When Richard Hibbert took over the New Town girls basketball program this season, he looked no further than the Titans' gym walls to motivate his team for a run to the state title game.
On the first day of practice, he had the Titans take note of the number of banners depicting the boys basketball team's successes — and then how few there were in comparison for the girls.
"I said the girls side is very empty. No state championships. They had about four or five regional-type banners and one county championship," Hibbert said. "And you looked at the boys side, it looked like the Celtics' side over there. It was just stacked."
That sank in with the No. 11 Titans, who cruised past Kent Island, 75-46, in Friday's Class 2A state semifinal at Towson's SECU Arena.
"From last year [when the boys won a second straight state championship], I feel as though they pushed us to work harder," senior guard Ahriyah Richardson said, "because since they made it last year, it kind of brought me down last year. ... We made it so far, but then we lost, but this year I pushed myself. I told myself every night that we'd make it this far."
Richardson scored 13 points and senior guard Maraiyah Smith led the Titans with 20 points as they built an early lead, fought off a Kent Island comeback and rolled through the second half to reach the state title game for the first time in three years. They will return to SECU Arena to play defending champion Largo (19-6) for the title Saturday at 1 p.m.
Against Kent Island, the Baltimore County champions dominated the boards 51-34, forced 22 turnovers and scored 30 points off those turnovers. Their depth also helped them fight off foul trouble with 16 points from the bench while the Buccaneers didn't go that deep and got no points from their bench.
Over the years, the Titans girls have had their successes. They've been to the state tournament six times and this is their third trip to the final four in four years. Long before Hibbert or these players were involved with the program, in 2005, New Town won the state Class 1A title but had to vacate it for using two ineligible players.
Of course, there's no banner for that, but now they're one step away from adding a state title banner to their gym wall.
The Titans (21-5), who lost to Largo in last year's state semifinal, jumped out to a 17-5 first-quarter lead over the Buccaneers (25-2) when Ajalant Garrison fed Richardson to cap a 15-5 run in which New Town hit seven straight shots. The Buccaneers, however, came storming back to take their only lead midway through the second quarter.
Se'Ri Miles hit a 3-pointer to cap a 20-7 run that began late in the first quarter and give Kent Island a 25-24 lead. Smith hit a free throw to tie it before Richardson and Garrison had steals that led to baskets. Richardson converted her steal and Garrison fed Smith for a 30-25 lead that grew to 41-27 just before halftime.
Kent Island coach David Plumer said his team had to shake off some early jitters to rally for the lead, but Miles said getting into early foul trouble bothered the Buccaneers.
"Once we started getting fouls, we just let that get to our heads," the junior guard said. "We weren't playing like we should have played. We were playing more safe than active, because we were just worried about the fouls and nobody wants to foul out especially in a semifinal game, so I think we were a little bit too cautious."
Miles and senior forward Ali Patchett had three fouls each going into the second half, and Hibbert said his plan was to have Richardson attack Miles, who was guarding her.
Once the Titans opened the second half with 13 of the first 16 points to push the lead to 54-31, Kent Island could not recover. The Buccaneers never got closer than within 20.
Khariah Kosh and Morgan Anderson also finished in double figures for the Titans with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Garrison had seven points and seven of New Town's 13 assists.
Kent Island's Hannah Moran, who hit five 3-pointers, scored 21.
NT--Garrison 7, Kosh 11, Petty 8, Richardson 13, Smith 20, Webb 4, Anderson 10, Brown 2. Totals 34 12-22 75.
KI--Moran 21, Cifolilli 6, Jahtera 5, Miles 14. Totals 21 11-22 46. Half: NT, 48-21.