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Gabby Scott, Samiyah Nasir lead Howard girls basketball to region championship win over Old Mill

Entering the season, Howard girls basketball’s seniors vowed to right the wrongs of previous seasons and bring the Lions their first region championship since 2011.

Senior captains Marisa Sanchez-Henry, Anii Harris and Camille Malagar said they wouldn’t take any games off during the regular season, and they were right. The Lions swept through Howard County and the regular season to go undefeated.

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In the Lions’ region title game against visiting Old Mill Wednesday, though, Howard’s young players made the difference and helped the seniors achieve their long-awaited goal. Sophomore forward Gabby Scott and freshman guard Samiyah Nasir led No. 1 Howard to a 54-36 win over No. 2 Old Mill in the 4A East Region I title game.

Marisa Sanchez-Henry talks Howard girls basketball after the Lions' 54-46 win over Old Mill in the 4A East Region I championship on Wednesday, March 4, 2020.

“It feels amazing,” said Sanchez-Henry about winning a region title. “We’ve come close to this before, so we’re going to celebrate this. It was a great atmosphere tonight. ... It’s definitely a weight lifted off our shoulders when the (underclassmen) score. There’s not that pressure for us seniors to take control. Everybody on the court can score."

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“This is everyone on the team’s first regional championship,” Scott said. “We lost in the region championship last year. It feels great. It wasn’t easy, and we’ve worked so hard to get here.”

With the victory, Howard (24-0) moves on to the state quarterfinals on Friday, while Old Mill’s season ends. The Patriots advanced to the region title game via a forfeit from Meade, which used an ineligible player in its win over Old Mill on Monday.

“They were more aggressive, more physical and played harder than us,” said Old Mill head coach Rick Smith.

Scott, the Lions’ lone forward in the starting lineup, was tasked with going up against Old Mill star freshman Amani “Baby Shaq” Watts. The freshman lived up to her nickname to lead the Patriots with 11 points, but it was Scott who won the matchup in the paint with nine points, 16 rebounds and six blocks.

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“We’re not surprised to see her play this well,” Malagar said of Scott. “We know she’s an amazing player. Tonight shows that she can be ‘Baby Shaq.’”

“I thought she was pretty impressive,” Smith said about Scott. “We didn’t think she would be able to dominate the way she was able to inside. She blocked some shots, and I think that got to our girls a little bit."

Nasir, the Lions’ first player off the bench, played more minutes than she normally does, as the defense-first guard subbed in for Harris, who was in foul trouble for much of the night. Along with her stout defense, Nasir led the Lions with a career-high 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

“With Anii in foul trouble, Samiyah Nasir was phenomenal,” said Howard head coach Scott Robinson. “... She gave us big moments as a freshman.”

Howard led for most of the contest and extended its lead to double digits for much of the second half, but the Patriots had their chances to make a comeback. They got within eight points early in the second half and within 11 late in the third quarter, but despite having the momentum in both instances, the Patriots couldn’t hold on to it.

“We stayed calm tonight,” Sanchez-Henry said. “Everything is hectic during the playoffs, so it was important we had Emily, Camille, our freshmen and Gabby step up to the plate.”

The game at Howard High School opened as many expected it to — as an even affair between two talented teams. Old Mill led 10-9 at the end of the opening period, but it was Howard that made a run in the second quarter. The Lions outscored the Patriots 16-6 in the second period, and Emily Durkee made a 3-pointer right before halftime to rile up the home crowd and send the Lions into the locker room up by nine.

Early in the third quarter, Watts scored a traditional three-point play to give the Patriots a boost, but that was a rare moment in which Watts received a pass down low. Smith said her teammates didn’t make enough of an effort to get her the ball through the Lions’ double-team. She finished the game 5 of 7 from the field.

“I thought they did a good job of double-teaming ‘Baby Shaq’ in the post," Smith said. “Our interpretation of that was to fire up some ill-advised shots.”

