After getting called on a controversial five-second violation, Glenelg collected itself, needing one more defensive stop with 6.4 seconds left to secure a 45-44 win in the 3A East region championship game against host Stephen Decatur Saturday.
"We were inbounding, they called a five-second violation, (but) we got the timeout. The refs reversed the call. Everyone is a little flustered, but we stepped up, stopped them and won the game," recalled the Gladiators Grace Butera after clinching the victory. "It was rough. The whole game, we struggled with the refs. We put it behind us. We put our best foot forward and kept going."
The Gladiators buckled down defensively, and contested the initial shot put up by the Seahawks' Rachel Florek, which fell short of the hoop. Amya Mumford picked up the offensive board and tried banking in the layup, but her attempt hit off the rim as the buzzer expired, solidifying Glenelg's one-point victory.
"To be quite honest, there was a couple different looks we could have gotten out of that," said Decatur coach Kate Coates. "I thought we had a great shot. We had a great rebound, and it was just an unlucky roll off the rim."
The two top seeds were equally matched the entire game, as there were 14 different lead changes throughout the contest, but Glenelg picked up its play in the second half and grinded out the win.
"Those are fun games, you know? It's not a fun game whether we're losing by 20 or winning by 20, but having a good back-and-forth the whole time it was a fun game to be apart of," Coates said.
Decatur had the edge early on, going on a 6-1 run after the Gladiators netted the opening bucket. Neither team found its rhythm offensively through the first eight minutes, as the Seahawks held the slight, 9-6, lead after one quarter of action.
Glenelg opened up with five straight points, taking the 13-11 lead early in the second quarter, but the Seahawks countered with a 7-0 run, notching their largest advantage of the game, going up by five points midway through the period.
The score knotted up two more times before the halftime buzzer sounded, but ultimately Decatur went into the break leading 23-21, thanks to three-straight points by senior Dayona Godwin.
The Gladiators and Seahawks traded leads four times through the third quarter, however Godwin – who anchored Decatur's offense the entire contest – notched two consecutive buckets to close out the period, which put the Seahawks up 38-35 entering the final eight minutes.
"We ended up going into a 2-3 (zone) and just kept her in front," said Glenelg coach Chris Beil on defending Godwin. "Kept her in front, slide in front, she does a good job of hesitating dribble and that's when she gets by you. But we sank, closed out, did a better job on (Mumford) and in the second half we ran our man-offense. The best thing they did was go man-to-man and get out of their zone – we struggled with the zone a little bit."
Miranda Mattis was the catalyst for Glenelg in the fourth. The senior started the stretch making a heads up play on the offensive end, saving a loose ball from going out of bounds and dishing it off to Kellie Johnson who got the Gladiators back within one to open up the quarter. On the ensuing possession, Mattis made the steal and converted in transition, putting the Gladiators up, 39-38. Decatur responded immediately with a bucket by Mumford, but Mattis countered on the other end once more, swishing a three and giving Glenelg the 42-20 advantage.
However, Godwin continued her impressive play, staying aggressive and slicing her way inside the paint. She earned back-to-back trips to the line and knocked down all four attempts, putting the Seahawks up 44-42 with one minute left in the game.
"What a way to cap off her career at Decatur," Coates said of Godwin. "She just broke 2,000 points (in the Bayside Championship game earlier this season), she's the first male or female at Decatur High School to do that for us. She has been the most amazing leader for our team. Every single day since November 15th, she has been the true definition of a leader and we're going to miss her terribly next year."
But it was Butera –who finished with only three points in the contest – that hit the biggest bucket of the game. After the Gladiators fell behind by two, Butera went ahead and banked in the go-ahead 3-pointer with 48.7 seconds remaining – putting Glenelg up 45-44.
"I saw that no one was near me, so I knew I had to step up and hit the shot," Butera said. "We were down (two) points at the time and the game was very back-and-forth; I knew I needed to get that shot and hustle back and stop them on defense."
The Gladiators buckled down in the seconds remaining, making three huge stops on the defensive end.
