On paper, with no seniors and after having been eliminated by the second round of the playoffs the last two years, Oakland Mills headed into Saturday’s 2A South regional championship game against Westlake in uncharted territory.
But, as first-year Scorpions’ coach Walt Hagins kept reminding his girls, experience manifests itself in different ways.
“We may not have had experience in this game, but we talked a lot about how Howard County has prepared us for these kind of games and these kind of moments,” Hagins said. “Those battles we faced on a nightly basis, those are what get us ready for crunch time in a game like this.”
Using those lessons learned during the course of the regular season and early rounds of the playoffs, Oakland Mills (17-8) answered every challenge the host Wolverines threw at it on the way to a 60-44 victory. The region championship is the first for the program since 2015 and advances the team into a state semifinal matchup against Queen Anne’s on Friday at Towson University’s SECU Arena.
“Our whole momentum [this year] was to prove people wrong, prove people wrong because nobody thought we could do it,” said Oakland Mills’ Marley Grenway, who was a starter on last year’s team that won just 10 games. “We just used that to fuel us to keep winning and now that we are finally here, it’s just really a great experience.”
Oakland Mills’ “trio of titans” as Hagins likes to refer to them — Grenway (21 points), Aislynn Riggs (24 points, 16 rebounds and nine blocks) and Jazmine Washington (12 points) — did the majority of the heavy lifting once again in the victory.
But it was the Scorpions’ team effort on the defensive end that also was a major factor, especially early on as they established a lead.
Westlake managed just four points in the opening quarter and found itself trailing 21-9 with just over three minutes left before halftime.
The Wolverines, which were led on the afternoon by Jasmine Gholson (11 points) and Latavia Washington (10), did close the first half on an 11-3 run, and it was during that stretch that Hagins said nerves seemed to begin to play a factor.
“Nerves are the one thing you really can’t coach for or predict, because until you are really here and in this environment you just don’t really know how it feels,” he said. “So I think we definitely battled through that at times, but we also did a very good job, I thought, of staying strong and staying true to who we are.”
While Westlake did make its share of pushes to stay within striking distance, Oakland Mills never lost its lead over the course of the game.
A three-point play from Washington late in the third quarter gave the Scorpions a 37-29 lead heading to the fourth. Then, in that final period, Oakland Mills used a couple clutch baskets and 16 made foul shots to pull away for good.
The final 16-point margin ended up as the largest advantage of the game.
Oakland Mills 60, Westlake 44
OM (17-8): Riggs 24, Grenway 21, Washington 12, Eldridge 3.
W: Gholson 11, Washington 10, Brown 8, Johnson 6, Council 5, Mays 2, Osbey 2.
Half: 24-20 OM.