Aberdeen's girls basketball players didn't celebrate much after any of their big wins this season. They saved it all up for Saturday night.
After defeating River Hill, 62-48, for the Class 3A championship — the first girls basketball title in school history — the No. 1 Eagles rushed to the middle of the floor at UMBC's RAC Arena jumping into each others arms. They had finally accomplished the goal they set a year ago after losing in the state final.
"Last year, it was a tough loss," senior guard Lakeia Hayden said, "and I didn't want to feel like that at all. As a senior, it feels good to have my last game a state championship. This year, our goal was to win states and we achieved it and I'm proud of them."
The Eagles (27-1) defeated the No. 13 Hawks with the same game plan they've used all season. They dominated the inside with 6-foot-3 All-Metro center Bri Jones — who had 25 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks — but had the outside game too as Hayden and Nia Alleyne each hit a 3-pointer.
The inside-outside offense gave the Hawks a lot of trouble.
"They had the big girl and that was really tough, because she got all their points," Hawks guard Jenna Collins said. "It was hard to guard her, so we had two girls on her and that leaves open another girl, and they're all very good. It was tough to guard them all."
Jones, a junior, faced physical defense from the Hawks as they tried to double down on her.
"It was tough with two girls on me, but I just kept moving and I knew that they were going to give me the ball when I was open," said Jones, whose team dished out 15 assists.
Defense has also been critical for the Eagles, whose only loss came to nationally-ranked Riverdale Baptist. Against the Hawks (20-5), they forced 21 turnovers and scored 21 points off them.
Aberdeen amde its first break by scoring the last six points of the first quarter and the first six of the second. The 12-0 run boosted their lead to 25-11 when Jones fed Alleyne with 6:26 left in the second quarter.
With a 5-1 spurt capped by Megan Sterling's runner to finish the half, the Hawks were within 36-25 going into the break.
"They did get a little bit of a lead, but we felt that it was within reach," Hawks coach Teresa Waters said. "But at the same time, I think we weren't valuing our possessions as much, and they were able to capitalize on the turnovers. With 14 turnovers in the first half, that's tough."
River Hill, which won its only state title in 2006, didn't let the Eagles run away with the game early in the third quarter as they've done many times this season. Although Alleyne and TK Fowlkes increased Aberdeen's lead to 41-25 coming out the half, the Hawks were within 11 late in the third quarter. Then the Eagles scored seven straight points to take a 52-36 lead on Jones' follow shot to open the fourth quarter.
"We knew [Aberdeen] was the favored team," Waters said. "They're ranked No. 1, and I think the big girl was the major contributor. She had almost half their points, and we just didn't defend very well, and they play very well together, so hats off to them. At the same time, my hat's off to my players too. These girls didn't give up and continued to persevere, and I'm still very, very proud of them."
Collins was the only Hawk to score in double figures with 12 points to go with eight rebounds. Lauren Jones and Megan Sterling scored nine each, and Alauna Jackson scored eight.
The Eagles got 49 points from their four senior starters — Jones, Hayden (eight), Alleyne (nine) and Fowlkes (seven along with nine rebounds). Junior Jimmia McCluskey had three assists and three steals.
Those five returned from last season's team and were the heart of the title run. Coach Stacy Liles, whose team included eight seniors, said the Eagles' chemistry was much better this season.
"I think losing that last game last year, it brought us together, really close," Jones said, "because we all felt that same mission now this year, winning together. We knew we could do it."
RH—Arensmeier 1, Jones 9, Ju.Collins 5, Jackson 8, Sandler 4, Je.Collins 12. Totals 19 7-11 48.
A—Alleyne 9, McCluskey 3, Cole 3, Palmer 5, E.Jones 2, Hayden 8, Fowlkes 7, B.Jones 25. Totals 23 1-24 62.
Half: A, 36-25.