All season, Oakland Mills girls basketball coach Christina Hewitt has reminded her girls that it's not how you start, it's how you finish. And on Monday evening, in the 2A South region championship game against Largo, Hewitt's words rang true.
After a regular season where the Scorpions lost eight times and a first quarter against the Lions in the title game where they fell behind by nine points, Oakland Mills (17-8) never strayed from the course and answered in the face of adversity.
Theda Jackson scored a career-high 31 points, Ny'Jayah Lockwood scored 21 and grabbed 14 rebounds, to lead the Scorpions to a come-from-behind 74-71 victory and the program's first region title since 1998.
"I told the girls all the way back when we started in November, 'We are climbing a mountain.' We're not so much worried about December or January, it's about knowing that the peak is in March in these playoffs," Hewitt said. "We've climbed, we've had some struggles — we were down early tonight — but these girls are resilient and they get back up every time."
Largo had come into the region final against the Scorpions with a sparkling 21-3 record and having won 15 of its last 16 games. And, in the opening minutes of the game, the Lions looked every bit like the favorite.
Alexys Long scored five quick points, Stephanie Giuhon hit a three and Amel Duggin made a few foul shots as part of a quick 15-6 start. But, for as strong as Largo looked, the Scorpions never lost touch with the Lions.
Oakland Mills made its big move in the second quarter, putting together several extended runs to pull back into the lead and create a back-and-forth game the rest of the way. In a game where there were 13 lead changes and neither team led by more than seven points in the second half, the Scorpions seemingly had an answer for everything.
After Largo grabbed the lead early in the fourth quarter on a lay-up by Chance Graham (22 points), Jackson came down on the next possession and drilled a three to put the Scorpions back in front. Five minutes later, in the waning minutes of regulation after Largo had again pulled ahead, it was Tori Diggs (14 points) that delivered a clutch three to leap frog Oakland Mills back in front.
"All the momentum, the support (from the crowd), good defense and the transition was what we knew was going to help us win," Jackson said. "We had to keep getting good buckets and good opportunities."
Of all the big baskets, though, arguably none was more important than the floater in the lane that Diggs hit with the shot clock expiring and just 20 seconds left in regulation to make it a 3-point contest.
Jackson added a lay-up 10 seconds later and the Scorpions then had the cushion they needed to secure the win.
"Resiliency is the word that just keeps coming to mind. They didn't let anything get to them, knowing we had been in these situations before, and answered every challenge in front of them," Hewitt said. "They knew that is was us together and we had to protect our home court."
Afterward, Jackson had a hard time expressing the emotions of the moment.
"I'm at a loss for words. I'm a little excited right now," she said. "It's shocking … I know the last time they've been to states was like 98, so it's good to refresh the feeling and put us on the board."
Oakland Mills will now play Oakdale on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the 2A state semifinals at Towson University's SECU Arena.
Oakland Mills 74, Largo 71
OM (11-8, 17-8): Jackson 31, Lockwood 21, Diggs 14, Jones-Carter 4, Davis 2, Weiss 2.
L (17-0, 21-4): Graham 22, Guihon 15, Duggin 11, Cash 7, White 6, Ihejirika 5, Long 5.