After Butera knocked down the three, Chelsea Henggeler blocked the Seahawks ensuing attempt, grabbing the loose ball and forcing Decatur to intentionally foul.
Glenelg missed on the one-and-one and the Seahawks picked up the defensive board. Decatur narrowly took the lead on the ensuing possession, as the Seahawks' Rachel Florek found space out on the perimeter and launched a three with 16.2 seconds to play. The shot looked good leaving Florek's hand and was virtually halfway through the hoop before spinning in-and-out, preserving the Gladiator one-point lead.
The game seemed all but decided with Glenelg holding possession underneath Decatur's basket with 6.4 seconds remaining, but the Seahawks weren't about to give in. They defended the play perfectly, cutting off any options on the inbound. Beil signaled for a timeout to the near sideline referee, but the official underneath the basket called a five-second violation. After deliberation, the ball went to the Seahawks.
The Gladiators showed their mental toughness, regrouping defensively and making one final stop to ensure the win.
"The girls regrouped tremendously. I thought I had the timeout, but strange things happen when you get away from your hometown," Beil said. "I can't give enough credit to the girls. Grace knocking down that three, rebounds – I like to on record say thanks to the Centennial fans. They were chanting last seconds a little too quick and caused them to shoot the ball early, so my hats off to them."
Godwin finished off an illustrious Seahawks career with a game-high 23 points, with Mumford and Florek following offensively with 13 and eight points, respectively.
"They're a phenomenal team. They really have 3-point weapons and that's not been a strong suit of ours all season and so, they were able to hit some three's that we really usually don't hit ourselves. That was an advantage for them for sure," Coates explained. "It's exciting because the last two years we've been in the regional finals as well – we've come up short every single time now – but last year we graduated five girls and so, I don't think there were many people who thought we would be back in this position, especially because we're a 3A school and around here we play 1A and 2A schools, so playoff competition is so much tougher than anybody that we've seen all year. I'm just so proud in how well the girls stepped up for the challenge tonight and we'll look forward to the future seasons, because it's bright."
Between the two-plus hour trip down to Ocean City, to injuries with starters Katie Twigg and Julia Wolfrey entering the game, Glenelg overcame all of its obstacles Saturday and clinched its first region title since 2001.
"(Stephen Decatur) is well coached. They were a lot better than I anticipated off of film and they played their hearts out," Beil said. "But my girls stepped up. My bench, once again Grace – great three, Jess carried the team for most of the game, even Miranda – even though she fouled out – huge steal after picking up her fourth foul and made that layup.
"My team is very deep. They trust each other; they know the offense. We made a transition to a new offense this year and everyone knows their roles. We got Bernice (Hanlon) back. Bernice had a (heck) of a game. She last year was a tone setter in the second half, getting a lot of steals. It's one woman after another, after another. I think everyone is buying that – we're down by River Hill by 11 at one point, down by 10 or so against (Long Reach), came back, team's have to put us away if they want to beat us."
For the Gladiators, Jess Foster totaled a team-high 17 points, with Johnson (13 points), Hanlon (8) and Mattis (6) following offensively.
"The first time since I've been at this school that we've been past the second round of playoffs. It's the best feeling that I've ever felt," Butera added. "I just want to thank my teammates, doing such a great job today. Couldn't have done it without everyone, everyone stepped up today… Going to Towson – I like (our chances). We're missing Julia now; we find out what's wrong with her knee (and) what's her situation, but if we keep doing what we're doing and playing as a team, I think our chances are good going forward."
The Gladiators are set for a 9 p.m. tipoff against 3A West champion Fredrick at Towson University Thursday in the state semifinal.
"That's great. We enjoyed the trip down here. We shot around at the local Y(MCA), we were relaxed down here and I'm very proud of the team and the coaching staff," Beil said. "Not satisfied – states – I think we play Fredrick... I'm looking forward to a challenge Thursday."
Glenelg 45, Stephen Decatur 44 (3A East region final) Saturday, March 5.
G (15-4, 21-4): Foster 17, Johnson 11, Hanlon 8, Mattis 6, Butera 3, Henggeler 2.
SD: Godwin 23, Mumford 13, Florek 8.