Poly's girls basketball season was on the verge of ending in Thursday's Class 3A East Section I championship — until the final second of regulation.
No. 7 City jumped all over the No. 2 Engineers from the start, running up as much as a 13-point lead, but Poly made its way back thanks to a big fourth quarter by Nkeiruka Okororie and a 27-foot buzzer-beater by Jasmine Smith that forced overtime.
The Engineers did not lead until overtime, but survived City's upset bid, 54-51, to advance to Saturday's 3A East regional championship against Atholton, which defeated Reservoir, 66-50, in the Section II championship on Thursday.
In overtime, Poly's free throw shooting made the difference. Okororie, who scored 10 of her 16 points from the free throw line, gave the Engineers their first lead of the game, 48-47, with the second of two free throws. They never again trailed.
After Smith hit a short jumper for a 50-47 lead, the Knights got within two twice, but could not close the gap.
In the fourth quarter, Okororie scored 10 of the Engineers' 19 points as they rallied from 10 points down with 4:46 left in regulation. The 5-11 sophomore, who had 12 rebounds, was the lone spark in a usually powerful inside game. She finished off two three-point plays, scored off an inbounds pass from Smith and hit two free throws to cut the lead to 42-41 with 1:11 left in regulation.
DeAsia Meyers and Dyzhanay Burton then combined for three City free throws, before Jayda Pearson stole the ball and converted the layup to pull Poly back within 45-43 with 12 seconds left. Koraan Sydnor hit another free throw to boost City's lead to three with 6.5 seconds remaining.
Then Smith, the Engineers' senior point guard, brought the ball up and launched her shot just in time to beat the buzzer.
"As soon as it left my hand, it felt great," Smith said, "but I was still praying on it to make sure it went through."
The Engineers won all three of their meetings with the Knights this season, including a 68-47 victory in the Baltimore City Division II title game almost two weeks ago.
This time, the Knights changed their defense, playing man-to-man the entire game, and got out to a 6-1 lead when Burton fed Kanae Sydnor for two 3-pointers. Poly, which had dominated the Knights in earlier meetings with their inside game, didn't hit a basket through the first six minutes.
"We were playing really flat," Smith said, "and City came out a lot more intense than we were. They picked up really well on [Poly's entry passes]. They started four guards and they collapsed really well, so they took away that post presence that first half. We tried to find other ways to go, but it wasn't effective."
Burton, the Knights' All-Metro senior point guard, led the way as City (20-4) outhustled the Engineers (24-1) through most of the game. She scored a game-high 24 points and also had three assists, four steals and nine rebounds.
City hit one more field goal than the Engineers, but they struggled with free throws. Late in the game, they had plenty of chances to extend their lead but made just 7 of 17 free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime.
"That's been our nemesis all year — free throws," City coach George Petrides said. "But I was proud of them. We were that close to going to the next level, and I bow my head to Poly. They showed a lot of heart coming back to beat us. They beat us three times, and that's hard to do."
2Poly 54, 7City 51
C—Meyers 8, Burton 24, Bell 3, Ko.Sydnor 6, Madden 4, Ka.Sydnor 6. Totals 18 11-23 51.
P—Smith 10, Stokes 1, Young 5, Newton 7, Pendleton 10, Pearson 5, Okororie 16. Totals 17 19-27 54.
Half: C, 20-16. End of reg., 46-46.