The last three teams Aberdeen has met in the girls basketball playoffs have been able to play with the Eagles — for a while.
In Thursday night's state Class 3A semifinals, Damascus stayed close into the second half. Then came the big Aberdeen spurt.
The No. 2 Eagles made their break with 10 straight points in less than two minutes of the third quarter. With a couple of steals and a lot of rebounds, Aberdeen broke open a two-point game and ran away with a 71-50 victory at UMBC's RAC Arena.
The Eagles (24-3) will go for their second consecutive championship when they face No. 10 River Hill, which beat Friendly, 52-43. The rematch of last year's state final will be Saturday at 8 p.m. at RAC Arena.
The Hornets (23-3) were within 35-33 two minutes after halftime when Aberdeen senior guard Jimmia McCluskey fed Donisha Porter to spark the 10-point run that pushed a 35-33 lead to 12 with 3:55 left in the third quarter. Five players scored in the run — Porter, McCluskey, Nazje Norton, Endia Jones and Stephanie Jones.
"We realize they can't keep up with us, because of our speed," McCluskey said. "This game was too close for us. We were like, 'We don't like this. We want to attack and have 80 shots and put our 70 points on the board like we usually do,' so we know that we have to step it up."
The Eagles opened the game with a 7-0 run and boosted their lead to 11-1. The Hornets struggled with Aberdeen's press, but when Endia Jones, a 6-foot-2 center, had to sit much of the first half in foul trouble, Damascus was able to exploit some inside mismatches. The Hornets, from Montgomery County, finished with 24 points in the paint.
Aberdeen, however, doubled them up on that statistic with 48 points in the paint. The Eagles dominated the boards, 44-34, with Stephanie Jones grabbing 12, McCluskey nine, and Endia Jones, seven. They scored 23 points on second chances.
The Hornets pulled within one on Jenna Kaufman's three-point play and took their only lead of the game, 20-19, when Kelli Prange fed Becky Barrett with 5:28 left in the second quarter.
Porter then hit a 3-pointer and McCluskey converted a steal nine seconds later to start a 12-6 Aberdeen run for a 32-27 halftime lead. Once Aberdeen's 10-0 run boosted the lead to 12, they increased it to 15 by the end of the third quarter on two fine plays from Endia Jones, a follow and a layup off a feed from point guard Kierra Palmer.
In the second half, the Hornets had trouble stopping 6-1 forward/guard Stephanie Jones, who scored 15 of her 20 points in the half.
"The guards for Aberdeen are amazing," Prange said. "They just got her the ball wherever. When she got it down low, she made amazing post moves and she just really stepped up."
Prange led a balanced Hornets offense with 13 points.
With just one senior in a starting lineup that includes two freshmen and two sophomores , the Eagles are no less determined to win the state crown than they were last season with a handful of seniors and Brionna Jones, their 6-foot-3 centerpiece who is out after surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
"Having the chance to repeat what they did last year gives you a great feeling," said Stephanie Jones, Brionna's sister. "Since Bri went down, we want to keep it up and do it for her and for everybody else that was here last year, because we know how important it is to them to get it."
A—Norton 8, E.Jones 12, McCluskey 10, Sanderson 1, Taylor 6, S.Jones 20, Palmer 9, Porter 5. Totals 27 14-23 71
D—Kaufman 11, Green 7, Warfield 4, Prange 13, Derby 5, Barrett 10. Totals 20 9-11 50. Half: A, 32-27.