With the scored tied and 21 seconds left in Thursday night's semifinal game against Northern of Calvert County, Poly guard Tylea Galloway saw the chance in her opponent's eyes.
"I just watched her eyes and I seen that she was going to pass it, so I stole it," Galloway said.
Galloway picked off Natalie LaPlaca's pass beyond mid-court and hit Khepera Stokes for the game-winning basket with nine seconds left to give the No. 7 Engineers a 55-53 victory over Northern at Towson University's SECU Arena.
The Engineers (21-5) will meet No. 15 Glenelg for the Class 3A state title Saturday at 8 p.m. at SECU.
Poly trailed by one going into the fourth quarter, but Janya Lilly hit a 3-pointer to spark an eight-point Engineers run. Stokes hit a jumper with 5:09 left to increase the lead to 50-43, matching their largest lead of the game.
But the Patriots (22-4), a terrific 3-point shooting team, rallied when Ananda Claggett hit a 20-footer with 2:26 left to cut the lead to 51-49. Although Poly controlled the inside much of the game, Northern went to the basket for their next two buckets.
After some excellent ball movement, Patriots forward Gina Seifert got open inside and LaPlaca found her to tie it up at 51. Mykeala Bailey then hit Claggett for a back-door basket and a 53-51 lead with 56 seconds to go.
The Engineers' chances dimmed when forward Jewel Porter went out with her fifth foul with 44 seconds remaining, but the Patriots could not convert the front end of the one-and-one and Porter's replacement, freshman Gianni Jones, grabbed the rebound. At the other end, Jones grabbed a couple of rebounds and scored off the second one to tie the game with 23 seconds left.
"Jewel is one of our key players, but I had faith in the rest of my teammates," Stokes said. "We work together every day in practice and coach [Kendall Peace-Able] always says, 'Be ready when your name is called,' so they were ready and they stepped up."
Porter, at 5-11, was a key to the Engineers using their size advantage to control the inside and outrebound the Patriots, 54-35. That gave Poly a 17-8 advantage in second-chance points. Jazmine Talley, at 5-10, led Poly in rebounding with 11, and seven other players grabbed four or more.
Galloway, a sophomore, led the way with 15 points off the bench as Poly's bench contributed 27 points while the Patriots' bench didn't score a point. Freshman Lilly provided nine points off the bench.
The Engineers kept the Patriots off balance the entire game with a 1-2-2 match-up zone, which Norther coach Brad Kingsbury said they had seen before.
"It was a good zone," Kingsbury said. "They played good defense. We were out of sorts in some of our offensive sets."
Peace-Able said the zone wasn't used because of Northern.
"I notice that every trip we make down here my starters are kind of on the bench [in foul trouble], because in our district we play a lot more aggressively," she said, "so I tried to mix it up a little bit and contain and keep people in front of us so we're not in those same situations in foul trouble early and it worked out, so maybe I'll try it again on Saturday."
This will be the Engineers' third trip to the state title game. They will be going for their first championship.