New Town's girls basketball players have been thinking about this state championship for a long time.
After falling to defending champion Largo in the state semifinals a year ago, the No. 11 Titans planned all along to come back and win the title. They couldn't have been happier when Largo advanced to the final, too — except when the final buzzer sounded Saturday afternoon and the Titans celebrated their 61-47 victory for the Class 2A state championship at Towson's SECU Arena.
"Yesterday when we found out we were playing Largo, everybody who was here last year looked at it as a revenge game, because we didn't want to lose," Titans senior guard Maraiyah Smith said. "We wanted to beat them last year, but since we didn't, we came back this year and we knew what we had to do. It felt good. It felt real good."
The Titans (23-5) played exceptional defense, especially on the Lions' top scorer, Stephanie Guihon, who came into the gave averaging 29.7 points per game but finished with 19.
New Town's switching defenses, especially an early box-and-one on Guihon, seemed to throw the Lions (19-7) off balance. Ahriyah Richardson started out guarding her and when she went down with a twisted ankle, Amaya Webb came off the bench to continue to contain her.
Titans first-year coach Richard Hibbert said Richardson had done a terrific job of holding down Catonsville's high-scoring Jasmine Dickey — a key factor in the Titans beating the Comets in the Baltimore County championship game — and he knew she could do the same against Guihon.
The early defensive effort helped the Titans jump out to an 11-0 lead and extend it to 31-14 on Smith's baseline jumper to end the first half. The Lions cut the lead back to 11 late in the third quarter, but the Titans used defense and rebounding to run the lead to 20 with 5:40 left in the game.
The Lions, who didn't hit a field goal until 1:45 remained in the first quarter, turned the ball over 21 times in the game and five of those came in the first four minutes as the Titans built their initial lead. Two led directly to New Town baskets and the Titans went on to score 23 points off turnovers.
"We felt like [Giuhon] was the only ballhandler," Hibbert said, "so taking her out and forcing somebody else to dribble and try to beat us, it worked in our favor. We got numerous steals and turnovers and fast-break penetration."
On the offensive end, Smith, who came into the state playoffs averaging 14.2 points, led the way with 20 points and four assists. Khariah Kosh had 14 points and 15 rebounds and point guard Ajalant Garrison added 11 points.
Usually a hot-shooting 3-point team, the Titans managed just two of 15 on Saturday, but they used their inside game to beat the Lions. They also hit 25 of 36 free throws.
The Titans ran their lead to 39-22 on two Garrison free throws, before Largo rallied to cut the margin to 11 on Guihon's transition bucket. The Titans answered with an 11-2 run to push the lead to 50-30 on a Garrison bucket with 5:40 left in the game. The Lions never got closer.
"That first quarter hit us hard," Largo coach Ayana Ball-Ward said. "We couldn't bounce back from those 11 points. They did an awesome job with their transition game. They did an awesome job just pressuring the ball. We just couldn't push through."
Soon, the Titans will see the first New Town girls basketball state championship banner hanging on the wall in their gym — something they wanted badly after the Titans boys won last year and they did not.
"It feels great to win, because I've been at New Town all four years," Smith said, "because we made it here my freshman year and we lost and then the last couple of years we've made it here, but we just couldn't get over the hump. With Coach Rich, we finally made it over the hump."
The Titans plan to celebrate Saturday night at Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park, that Hibbert previously wanted them to stay away from so no one got hurt before the state title run.
"It's funny. My name is Rich and they think I'm really rich, because I'm always paying for everything, so I guess we're going to Sky Zone. I would say Disney World, but I ain't got that type of money yet. I mean that's what everybody says when you win something," Hibbert said with a laugh.
L--Reid 6, Jones 4, White 7, Guihon 19, Manning 3, Ford 8. Totals 16 16-31 47.
NT--Lewis 2, Garrison 11, Kosh 14, Pediford 3, Petty 2, Richardson 2 Smith 20, Webb 1, Anderson 4, Brown 2. Totals 19 25-36 61. Half: NT, 31-14.