Going into Wednesday night's Class 3A North regional basketball semifinal, the Aberdeen girls figured they could run against Digital Harbor, but they still had to counter the Rams' inside game.
When two of Digital's top three inside threats got into foul trouble in the second quarter and All-Metro forward A'Lexus Harrison had to sit with three fouls, No. 2 Aberdeen ran away with a 74-40 victory.
"One of our main goals is to get their good people out of the game, then we can take over," Eagles senior guard Jimmia McCluskey said. "We had to push the ball, keep it moving like we were in the beginning. That's how we were going to get our victory."
Three of the Eagles' starters finished in double figures, led by sophomore guard Nazje Norton, who hit six 3-pointers and had 22 points. Freshman forward Stephanie Jones scored 19 and McCluskey added 18.
The victory was the second straight regional semifinal win over the No. 5 Rams for Aberdeen, which went on to win its first state championship last season.
Standing between the Eagles and a third straight trip to the final four is No. 7 City, which upset No. 4 Milford Mill, 68-57, in Wednesday night's other semifinal. Aberdeen (22-3) will host the Knights (24-3) on Friday at 6 p.m.
The Eagles, who start two freshmen and two sophomores, challenged the Rams inside early and the fouls started to mount on Digital Harbor. Harrison picked up her third foul less than three minutes into the second quarter and 6-foot-5 senior center Infiniti Alston and senior guard Jaida Scarborough each got their third late in the quarter.
When Harrison went to the bench, the Rams (20-5) were within six points of Aberdeen.
In less than five minutes, the Eagles ran their lead to 37-16 on Norton's highlight reel drive to the hoop with 40 seconds left before halftime. Norton also hit two 3-pointers in the run and Jones added five points. The Rams shot 1-for-15 from the field during the Eagles' run.
"You can't control fouls," Digital Harbor coach Patrick McDonald said. "When your most formidible players pick up three fouls all in the second quarter, it changes the momentum of how they want to play. It takes away some of the intensity, because as a coach, you're trying to preserve some of that for the fourth quarter, but they know then that they don't want to foul out. It's a big game and they want to leave everything on the floor, so it's hard."
Maryland-bound Harrison, who sat out about half the game, picked up her fourth foul just before halftime. She finished with five points, 12 rebounds and two assists. Alston, who is headed to Penn State, led the Rams in scoring with 11 points and had seven rebounds. Both fouled out in the fourth quarter.
In the third quarter and early in the fourth, Aberdeen went inside for almost everything and the Rams couldn't risk trying to counter their drives.
At one point, the Eagles hit 10 of 12 shots as they ran their lead as high as 72-35.
"It's a great feeling, especially with this young team," McCluskey said of heading back to the regional final. "I'm proud of my girls. From the start to the finish, we work hard at practice and we bring it into the game."
DH—Smith 10, Carroll 1, Lewis 8, Scarborough 1, Bradshaw 2, Sneed 2, Harrison 5, Alston 11. Totals 14 9-15 40.
A—Norton 22, E.Jones 6, McCluskey 19, Taylor 2, S.Jones 19, Palmer 7. Totals 28 12-25 74. Half: A, 37-18.