Monday night’s Class 1A South Region I girls basketball semifinal was a back-and-forth battle pitting defending state champion Pikesville, this year’s Baltimore County champion, against Carroll County champion Francis Scott Key.
In a game that lived up to the hype, Mariah Jones-Bey scored 23 points to lead the No. 9 Panthers to a 52-46 win and a spot in Wednesday’s regional final at Loch Raven.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game going in,” Pikesville coach Mike Dukes said. “We got a lot of respect for them.”
The Eagles had moments in games this season when they started slow and dug themselves into a hole, but the opposite happened Monday as they scored the game’s first six points. Propelled by a hot start from Drew Watkins, the Eagles finished the first quarter up one.
“We studied them knowing we could face them and I know they had been following us,” Dukes said. “They attacked us.”
The Eagles’ “strength in numbers” mentality that propelled them to 19 wins was on display. Watkins, who finished with 17 points, was joined by talented guard tandem of Summer Brooks and Abby Rieger as the offense continued to flow. The Panthers struggled to get back on defense after several missed layups, allowing the guards to find Watkins down the court for easy layups.
Despite the Eagles’ success, Jones-Bey provided some offense for the Panthers. The freshman shot over FSK’s 1-3-1 zone, hitting 3-pointers and shredding the defense with her athleticism as the Panthers went on a run of their own to lead by eight at the half.
“She’s not the type of athlete you normally see around here,” Francis Scott Key coach TJ Develin said. “She’s just so shifty and she definitely hit some big shots for them.”
The second half started with another 6-0 Eagles run. Ally Mathis shook off some early foul trouble to score and establish her presence down low, pulling down rebounds. Develin went to his array of options available on the bench as Kensi Bancroft stepped up, scoring six straight points in a back-and-forth third quarter — a showcase of the Eagles’ depth that propelled them throughout the season.
“Everything we did I was proud of them,” Develin said. “We had to play some people that normally don’t play as much, but they did great.”
Jones-Bey became too much for the Eagles in the fourth quarter. With some key rebounds from Tykeisha Hill and a dagger 3-pointer from Korai Brown, Pikesville defeated FSK in the region semifinals for the second straight year.
“We had a good week of practice and we thought we prepared well,” Dukes said. “This team’s always been resilient and today was no different.”
Despite losing the five seniors, the future is bright at FSK with Brooks, Rieger, Watkins, Bancroft and more planning to come back, stronger and tougher.
Coming off a 19-4 record and Carroll County championship Devlin knows while his team failed to earn a state title, they earned a ton of respect as the region was put on notice.
“This year has shown how far we’ve come as a program,” he said. “I know we’ll be back.”