Glenelg has had to rally for a second-half comeback throughout the playoffs and the Gladiators followed that script again in the state final, though with a slight twist.
The No. 15 Gladiators got off to a quick start and led by 10 points early, but No. 7 Poly came back to lead by two a couple of times in the fourth quarter before Glenelg finished off a 48-36 upset for the Class 3A championship Saturday night at Towson's SECU Arena.
It was the first state championship since 2001 for the Gladiators (23-4), who hadn't been to the final four since then.
The Engineers (21-6) managed to contain Glenelg floor leader Jess Foster for much of the game with a face guard, but the sophomore became more aggressive and used her teammates as screens to escape at key moments after the score was tied at 33. She hit two free throws and added a short jumper to give the Gladiators the lead for good at 37-35 with 4:13 left.
In the final 35.3 seconds, she hit all six of her free throws to help seal the victory. She finished with 17 points despite often remaining out of the play while contained in the face guard.
"That's something I've been working on all season, because a lot of teams do face guard me like they did tonight," Foster said, "so I play back … and I just have trust in my teammates and I know they can do it."
She also had a key defensive play when she took a charge from Tylea Galloway, negating a Poly basket that would have cut the lead to 39-37 with 37 seconds left.
Foster also started the game strong, scoring the first points on a runner. Six minutes later, a pair of free throws by Kellie Johnson gave Glenelg an 11-1 edge.
The Engineers couldn't seem to figure out Glenelg coach Chris Beil's pressure zone defense, and they didn't hit a field goal until Deierra Weems made a baseline jumper with 44 seconds left in the quarter.
"I think sometimes your desire to be successful kind of overshoots what you're used to doing," Poly coach Kendall Peace-Able said of the slow start.
Glenelg started the second quarter with a 14-3 lead, but Peace-Able went to her bench and Poly's offense finally came alive. Two freshmen, Gianni Jones and Janya Lilly, hit back-to-back jumpers to pull Poly within 14-7.
The face guard on Foster slowed Glenelg's offense and shut off its perimeter game, but the Gladiators went inside instead and finished the half with a 5-2 run for a 23-14 lead at the break.
Poly turned it up on both ends of the court after halftime, opening with six straight points as the Gladiators turned the ball over on their first two possessions. Jewel Porter's short jumper cut the lead to 23-20. The teams traded baskets to make it 27-24 before Galloway fed Lilly to pull within 27-26.
Foster slipped the face guard and pushed the lead back to three at 29-26. Then Galloway hit a 3-pointer to tie. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Poly took its first lead, 31-29, on Porter's short jumper.
But Glenelg center Chelsea Heneggler tied it on a feed from Johnson, before Foster gave them the lead for good.
The Gladiators were playing without two injured starters, 6-foot junior forward Julia Wolfrey and 5-10 senior forward Katie Twigg, who came into the game and hit one free throw.
Bernice Hanlon missed most of the season with an arm injury, but as a 5-11 forward has been called on to step in and pick up some of the inside game in the absence of Wolfrey and Twigg. Senior Heneggler, a 6-1 center, finished with 12 points and five rebounds.
The Engineers, a young team this season, have been to the state tournament seven times, and five years in a row, but they have yet to win a championship.
P—Curbeam 2, Kh.Stokes 6, Lilly 6, Talley 3, Porter 6, Weems 6, Galloway 3, Jones 4. Totals 16 2-6 36.
G—Foster 17, Arrington 2, Mattis 2, LePage 2, Hanlon 3, Heneggler 12, Twigg 1, Johnson 6. Totals 14 19-24 48. Half: G, 23-14.
Glenelg held off Poly to win the Class 3A state title.