on them. I got some scouting reports and I just don’t think they were ready for our pressure,” said Marriotts Ridge coach Caitlin Reese. “We came out and scored six straight points off our press. Their gym was packed and it kind of took everyone back, and it kind of set the tone all game. They struggled with our press all game and got us some easy baskets.”
The hosting Lions (20-3) overcame an early six-point deficit to cut the score, 15-10, after the first eight minutes. But defensively they did not have an answer for Mustangs' Sarah Blalock.
The senior forward led her team in the regional semifinal against Winters Mill with 26 points, and on Friday continued to have the hot hand. She knocked down 10 of 14 from the field and scored 20 of the Marriotts Ridge’s 28 second-half points.
Her performance helped the Mustangs extended its cushion to 10 at the half, but Walkersville cut the difference down to eight entering the final eight minutes.
The Lions rallied late in the fourth, but Blalock provided two momentum-shifting plays in the final minutes, as she took a charge and had a huge block on a 3-point attempt that stalled the comeback.
Blalock ultimately ended with a game-high 26 points, team-high five steals, two blocks and an assist.
“I almost feel like it gives the rest of the team confidence, knowing that she is going to come out there and she is just knocking down shots,” Reese said. “She is such a competitor… Her drive to win is contagious, every one on the team feels it.”
The Mustangs continued their tenacious defense, allowing just three made shots in the fourth quarter. Hope Morath helped solidify the victory, scoring six of her final eight points in the period.
Along with her eight points, Morath also added four rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Mallory Conroy and Casey Sullivan followed with four points apiece, while Conroy added five steals and Sullivan recorded four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Caroline Blalock and Caitlin Ohnmacht chipped in with two points apeice, while Blalock recorded four boards and two steals, while Ohmacht added three rebounds and two steals.
“This year has been indescribable,” Reese said. “These core group of seniors that has been around since their freshman year with Sarah, Caroline, Casey, Caitlin and Bri [Held]. They knew what it felt like to lose by 25 points every night, and every year they came back out and every day we got better. Every year we got better. Last year we were finally competing, but we were losing. And this year, I think we were all expecting to have a great year but this year has been really special. The comradery, how much fun they’re having. I couldn’t ask for more. It’s been really awesome."
It is a miraculous turnaround season for the Mustangs, who won just five games a season ago.
“As the season started to progress, beating Glenelg to start I think just gave the girls confidence and then winning some close games down the stretch, starting 7-0 and then winning close games I think was the biggest difference,” Reese said. “So this has exceeded expectations, but as the season progressed it became more and more in our minds that we can go to the state tournament this year.”
Marriotts Ridge is set to face defending 2A state champion Largo in the state semifinals on March 10 at the SECU Arena on the campus of Towson University.
“They’re ready to go," Reese added. "They are excited. They know that this isn’t the end and they are so excited to win the region. That is something I don’t think our school has ever done, but they aren’t ready to just give up. They are ready to go in the state tournament.”
Marriotts Ridge 46, Walkersville 39
MR (19-5): Blalock 26, H. Morath 8, Conroy 4, Sullivan 4, C. Blalock 2, Ohnmacht 2.
W (20-3): Bernardoni 15, McSweeney 8, Wallace 7, Wright 5, Hommey 2, Bernardoni 2.
Half: 28-18, Marriotts Ridge.