“I knew that they matched up well against us, and Baby Shaq is incredible,” Scott said. “I knew we had to try to shut her down.”

Robinson said Scott “stepped up to the challenge” of playing against Watts, who has been a double-double machine for Old Mill this season. Scott is the Lions’ third-leading scorer, and she’s the only forward in Howard’s seven-player rotation.

“Right from the start, defensively and rebounding, Gabby played a tremendous game,” Robinson said. “(Watts) is a great player; she has great hands and great anticipation. Gabby did a phenomenal job on her.”

With Old Mill battling back in the third quarter, Malagar made two 3-pointers that silenced the Patriots’ road crowd and earned roars from Howard’s large student section. While Malagar isn’t one of the Lions’ top scorers, she’s regularly made crucial shots throughout the season. She finished with 12 points, which is one point off her season high.

“We made a little bit of a run at them in the third quarter, but then they came out and hit a couple of nice shots in a row,” Smith said, noting Malagar’s key 3-pointers.

While Harris missed most of the second and third quarters in foul trouble, she sealed the game for Howard in the final period. She scored five points in the quarter, tallied two steals and assisted a Nasir layup to put Howard up 16 points. The senior finished the game with 11 points.

Balanced scoring has been a theme for the undefeated Lions this season, and Wednesday’s win wasn’t any different. Four players scored between nine and 13 points.

“That’s what it’s been about all year,” Robinson said.

It was his team’s defense, though, that Robinson was most impressed with. The Lions held Old Mill to a season-low 36 points, as the Patriots hadn’t scored fewer than 44 points in any game this season and had scored 60-plus in each of their last 10 games.

“To hold them to 36 points, that was a great accomplishment,” Robinson said. “I think the girls played great team defense.”

While the Lions won by 18 points, the triumph wasn’t easy. On top of battling against a talented Old Mill squad, Howard had to overcome two obstacles. The first was the situation with what team they would play in the region title. After the Lions won their region semifinal on Monday, Robinson and his staff prepared to play Meade, which defeated Old Mill 66-60, until Tuesday afternoon. Once they found out Old Mill had been giving the victory by forfeit, the Lions had to switch gears and prepare for the Patriots.

During the game, Harris’ foul trouble would have been a big problem for many teams. Harris is arguably the Lions’ best all-around player, as she’s one of the top defenders in the county and leads the team in scoring at 14.8 points per game.

“All the adversity didn’t really affect us at all,” Malagar said. “This is our last year. We have to make it count."

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Despite the loss, Smith said Old Mill’s 19-2 campaign was still a “great year,” especially considering the team sported six freshmen on its roster.

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“It was a good year considering we have a lot of youth,” Smith said. “We had a great year. Anybody else would be happy to have five freshmen coming back at the varsity level.”

Smith also thanked his seniors — Jaya Dews, Mikiyah Mallett, Jada Johnson and Deja Atkinson — for their leadership.

“We really appreciate the job they did,” he said.

Howard will find out who it plays in the state quarterfinals after the eight region champions are re-seeded. They will either be the No. 1, 2 or 3 seed, as Howard, CH Flowers and Churchill are all undefeated. The MPSSAA will conduct a coin flip on Thursday morning to determine the seeding. Howard could play No. 8 Parkdale, No. 7 Severna Park or the No. 6 seed, which will either be Paint Branch or Clarksburg depending on their coin flip.

BOX SCORE:

Howard 54, Old Mill 36

Ho (24-0): S. Nasir 13, C. Malagar 12, A. Harris 11, G. Scott 9, E. Durkee 5, M. Sanchez-Henry 4.

OM (19-2): A. Watts 11, J. Johnson 7, M. Mallett 7, D. Atkinson 4, S. Hymes 3, J. Dews 2, L. Anderson 2.

Halftime: 25-16, Ho

OTHER SCORES

River Hill 59, Reservoir 47

Marriotts Ridge 39, Westminster 37

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