Whenever the Poly girls basketball players or coach Kendall Peace-Able talk about the heart of their program, the conversation always centers on defense.
Thursday, the No. 8 Engineers relied on that stinginess in the final 25 seconds of the Class 4A state semifinal at UMBC's RAC Arena to hold on for a 33-32 victory over Walt Whitman and secure a berth in Saturday's state championship game.
The Engineers had a 33-30 lead when their Aneah Young missed the front end of a one-and-one and the ball caromed out of bounds, giving Whitman 24.6 seconds to try to tie the game.
Less than a minute earlier, Whitman guard Kim Durante nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to pull within 33-30 and stop an eight-point Poly run.
"We knew they were going to try to get the 3, of course, to tie the game for overtime," Poly forward Teira Pendleton said, "so it was basically lock-down D, which like I've said before that's our program."
The Engineers were pretty sure their Montgomery County foe would set up a play for Durante, who scored a game-high 11 points and hit two 3-pointers.
"They were basically trying to move the ball around to try to find where she was going to go," Poly point guard Jasmine Smith said, "and it was basically making sure whoever was taking [Durante] needed to make sure she stayed on her."
Durante and the Vikings tried everything they could, including a few other 3-point options, but the Engineers didn't allow them any good looks from the perimeter. Finally, Durante was forced to drive.
"The 3-pointer wasn't an option," Durante, a senior guard, said. "I was little too far and the girl was just coming at me, so all I could do was drive. I was hoping I would get a foul."
Durante hit the shot at the buzzer but the Engineers didn't try to stop her, so there was no foul.
With the win, the Engineers (22-5) advance to Saturday's 3 p.m. state final against North Point (26-0), which defeated Eleanor Roosevelt, 57-55 in overtime.
They made their only other appearance in the state final in 2009 and have gone one step further than last season when they fell in the state semifinal.
"You just don't want to come up empty," Peace-Able said. "Sometimes it's not necessarily the talent that you have, it's the will and the desire to win, not waiting on or banking on the next time or your senior year — in Morgan Newton's words, 'feeling that you can hold it off and get it later.' They all came with one common purpose."
In a game that neither team led by more than six, the Vikings (21-5) took a 27-25 lead with 5:36 to go on Dani Okon's layup, but Poly answered with an 8-0 run in which four players scored – Newton, Jayda Pearson, Pendleton and Smith.
With 2:30 to go, Smith beat the Vikings with a drive around the left side for a basket and a 33-27 lead, but Duranted needed just one shot to halve that margin with 1:15 left.
Both teams struggled against the other's defense and never settled into any kind of offensive rhythm. It took more than four minutes for anyone to score and both teams shot in the mid-20 percentile.
Poly, however, out rebounded the Vikings, 40-32, and Pendelton, who sat out nearly all of the first half contributed all of her seven points and eight of her nine rebounds in the second half.
P—Ross 2, Smith 7, Stokes 5, Young 5, Horne 1, Pearson 4, Newton 2, Pendleton 7. Totals 13 6-14 33
WW—Durante 11, Okon 8, Mar.Cannon 5, Witt 3, Hatch 4, Bumpers 1. Totals 11 7-11 32. Half: P. 15-13.