Dunbar coach Wardell Selby knew his players were talented enough to overcome any of the difficult tests they faced with moving from Class 1A to 2A this season.
The Poets did not let him down, and put together another successful campaign, making a run to their fifth consecutive state final four. On Wednesday night, however, Dunbar ran into a Calvert team that was every bit as seasoned and strong.
The Cavaliers, the three-time defending Class 2A champion out of Prince Frederick, overcame a halftime deficit and held on for a 53-50 victory at Towson University's SECU Arena. Calvert's Daijha Thomas — who was playing on her future home court — was dominant, finishing with 29 points and seven rebounds.
Dunbar fell short in its bid for a seventh state title, which would have tied them with Mount Hebron and Duval for the most in the 42-year history of the tournament. Calvert is now unbeaten in its past 14 playoff games.
"When I first started at Dunbar 18 years ago, we were in 2A," Selby said. "We played some good teams during the course of the season that got us prepared for this moment. We were ready for the challenge."
Mia Davis, who led Dunbar with 18.5 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, finished with 17 points and Nia Trusty added 14 points. Kayla Gross had 13 points for Calvert (21-4).
The Cavaliers were 16 of 34 from the free throw line, while Dunbar went to the line just 14 times and made seven of those attempts. Selby said that discrepancy was a big difference in the game.
"They shot 20 free throws in the first half, compared to our two," Selby said. "But we hung in there the whole game until the very end."
The Poets (17-6) led 28-25 at the half, but the Cavaliers dominated the third quarter. Calvert reeled off six straight points and took a 31-28 lead midway through the period. Dunbar settled down and retook the lead, 38-36 on a 3-pointer by Shamar Prilliman with 1:41 remaining. Then, a short jumper by LaShay Stackhouse at the buzzer boosted the margin to four.
After Calvert took the lead, 43-41 on a layup and free throw by Tyler Graves, the Poets responded again. Julia Gunthrop made a layup and Davis converted a pair of free throws that gave Dunbar a two-point lead with 3:41 remaining.
Calvert, however, then dominated possession to take control of the game. A 3-pointer by Gross and a free throw by Courtney Gray gave them a 49-46 lead with 2:04 remaining. A jumper by Thomas with just under a minute boosted the lead to five.
The Poets got a glimmer of hope from a 3-pointer by Trusty with 4.2 seconds left to cut the score to 52-50. But Thomas sealed the game with a free throw on the next possession.
"We stopped playing hard," Trusty said. "We were rattled and made a lot of mistakes."
Dunbar had trouble dealing with Calvert's height and were outscored 24-14 in the paint. The Cavaliers also scored 19 points off 23 Poets turnovers.
A pair of 3-pointers by Trusty and Jaquerra Jackson helped Dunbar to an early 8-3 lead. Calvert later tied the game at 12 on a free throw by Gross. However, Kahla McIver answered with another 3-pointer and the Poets led 15-12 at the end of the first quarter.
After Calvert took a 16-15 lead on a free throw by Gross, the Poets scored eight consecutive points, including five by Trusty, to retake control. Another 3-pointer by Trusty boosted Dunbar's lead to 26-18 with 2:42 left in the half.
The Cavaliers then scored seven straight points and a layup by Thomas cut the margin to 26-25 in the closing minute. Davis hit a short jumper in the closing seconds to give the Poets a three-point lead at the break.
There would be no such heroics at the end of the second half.
"It was very exciting," Thomas said. "Everybody was expecting a lot just because this is going to be my future home. It just means a lot to me."
Class 2A semifinal
Calvert 53, Dunbar 50
D — Gunthrop 4, Jackson 3, Trusty 14, McIver 3, Prilliman 3, Stackhouse 6, Davis 17.
C — Gross 13, Gray 5, Graves 3, Thomas 29, Butler 3.
Half: D, 28-25.