As the Old Mill girls basketball team has marched toward its goal of a state championship, it has had to encounter the best every team has had to offer, with the challenges becoming more and more difficult each game.
The Patriots' Class 4A East Region Section I final matchup with Arundel was no different. But thanks to veteran leadership on the court. the Patriots swung a seven-point deficit to a six-point lead in the third quarter and never relinquished it and held on to defeat Arundel, 54-51, and advanced to the region final on Saturday.
Old Mill senior Kaneshia Afi had 22 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals, while junior Alayshia Dailey who had 11 points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block,
"What can I say? They are just resilient," Old Mill coach Rick Smith said. "They figure out a way to make plays and come up with the win. Kaneishia's been doing it for four years and she's never really coming off the court unless something happens. I've always said she's like a coach on the court. She settles people down and Alayshia Dailey is not too far off of that. I've got two or three girls who can set the tone with their court sense, so that's a luxury."
After leading by one at the end of the first quarter, the Patriots jumped to a six-point lead to start the second, only to have Arundel rally and grab a two-point lead at the half. The Wildcats pushed the lead to 30-23 early in the second half before the Patriots began to launch their rally. Dailey hit a runner in the lane and followed with a sweet dish to Afi for an easy layup on a two-on-one. Afi's bank shot gave the Patriots a 34-32 lead, and her coast-to-coast layup and baseline three at the end of the quarter sealed a 14-3 run over the last three minutes of the frame.
"It's playoff time. So everybody wants to win and everybody is working hard to beat us because we are undefeated; so everybody is coming after us," Afi said. "It's cool having the ball in my hands because I can take control of the floor and just settle everybody down, calm everybody down, move the ball around and get the ball to the basket. We just have to attack the basket as strong as you can. It doesn't matter whether you are a guard or a forward; just attack the basket as strong as you can and get the foul and one."
The Patriots showed a variety of different presses to keep Arundel off balanced, forcing the Wildcats into 15 turnovers and preventing them from getting a rhythm.
The Wildcats would not go away quietly, keeping it a one-score contest throughout most of the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to the scoring of Ashlee Warren, Tynisha Clark and Kennedi Colclough, all of whom reached double digits in scoring. Warren's putback with 17.5 seconds left put them down 52-51, but Dailey was fouled on the inbounds pass and stepped up to hit a pair of crucial free throws.
"I've been through this type of pressure before during AAU season," Dailey said. "That type of moment, I have that feeling like I don't want to lose so I have to keep myself calm, don't worry about the crowd, clear my mind and take my time."
In the end, Arundel coach Lee Rogers was left to lament a series of missed opportunities for the Wildcats, particularly from the free throw line, where they only converted at a 48 percent clip.
"We left too many points on the floor and at the foul line," Rogers said. "As a team we just didn't do the things we needed to be successful. Things were in place and we had a good game plan. We had some breakdowns here and there but for the most part we did a good job. Old Mill had a little more heart than we did and were a little hungrier, so it's bittersweet."
The Patriots will shoot for their 25th consecutive win on Saturday when they host North Point, a team they defeated 74-56 earlier this season at the Waldorf Hoops Classic.
For Smith, that's all in the past. The expectation is that North Point will give the Patriots everything they have, just like every opponent they have faced in the playoffs.
"Right now with what we've got going on, it doesn't really matter," Smith said. "We are going to have a hard game. It's going to be like this and we are going to have to grind it out."
Arundel (14-8)10131216-51Old Mill (24-0)11102013-54
Colclough 5 1-4 11; Warren 4 5-8 13; Sherwin 2(2) 0-2 6; Clark 3 5-9 11; Mayfield 1(1) 2-4 5; Kinsler 2 1-2 5; TOTALS: 17(3) 14-29 51
Old Mill (54)
K. Afi 7(1) 7-11 22; Dailey 3 5-8 11; I. Afi 3 1-1 7; Hall 3(1) 0-1 7; Faulcon 2 0-0 4; Green 0 1-3 1; Trenton 1 0-0 2; Ward 0 0-1 0; TOTALS: 19(2) 14-24 54