Speed and quickness prevailed in Saturday night’s Class 3A state basketball championship, but it came down to the final seconds.
Milford Mill used its transition game and perimeter defense to win its first state title since 2005, edging Damascus and 6-foot-5 forward Kelli Prange, 40-37, at Towson's SECU Arena.
“It feels surreal,” Millers senior Qierra Murray said. “After the Aberdeen game [in the regional final], I had a dream that night that this was going to happen. It’s still unbelievable, but it really feels good.”
Prange — a senior headed for George Washington — scored 20 points and had 17 rebounds, but against the quicker Millers, the Hornets' perimeter game never got going. Guards Lauren Green and Jenna Kaufman, who averaged a combined 25.3 points per game this season, managed just 12.
The No. 4 Millers (26-1), who won their 14th straight game, got most of their scoring from guards Dionna White (17 points) and Kelli Smoot (11 points). They converted 20 Hornets turnovers into 16 points.
“They had 10 turnovers, we had 20,” Damascus coach Steve Pisarski said. “But, that happens. That’s their style of play. We’ve got good players; they’ve got good players and on those particular plays, their players made really nice plays.”
With five minutes left in the game, the Hornets (23-4) cut a six-point Millers lead to 36-35 on Green’s long jumper with 1:02 left. White, who scored 32 points in the semifinals, answered that with a short jumper before Green again cut the lead to one, 38-37, with 10 seconds left.
But the Hornets had only fouled three times in the half, so by the time they got to seven fouls, putting White on the line, only 4.5 seconds remained. White made both free throws and the Hornets didn’t get a chance at a tying 3-pointer.
“We don’t panic, so we keep our composure,” Murray said. “We play within the offense, execute as soon as we can. If we don’t get the bucket, we make it up on defense. We weren’t really rattled. We just kept our cool.”
The Millers extended their lead to six in the third quarter after White, who finished with six steals, converted a couple and Murray hit a pull-up jumper. Prange's follow shot ended the run and pulled the Hornets within 27-23 with 1:46 left in the quarter.
White’s long jumper boosted the lead back to six, but Tiana Stewart hit a layup and Anna Warfield fed Prange to pull within 29-27. Smoot hit a follow shot for a 31-27 lead to finish off the quarter.
The Millers, who won their first state title in coach DeToiya McAliley’s first year as head coach, gave Damascus trouble early with their pressure, running up a 7-2 lead on Smoot's 3-pointer from the corner. The Hornets then asserted their inside game, getting all but two of their 11 first-half points in the paint as Prange had seven points and eight rebounds.
The Millers controlled the early part of the second quarter and took a 12-10 lead after Deja McKenzie’s turn-around jumper and White’s steal and layup. Prange answered with a three-point play, but Akiri Lewis tied it for the Millers.
After they traded baskets, McKenzie hit a short jumper for an 18-16 lead. Milford Mill missed a great chance to add to its lead, but missed four straight shots before Prange grabbed the rebound, her 11th of the half, at the buzzer.
No. 4 Milford Mill 40, Damascus 37
MM—Murray 3, Smoot 11, White 17, McKenzie 4, Thompson 2, Lewis 3. Totals: 16 5-8 40
D—Kkaufman 6, Bowles 2, Geen 10, Prange 20, Stewart 2. Totals: 16 4-7 37. Half: M, 18-16.