Glenelg sophomore guard Jessica Foster had never stepped foot on Towson University's floor before Thursday night's 3A state semifinal match against Frederick. But with a team-leading 22-point performance, which guided the Gladiators to a 57-49 victory, she didn't waste any time making herself feel right at home.
"I have not (played here before)," Foster admitted shortly after hitting 7-for-14 from the floor, including 5-for-6 from 3-point range in her debut at the SECU Arena Thursday. "Well, I mean coming into this game we were all looking at pictures of the gym before and we were just really excited to play on this court and I think that was the leading factor tonight of how I shot today."
"We practiced at Stevenson (University) too," added Glenelg senior Miranda Mattis, who finished with seven points on 3-for-6 shooting, "So we got a feel of the larger court, which really helped us play our offense. We pushed the ball, practicing on Stevenson, so today we were ready."
The Gladiators, which made nearly 50 percent of their shots Thursday (48.9), will be looking to continue their hot shooting on Saturday against Poly with the 3A state championship on the line.
"Jess is always an amazing shooter, so I wasn't surprised at all she could do that," said Glenelg senior Chelsea Henggeler, who finished with 12 points — 5-for-10 from the floor — and 11 rebounds. "Since day one we've said, 'We're going to states,' and 'We can do this' and now that it is actually happening it is just crazy."
Henggeler's play in the first half helped the Gladiators remain within striking distance of the Cadets early on. She netted six of her points in the first quarter, while teammate Kellie Johnson registered four of her overall 10 points in the period. Their efforts off the opening-tip helped keep the score even at 13 after eight minutes.
Frederick started each quarter hot. Out-scoring the Gladiators 29-7 within the first three minutes of each period. The second quarter was no exception, with the Cadets surged out to a 22-13 advantage early in the period.
Glenelg coach Chris Beil signaled for a timeout at the 5:10 mark, hoping to slow down Frederick's 9-0 run. Out of the 30-second break, Foster proceeded to pile on the points. She followed the Cadets 9-0 surge by netting seven-straight points of her own, including knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers from well beyond the arc. Mattis capped off Glenelg's own 9-0 run and knotted the game back up at 22 with just more than two minutes to play in the half. The two teams traded buckets and eventually went into the break tied at 27.
"When you have teams down — they were down nine I think — this sounds horrible, but you have to keep them down," said Frederick senior Dajah Gee, who matched Foster with 22 points on the night. "You have to step on their throat and make sure they (don't) get back… this is what happens when you don't. When you give teams pity, they go out and creep back like that. That's what happens."
The Cadets didn't take long during their halftime talk, coming out of the locker room and shooting around with more than six minutes remaining until the start of the third quarter. They were ready to get started, and once again stormed out and claimed a 33-30 advantage three minutes into the second half.
"We believe starting each quarter is like starting a new game," said Frederick senior Andrea Mwando, who netted 11 points. "Especially in the third quarter, the team that starts off the hardest usually comes out with the best outcome."
However, Glenelg, as it has done all season, stayed composed and never panicked. The Gladiators kept inching toward the lead, and finally, at the 1:28 mark of the third period, after knotting up the score five times prior, took the lead 37-35 — thanks to a bucket by Foster.
"I think they were pretty similar to most of the teams that we've faced," Gee said. "Most of the time when you have one person that is going to dominate their offense they're usually more obvious, but (Foster) was so small but could shoot lights-out. So, you have that, you give her the ball, she's going to pull. She was on tonight and it was a good night to be on."
Glenelg went on an 8-0 run toward the end of the period, but the Cadets Krysten Linthicum hit a huge 3-pointer before time expired, cutting the Gladiators lead to 41-38 entering the fourth quarter.
Again Frederick came out tough and eventually took back the lead at the 5:32 mark after a made three by Gee. Glenelg went on to tie up the score two more times at 45- and 47-all, before Henggeler hit a put-back that gave the Gladiators the lead for good. Mattis netted Glenelg an insurance bucket on the ensuing possession, working the baseline and getting her floater to go, putting her team up 51-47 with 35 seconds remaining.
