(All games at UMBC's RAC Arena)
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)
Time: 5 p.m.
Outlook: The Huskies get a second shot at two-time defending champion Calvert, which knocked them out in the semifinals last year in their first state tournament appearance. The Cavaliers used a 10-point run in the final six minutes to secure the win, 42-31. The top priority for the Huskies will be to cut down on the turnovers after giving the ball away 28 times in that game. While the Huskies rely most on 6-0 sophomore G Qalea Ismail (14.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists) and 5-9 senior F-G Morgan Golec (14.9 points), they have a handful of other players who can step up, and they likely will need to because the Cavaliers average 68 points per game, while the Huskies average 57.1. The Cavaliers, ranked No. 7 in The Washington Post, are led by 5-7 senior G Alexis Smith (18 points, seven rebounds). Patterson Mill first-year coach Holly Ismail, an assistant on last year's team, hopes a tougher schedule — four of their losses were to ranked teams — will help her team be even more prepared for this year's final four.
Western Tech (19-6) vs. Southern-Garrett (22-2)
Time: 7 p.m.
Outlook: In their first trip to the state tournament last season, the Wolverines made it to the final and put up a strong fight before falling to Dunbar, 50-42. Only two starters return from that team, but they learned a lot about playing Western Maryland teams after defeating Fort Hill in last year's semifinal. The Wolverines don't have the same height as last season, but they look to run, while Southern's style is more patient half-court offense. For the second straight year, 5-3 junior G Sydney Clopton leads the Wolverines in scoring with 16.4 points, while 5-7 junior G Ebonee Dixon adds 11.5 points. Both teams average in the low 50's scoring, but the Wolverines only give up 34 points per game, while the Rams, from Garrett County, allow 41. Coach Nolan Roe's Wolverines also have a big edge in rebounding average, 35-19. The Rams are looking for their third state title and their first since 2007.
Dunbar (17-8) vs. Mardela (20-5)
Time: 9 p.m.
Outlook: With six state titles, including the last two in Class 1A, Dunbar could become only the third team in tournament history to win seven, joining Mount Hebron and DuVal. This time, coach Wardell Selby's Poets come into the state semifinals without a dominating player, but with a balanced group that is out to prove it can win a title in its own way. Junior G Shamar Prilliman leads the Poets with 8.4 points, while senior forward Brina Smith adds 8.1, but almost anyone can lead the team in scoring in any particular game. While both teams average about the same number of points and give up about the same number, Mardela averages nine more rebounds. The Warriors, seeking their first state championship, have a pair of high-scoring guards in 5-9 juniors Shakema Dashiell (21 points) and Briana Cook (20 points). Mardela coach Kesha Cooksaid that even on the Eastern Shore, "the name Dunbar strikes fear into everyone's heart," but that she also has a young team determined to make its mark for a program that has been to the semifinals three of the last four years.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun