Previewing the girls basketball state semifinals at UMBC
A breakdown of the seven games involving local teams on Thursday and Friday
No. 8 Poly (21-5) vs. Walt Whitman (21-4)
Time: 3 p.m.
Outlook: For the second year in a row, the Engineers head into the state tournament boasting the stingiest defense in any of the semifinals, allowing just 26.57 points per game. Against Walt Whitman, from Montgomery County, which knocked off two-time defending state champion Gaithersburg in the West regional final, the Engineers appear to match up well. Both teams are balanced offensively. Both average about 51 points, and the Vikings allow only 38 points per game. Junior 5-8 F Teira Pendleton (12.5 points, 8.4 rebounds) leads the Engineers, while the Vikings have no one averaging more than nine points. Senior 5-9 F Dani Okon averages nine points and seven rebounds for Walt Whitman. The two teams have played one common opponent — Paint Branch. Poly edged the Panthers, 45-43, on Aneah Young's last-second three-point play in the 4A North regional final, and the Vikings beat them, 49-31, in December. The Engineers are seeking their first state title, while the Vikings won in 1995. If coach Kendall Peace-Able's Engineers win, they would face the winner of North Point (25-0), the only undefeated team in the state semifinals, and Eleanor Roosevelt (24-1), who meet in the second 4A semifinal at 5 p.m.
No. 2 Aberdeen (23-3) vs. Damascus (23-2)
Time: 7 p.m.
Outlook: Defending champion Aberdeen has a new look with a young team that can run, but in Damascus, from Montgomery County, they meet a team that looks a lot like they looked last season. The Hornets are centered around junior 6-4 F Kelli Prange (16 points, 7.1 rebounds), much as the Eagles looked to 6-3 C Brionna Jones last year. With a torn anterior cruciate ligament sidelining Jones, the Eagles have picked up the pace with a lineup that can run, sparked by senior 5-4 G Jimmia McCluskey (11.9 points, 3.2 steals). Freshman 6-1 F-G Stephanie Jones leads the Eagles with 12.3 points per game, but she averaged 21.7 in the last three playoff games. The Hornets, ranked No. 11 by The Washington Post, have an edge in rebounding, with 46 per game to the Eagles' 35. Aberdeen first-year coach Amber Milnes said a tough schedule should have the young Eagles — two freshman and two sophomore starters — ready. They won eight games against ranked teams, including six over Top 8 teams, and lost only to Riverdale Baptist twice and to Hoover (Ala.). The Hornets, who have never won a state title, lost only at an Ohio tournament.
No. 10 River Hill (22-3) vs. Friendly (20-4)
Time: 9 p.m.
Outlook: After falling to Aberdeen in last year's title game, the Hawks are eager to add a second state crown to their 2006 championship. Their opponent is a familiar one. The Howard County champion Hawks defeated Friendly — which averages 60 points per game — 40-36, in a holiday tournament, holding the Patriots to their second-lowest offensive output of the season. River Hill is the smallest team in the 3A semifinals and gets most of its scoring from its backcourt, 5-7 senior Megan Sterling (15.2 points) and 5-8 junior twins Julia and Jenna Collins (about nine points each). The Patriots, from Prince George's County, have a stronger post presence in 6-1 senior F-C Janay Carter (11.3 points, 9.5 rebounds) and are led by 5-10 senior G Chayla Lewis (16.5 points, 10.3 rebounds) as they go after their first state title. River Hill coach Teresa Waters, who earned her 300th win at River Hill this winter, said to compensate for her team's lack of size, they will have to do all the little things well and, once again, excel on defense.
Randallstown (15-4) vs. Middletown (18-7)
Time: 3 p.m.
Outlook: Randallstown returns to the final four for only the second time in school history, while their Frederick County opponent aims for its fifth state championship in 11 tournament appearances. Rams coach Ron Isaacs said he has had more talented teams in his three years at Randallstown, but that this is the best unit. Despite having only nine players and just one senior starter, the Rams relied on a lot of role players to put together a winning season in Baltimore County's 2A-1A division. They have a balanced offense, with 5-5 junior G Mariah Byam leading in scoring with 13.1 points, while 5-9 sophomore F D'Anna Dawson averages 10 rebounds. The Rams got a look at Middletown at Woodlawn's holiday tournament, but their game was canceled due to snow. The teams played one common opponent, New Town, and won by similar margins. The Knights, who won their last state title in 2006 and reached the title game in 2011, are led by 5-8 senior G Caitlin McLister (14.2 points) and 5-10 senior F Brittney George (11.3 points, 7.6 rebounds).
No. 14 Patterson Mill (20-6) vs. Calvert (23-2)