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Previewing the girls basketball state semifinals

(All games at Towson University's SECU Arena)

WEDNESDAY

CLASS 1A

New Town (20-5) vs. National Academy Foundation (14-6)

Time: 5 p.m.

Outlook: National Academy Foundation is the only semifinalist in any classification that has never been to the state tournament. The Baltimore City school located in the former Dunbar Middle School building in East Baltimore is in its fourth season of varsity competition. Coach Nick Usher said it has been a challenge to get enough girls out for the team to sustain the program, but a trip to states certainly could be the boost they need. The Eagles have height, with four girls between 5 feet 11 and 6-2, and they like to run and gun. New Town is another team that had success early in its program, but the Titans are in the semifinals for the first time in seven years. They won the Class 1A title in 2005, but had to forfeit it for using an ineligible player. Coach Gena Young's Titans like to run and are led by 5-foot-8 guard Sydney Hines (14.3 points per game) and 5-10 forward/guard Tiana Davis (10.8 points, 9.2 rebounds per game)

Class 2A

Dunbar (17-5) vs. Calvert (20-4)

Time: 7 p.m.

Outlook: A state finalist in Class 1A last season, Dunbar moves up to 2A and draws three-time defending champion Calvert. Poets coach Wardell Selby has led the Poets to six state championships, most recently in 2012, and with one more his program would tie Mount Hebron and Duval for the most titles in 42 years of the state girls basketball tournament. The Poets have five seniors who have played together for three or four years and have been to states every year. They also have enjoyed an influx of young talent, especially in 6-foot freshman forward/guard Mia Davis, who leads the Poets with 18.5 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. The Poets also rely on 6-1 forward-center Lashay Stackhouse (10.1 points, 10 rebounds per game), who will be key against Calvert's 6-3 forward/center Daijah Thomas (19 points). The Cavaliers graduated only two players from last year's team, but one was guard Alexis Smith, who scored 25 points in the state semifinal. Both teams are versatile and like to run, but can also operate in the half-court offense.

No. 10 Patterson Mill (20-4) vs. Walkersville (22-3)

Time: 9 p.m.

Outlook: Patterson Mill is in the state semifinals for the third straight year, but this time, the Huskies won't meet Calvert — at least not right away. Although the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference champion Huskies are a young team, they have three veterans determined to get past the semifinals — 6-1 guard Qalea Ismail (20.1 points, 3.5 assists per game), 5-7 guard Samantha Herman (9.8 points, 4.6 assists per game) and 5-8 guard Stephanie Ehly. Huskies coach Holly Ismail said nerves were a problem the last two years in losses to the Cavaliers. Last year, Patterson Mill fell behind 13-2 and never recovered, losing 61-42. Transition defense will be important for the Huskies because Walkersville, from Frederick County, likes to push the ball and has a balanced offense led by 5-7 guard Tyra Hughes (17.2 points per game) and 5-11 forward Lana Long (15 points, 8.6 rebounds per game). The Lions, who defeated Century in the regional final, are in the semifinals for the first time since 2007 and won their only state title in 2003.

THURSDAY

Class 3A

No. 2 Poly (25-1) vs. Damascus (22-3)

Time: 7 p.m.

Outlook: The Engineers lived on the edge through the last two rounds of playoffs, needing overtime to beat No. 7 City in the sectional final and double overtime to get past Atholton in the regional final. Coach Kendall Peace-Able said the focus has to change, and she wants the Engineers to play like they have nothing to lose as they try to take the next step after reaching the Class 4A final last season and the 4A semifinal the year before. In their last two games, the Engineers haven't been able to assert their strength on the boards, but they will have to against the Hornets and 6-5 forward Kelli Prange, who averages 21.4 points and 11 rebounds per game but had 34 points and 21 rebounds in the regional final. The Baltimore City Division I champions likely will need a big game from 5-9 guard/forward Teira Pendleton (13.2 points, 7.1 rebounds per game) as well as 5-11 forward/center Morgan Newton (5.3 points, 5.6 rebounds per game). They could also get help from 5-11 forward/center Nkeiruka Okororie (7.7 points, 5.7 rebounds per game), who came off the bench for 16 points against City. The Hornets, from Montgomery County, have never won a state title, and neither has Poly. Damascus fell to eventual champion Aberdeen in last year's state semifinal.

No. 4 Milford Mill (24-1) vs. Westlake (22-3)

Time: 9 p.m.

Outlook: The Millers scored 261 points in their three regional playoff games and dethroned two-time defending champion Aberdeen in the final. Looking for a state title trophy to match the one they earned in 2005, the Millers play as fast as possible. With speed and quickness all around, their defense creates most of their offense. Led by a stellar backcourt of 5-9 Dionna White (20.3 points, 6.8 assists per game), 5-9 Qierra Murray (17.7 points, 4.9 assists per game) and 5-7 Kelli Smoot (11.4 points per game), the Millers outrun most of their opponents and have won 12-straight since suffering their only loss to Poly at The Basketball Academy. Westlake, from Charles County, is making its sixth trip to the state tournament and is looking for its first title. The Wolverines like to get up and down, too, and have posted some big numbers, including 111 points in one regular-season game. Led by 5-11 forward/guard Shanea Butler (17 points per game) and 5-11 forward Alexus Willey (10 points, 12 rebounds), the Wolverines beat three-time defending Class 2A champion Calvert and split with Class 4A semifinalist North Point during the regular season, but also lost to Archbishop Spalding in overtime in December.

-- Katherine Dunn

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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