Even after watching her team surrender a 14-point lead in Wednesday's Class 4A North Region semifinal, Poly coach Kendall Peace-Able never lost faith in the No. 3 Engineers.
"When you don't want to see it end," Peace-Able said, "you find a way."
Facing Paint Branch, host Poly did just that. Sophomore Teira Pendleton celebrated her 16th birthday with 16 points and 10 rebounds, including seven points during a four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter that ultimately made the difference in a 52-45 win.
"Sometimes it's other people's day, but today was my day," Pendleton said. "I needed to lead the team and help my team out."
Poly (22-0) advances to Friday's regional final and will host either Perry Hall or Springbrook. The Engineers are trying to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 2008.
They never have won a state title.
To keep their dream alive Wednesday, they first had to survive Paint Branch's onslaught to start the second half.
After holding the Panthers (19-6) without a field goal for a span of 9:36 in the first half, and building a 25-11 lead, Poly quickly lost all of its momentum in the third quarter. Led by sophomore point guard Kiara Colston (14 points) and senior guard Brigette Ocran (12), Paint Branch stormed back to score nine straight, taking its first lead on Colston's put-back midway through the quarter.
But the same perimeter shooting that helped the Panthers come back also helped lead to their demise.
"Basketball is a game of runs, so when their run runs out, you just have to be there defensively," Peace-Able said. "They gave us some long rebounds to get out in transition and attack the basket."
The Engineers took full advantage, scoring nine straight — including five by Pendleton — to turn a three-point deficit into a 47-41 lead with 1:12 left. They did the bulk of their damage by driving to the basket, picking up fouls and converting at the line, where they outscored the Panthers, 23-3.
Seniors Blair Harding (13 points), Keli Alston (nine) and Jillian Lee (nine) also played starring roles for Poly, which won despite making just five field goals in the second half.
"My team was fighting its butt off, and it takes a lot of energy to come back when you're down," Panthers coach Rochelle Coleman said. "I just think we ran out of gas at the end. They left it all out there."
Class 4A North regional semifinal
No. 3 Poly 52, Paint Branch 45
Paint Branch — Colston 14, Ezeani 7, Kenlaw 3, Ocran 12, White 9. Totals: 12 3-11 45.
Poly — Lee 9, Crockett 1, Alston 9, Harding 13, Smith 4, Pendleton 16. Totals: 15 23-41
Half: Poly, 26-26.