"(Gee) was just a great shooter, we always needed to know where she was on the court. She's all over the place, she's a threat from everywhere, which a lot of players aren't, so we kind of constantly were looking for her," Foster said. "That's what makes her so difficult to guard, and that's why she got so many points tonight. So closing out in the second half was one of the reasons we could limit her a little bit more and end up shutting the game out."
Mwando netted a quick bucket that got the Cadets within three, but Frederick inadvertently fouled Foster on the ensuing play while in the penalty, putting her on the line for a one-and-one. Foster knocked down both attempts, extending the cushion to 53-49.
"I would say we've come back in the second half of every playoff game this season," Foster said. "So I would say it's just the usual."
Frederick missed on its following three-point attempt, with Johnson pulling down one of her six rebounds on the night. The Cadets immediately fouled to stop the clock. Johnson missed her free throw, but Henggeler picked up the clutch offensive board, held the ball and took five seconds off the clock before getting fouled as well. She stepped up and knocked down both attempts. Glenelg stood its ground defensively and again, did not allow a clean look from the perimeter, as the Cadets missed again with Grace Butera picking up the rebound.
Frederick got into the double-bonus after another intentional foul to stop the clock. Butera hit one-of-two, getting the Gladiators ahead, 56-49 with 11 seconds remaining. Mattis then ended Frederick's last hopes, coming up with a steal on the ensuing play, all but sealing the victory. Her made foul shot cemented the final 57-49 outcome.
"I think in the fourth quarter we settled down. We started getting the ball into our bigs and started knocking down our foul shots," said Glenelg coach Chris Beil. "Our foul shooting in the first half was around 50 percent, in the second half it was a bit better. But down in the end, we always tell our girls in order to pull away, hit the foul shots at the end and I think that was the key. Kellie, Miranda, they hit some unbelievable turn-twisters — inbound plays or a steal and I think once the flood gates opened for us it just snow-balled.
"I told you day-one our goal is to go to the state championship and our slogan is 'Our time.' And these girls have been together for four years, or a little bit less, and they play for each other, they care about each other and I can't be more proud."
Foster, Henggeler, Mattis, Butera and Bernice Hanlon combined for 6-for-10 from the line in the final 30 seconds.
"It's awesome, especially because it's my senior year. It's a great way to end," Mattis said. "I mean, I love my team, we practice so hard in the fall and every single day we practice harder and harder for every single game day and it really shows."
The Gladiators went into the game missing two starters in senior Katie Twigg and junior Julia Wolfrey. During the post-game press conference, Glenelg went ahead and dedicated the win to their two injured teammates.
"We dedicate this game to both of them today," Foster said. "Julia could unfortunately not be here today, she was going through her surgery for her ACL. We wish she could be here and we know she would do anything to be here, but things happen. Katie would die to be on the court as well, but she's there all the time, cheering her head off on the bench and we couldn't ask for anything more, so this game was all for them."
With their absence on the court, Glenelg relied on the play of Hanlon, who missed the majority of the regular season with an arm injury suffered abruptly before the season began. She was a big part of Glenelg's success last year, and with the loss of Twigg and Wolfrey, was immediately inserted into the starting rotation. She finished with five points on the night, hitting both of her attempts from the floor, while also adding one assist and one steal in 16 minutes of action.
"I mean, I came back with one game left before playoffs and I'm not in tip-top shape — I am totally out of breath after two minutes," Hanlon said. "But I mean, I'll push through and make what I can. I work more on defense than I do on offense."
The Gladiators tip-off against the Engineers — who defeated Northern-Calvert, 55-53, on Thursday — is scheduled for 8 p.m. at the SECU Arena. A Glenelg win would mark the program's first girls basketball state title since 2001.
"It would be everything we have been thinking about all season," Foster added. "It's been our goal all year and to already see us at this point – it's right in front of us and we're ready to go get it… Our time, that's been our slogan all year. It's our time.'"
Glenelg 57, Fredrick 49 (Thursday, March 10; 3A state semifinal)
G (22-4): Foster 22, Henggeler 12, Johnson 10, Mattis 7, Hanlon 5, Butera 1.
F (21-5): Gee 22, Mwando 11, Linthicum 7, Daniels 7, Abdul Rahman 2.