Pikesville coach Mike Dukes wasn’t sure how his players would react when they discovered Saturday morning that they were hitting the road for their regional girls basketball final because Friday’s wind storm had knocked out power to their school.
At the end of the first quarter, Dukes was still concerned as the No. 13 Panthers, the top seed in the region, trailed Dunbar by one. However, most of the jitters disappeared when the Panthers took the court for the second quarter. They scored 13 straight points to spark a 48-35 victory for the Class 1A North title — the first girls basketball regional championship in school history.
“It was surreal,” Panthers junior forward Teylah Saunders said. “Looking back on the past season when we were 4-16, we’re considered the underdogs, but now that we’ve got a new coach, some new players and some underclassmen coming in, we’re able to come together as a team and really work hard and, as you can see, we got a big win for our program.”
Pikesville (21-2) advances to Friday night’s state semifinals at Towson University’s SECU Arena where the Panthers will meet Southern, of Garrett County, at either 7 or 9 p.m. The Rams have been state finalists the past three years after winning their third state title in 2014.
Saunders said the Panthers were “absolutely” disappointed not to play at home and that playing at Dunbar (13-11) was a factor early.
“We earned the home court advantage, but the wind storm took control of that,” she said. “That definitely affected us a little at the beginning of the game. They had their people out previously from the boys game [won by Dunbar], so everyone was already riled up. We had to keep calm, maintain composure and we were able to pull out the win.”
Both teams had early-game jitters, combining for 21 first-quarter turnovers. About a minute into the second quarter, Kayla Jackson’s 3-pointer set the Panthers off on the 13-point run that included three straight baskets on the inside from freshman Kristen Sterling. A couple of free throws from Dunbar’s Ashley Wise stopped the run, but the Poets didn’t hit a field goal until Kearra Earl’s runner five seconds before the half.
“We missed a lot of layups in the first half,” Dunbar coach Wardel Selby said. “Finish those and make a few more free throws. That just put us in a hole and they came out second half with two quick, easy shots and we just had to dig, dig, dig. Then we had two point guards foul out.”
Saunders hit both of those shots to open the second half, on feeds from Tyra Robinson and Jackson. Saunders and Keonte Lewis each hit a free throw to boost the Panthers lead to 29-14 before Dunbar scored again.
The Poets, who have six state titles in their program history, struggled with shooting the entire game. Before TyYanna Holly scored off a steal with 5:19 to go in the third quarter, they had managed just one field goal in the previous 15:49.
Pikesville took advantage of its inside strength with 6-foot-1 Saunders, 5-foot-10 Sterling and 5-foot-10 Charia Roberts, who scored a game-high 17 points. The trio combined for 30 points and 30 rebounds.
“Something that was really important for us was aggressiveness,” Saunders said, “especially for the post players, because we knew they didn’t have really anyone inside, so as long as we were aggressive in attacking the boards and getting them, we should have been fine. We knew that on defense, we could shut them down, because we knew they were going to throw up some wild shots, so as long as we were disciplined, we were able to stop them.”
Dukes, who had many previous battles against Selby’s teams on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit, said the Panthers are well ahead of his plans to turn the program around.
“For what we’ve accomplished in the first season, I couldn’t have wrote the script any better,” said Dukes, a former Towson Catholic coach. “In some instances, I look at like we’re dealing with some house money, so we’re just going to go into this final four and just play. Hopefully, the experience we had with Catonsville up at Towson [a 76-41 loss to the No. 4 Comets in the Baltimore County championship] will come back and help us. I don’t think that moment will be too big for us going to play back at SECU.”
13 Pikesville 48, Dunbar 35
D—Pendles 8, Hall 4, Wise 12, Earl 7, Davis 3. Totals 11 12-22 35.
P—Glover 2, Robinson 3, Lewis 9, Sterling 6, Roberts 17, Jackson 4, Saunders 7. Totals 13 21-34 48.
Half: P, 25-14.