It was eight days and several missed practices since Catonsville lost the Baltimore County championship game to Milford Mill, but the Comets relied on their aggressive trapping defense to hold off Dulaney, 39-37, on Wednesday night in a 4A North Region semifinal at Catonsville High School.
The Comets (17-5) forced 32 turnovers, but the Lions (14-7) used some air-tight defense of their own and forced 21 Catonsville turnovers and took the game down to the wire.
Leading 38-37 with five seconds left in regulation, Catonsville freshman Jasmine Dickey (11 points) made the front end of a one-and-one from the free throw line.
After Dickey missed the second foul shot, Dulaney senior Kayla Wheeler took the ball the length of the court and was fouled with one second left.
Her free throw attempt (the front end of a one-and-one) caromed off the rim and Catonsville prevailed. The Comets will play Western, of Baltimore City, at at 7 p.m. on Friday at Catonsville in a region final.
"We gutted out a win," Catonsville coach Mike Mohler said. "I thought there was so many times we had the chance to extend the lead and get a little breathing space and we just didn't."
The teams were tied 32-32 entering the fourth quarter when Catonsville's tallest player, Jen Gast (6 points), made a big defensive play at halfcourt when she intercepted a pass and raced to the basket for a 34-32 lead with 7:20 remaining.
A free throw by Nicole Sharpe (11 points) cut it to 34-33 with 7:07 left before Comet freshman Jasmine Dickey (team-high 11 points) took over on offense by scoring the next five points.
Her field goals came with 5:40 and 2:50 remaining, but Dulaney was held scoreless for 4:35 until Sharp hit a turnaround 6-footer, making it 38-35 with 2:32 left.
With 52 seconds left, a missed free throw by Klarissa Harvey was rebounded and put in by Wheeler making it 38-37.
"I know we lost by two and it was a bummer for my seniors, but we played with heart. We didn't give up," Dulaney coach Jessica Szymanski said. "Unfortunately, it ends that way with a senior at the free throw line, but that doesn't define the game. "It doesn't define her season. We missed a decent amount of layups and we had looks early that we didn't convert on. In my eyes we shouldn't have even been in that situation and I feel horrible for her."
Wheeler and Harvey were two of six seniors, along with Ellie Mathey, Casey Durmowicz, Christin Cohee and Brianna Briggs, whose prep careers ended.
Mathey led the Lions with 13 points, including nine in the third quarter, when she ran to the sideline to use her inhaler for her asthma.
She didn't want to come out and that didn't surprise her coach.
"She is the hardest working player I've ever coached in my career," Szymanski said. "She's never taken a day off. She comes in every day. She shoots at lunch. She's here early. "She is such a leader. It's a huge, huge, huge loss."
Catonsville's seniors, Renee Gast (5 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals), Lauren McDonald (3 points, 4 rebounds) and Maja Wichhart (5 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) survived to play at least one more game on their home floor.
"We pulled it through," Gast said. "It might not be pretty, but we got it."
It took Gast a while to get into the flow after she picked up two early fouls and sat for over 12 minutes in the first half.
"I was so rusty because I sat in that first half which really hurt me," she said. "But, coming out in the second half, we slowed our minds down. We knew what we needed to do. It was just a matter of making it happen."
"Survive and advance," he said. "I told the girls if you watch the NCAA tournament, men or women, there is a team that got there that won a game they probably didn't deserve and that was us tonight. We gutted out a win. I thought there was so many times we had the chance to extend the lead and get a little breathing space and we just didn't."
Mathey summed up the way her teammates came into the game.
"Every girl on the team that stepped on the floor believed that we could do it," she said. "We played together and we gave it every ounce of everything we had and it stinks because I think we had opportunities that we let go."
Jasmine Dickey 11, Jemelia Barrett 6, Jen Gast 6, Renee Gast 5, Maja Wichhart 5, Lauren McDonald 3, Andrea McTaggart 2, Tiarra Horne 1.