In a tight basketball game featuring an All-Metro forward on each side, most fans looked to one of them to make the difference.
Digital Harbor's A'Lexus Harrison and Dunbar's Michelle Wright led their teams to a one-point difference going into the final 35 seconds Friday night, but Harrison would grab a couple rebounds, hit two free throws and make a steal to seal a 40-37 victory for the visiting No. 2 Rams.
Wright, a powerful 5 feet 9, was fouled as she hit a layup to pull the No. 11 Poets within 38-37 with 35 seconds to go in the Baltimore City Division I game. When she missed the ensuing free throw, Harrison grabbed it. Rams guard Jaida Scarborough was then fouled in the open court and when she missed the first free throw, Harrison got that rebound, too.
With 11 seconds to go, Harrison went hard to the basket but was fouled. She hit both free throws for a 40-37 edge, then stole the ball off the inbounds pass.
The Poets got another chance when Harrison turned the ball right back over under pressure. As the clock ran down, they couldn't get the ball inside to Wright, who finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds, so guard Shylia Buie took the shot and Rams forward Miqueara Lewis held onto the last rebound.
Harrison, a 6-foot-1 junior who committed to Maryland as a freshman, said she likes close games that put pressure on her.
"It's more so to test my ability to become a big-time basketball player," said Harrison, who was only thinking about the 5 a.m. practice sessions with Rams coach Patrick McDonald when she stepped up to the free-throw line in the final seconds.
She led the Rams with 19 points and 24 rebounds. In the first quarter, she scored six of her nine points on follow shots as the Rams outrebounded the defending state Class 1A champion Poets, 52-40.
Neither team led by more than six points and any lead of four or more disappeared quickly. The Poets, who went 10-for-23 from the free-throw line, led only at 1-0, but tied the game at 24 and 26 early in the third quarter.
Wright scored all 11 of Dunbar's fourth-quarter points, including a 7-3 run capped by her baseline spinner to pull within 38-37. The Poets found a physical mismatch with Wright on the inside and kept pounding the ball to her in the fourth quarter.
"I felt like I was the big person and she was a mouse, so I just felt like I should go to the basket," Wright said. "My outside game wasn't falling, so I had to go where I knew I could dominate."
The Rams also got a couple of big plays from Infiniti Alston, a 6-foot-5 junior committed to Penn State who finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, before she fouled out with 3:24 to go. Alston made a nice move for a layup and a 35-33 Rams lead with 4:01 to go. After Dunbar cut that lead back to two, Deja Carroll's 3-pointer boosted the lead to 38-33 with 2:24 left.
"When you're playing a home team at an exciting place like Dunbar, there's never just going to be that one play," Harrison said. "You're always going to trade buckets and there's also going to be the crowd and everything else that feeds into the game."
The Rams (8-4, 3-0 division) have won seven straight games against the Poets (9-3, 2-1), whose last win was in December 2006.
DH—Parks 2, Carroll 8, Lewis 1, Harrison 19, Alston 10. Totals 15 9-17 40.
DUN—Gunthop 4, Buie 7, Wright 24, Brockington 2. Totals: 12 10-23 37. Half: DH, 24-22.