A year ago, nerves might have gotten the better of Poly guard Blair Harding in a close game like Friday night's Baltimore City Division I contest at Dunbar.
Not anymore. The senior led the No. 6 Engineers with 24 points, including 11 of 13 free throws, as they defeated the No. 9 Poets, 57-47, to improve to 13-0 and to 5-0 in the division.
In a game neither team led by more than six points until the final four minutes, Harding's 3-pointer from the corner to open the fourth quarter sparked a 7-2 Poly run that gave the Engineers the lead for good. Later in the quarter, the Poets were within 43-39 when Harding made a steal, completed the ensuing three-point play and then hit a follow shot to boost the lead to nine with 1:59 to go.
"I'm a lot wiser now," Harding said of her senior year. "I'm a lot smarter with my choices and the things that I do. I've grown over the years. It does [help with the nerves] — a lot."
Harding led a strong Engineers effort from the free throw line as they hit 28 of 38. Going 17-for-20 in the first half put Poly in position to win, because they hit only four field goals in the half.
The Poets (10-4, 4-2) looked as if they might break the game open early in the third quarter when All-Metro forward Michelle Wright, who finished with 25 points and 15 rebounds, converted back-to-back steals into three points each. Shylia Buie's steal and assist led to a Wright 3-pointer. Then Wright made a steal, hit the runner and added a free throw for a 29-23 lead, the biggest margin of the game.
But Jillian answered that with a three-point play and Poly made up the difference and then some little by little with a strong team effort.
Harding scored 14 of her points in the second half and sophomore point guard Jasmine Smith, who scored all nine of hers in the second half, kept the offense settled and made some nice jump shots down the stretch. Harding, Jillian Lee, Keli Alston and Teira Pendleton combined to hit 11 of 14 free throws in the final quarter.
"We knew they were coming after us because they need points," Harding said. "All we had to do was just play our game and slow down the tempo and execute and that's what we did."
Coach Kendall Peace-Able's Engineers never let the Poets get into any offensive rhythm and shut down their perimeter shooting late in the game.
"We stopped executing," Poets coach Wardell Selby said, "and we started getting away from team and getting into some I ball. We didn't stay with the team concept, but that's a good hustling team, Poly. I take nothing away from them."
P—Lee 9, Smith 9, Alston 1, Harding 24, Pendelton 9, Newton 2, Crockett 3. Totals 14 28-38 57.
D—Johnson 3, Buie 8, Wright 25, Hazelton 6, Lawson 3, Prilliman 2. Totals 16 10-13 47. Half: P, 22-21.