A stifling defense in the first half against Atholton in Saturday's 3A East regional final produced a seemingly safe 15-point halftime lead for Poly's girls basketball team. At that point, it was difficult to foresee that Poly would need two overtimes to hold off the Raiders, 78-73, in the 3A East championship game.
A 13-5 run inside the final four minutes of the third quarter got Atholton back in contention. Then, a solid eight minutes in the final quarter in front of its home fans, allowed Atholton to catch Poly. The Engineers prevailed in double overtime in a game in which six players fouled out.
"I told them just to stay with me and that everything would be fine," said Poly coach Kendall Peace-Able of her girls heading into the second overtime.
Peace-Able said she didn't have an answer for her team's unbalanced effort other than that Atholton (13-6, 17-7) was determined to keep its season alive.
"They had enough heart not to go down in their own gym without a fight," she said. "Atholton played an excellent game."
Aneah Young (19 points, nine rebounds), Teira Pendleton (16, eight rebounds), Khepera Stokes (13) and Jasmine Smith (11) scored in double-figures for the Engineers (25-1), who will play in the March 13 state semifinals at Towson's SECU Arena for a 3A title bid.
"It's just one obstacle down. We're looking beyond this game and making improvements," Pendleton said. "The rest is history. We got the win, and we're proud."
Though Poly had trouble connecting from the field in the game's opening minutes, the Engineers' tight zone defense kept Atholton out of the paint for virtually the entire first quarter. Any pass sent into the box was deflected and turned into points for the visitors.
By the second quarter, Poly's offense started to heat up. The Engineers had two 6-0 runs separated by Atholton timeouts. Heading into halftime, Poly led, 31-16, and appeared to be in control.
"That's actually where we were supposed to be, and what we wanted to maintain throughout the entire game," Pendleton said.
Atholton's offense was finally able to get untracked in the second half. After connecting on just one 3-pointer in the first two quarters, the Raiders hit three in the third -– including back-to-back shots that brought the deficit to five, and the crowd to its feet.
"They wanted it," Raiders coach Julia Reynold said. "I asked them to reach deep down inside, and they did."
Atholton continued its roll in the fourth quarter behind juniors Chelsea Mitchell (18 points) and Sage Mayhew (18), as well as freshman Francesca Venegas (15).
With 1:20 remaining in regulation, Mitchell's steal resulted in a fastbreak, game-tying layup. After Poly's Jasmine Smith answered, Mitchell tied it again, sending the game into overtime.
"We basically made mistakes that gave them shots and open layups," Pendleton said. "We lacked on help. It wasn't anything new that we had to do. We just didn't execute our offense and play good defense like we usually do."
With both teams in the double-bonus, much of the first overtime was spent at the free throw line. Tied at 65, an additional four minutes was needed to decide the regional championship.
Atholton struck first, but the Engineers went 7-for-8 from the line in the final four minutes. After taking a two-possession lead, the Raiders couldn't recover.
"We definitely have to work on some things," Pendleton said. "But, I'm proud of the win, and I'm proud of my team."
Poly 78, Atholton 73
P: Aneah Young 19, Teira Pendleton 16, Khepera Stokes 13, Jasmine Smith 11, Nkeiruka Okororie 9, Morgan Newton 8, Maya Horne 2.
A: Chelsea Mitchell 18, Sage Mayhew 18, Francesca Venegas 15, Kalere Caldwell 9, Margaret Tatum 7, Becca Weinberg 4, Caitlyn Burmester 2.