With 5:30 left in the first half of yesterday's state Class 4A girls semifinal, Springbrook took a 14-13 lead over heavily favored Old Mill. The fans sitting behind the Blue Devils' bench erupted, sensing a shift in momentum and a possible upset.
Then came a 14-0 run by Old Mill to close the half, and the excitement that was building among the contingent from Montgomery County soon faded.
As did the Blue Devils.
The top-seeded Patriots maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the game, posting a 56-39 victory over fourth-seed Springbrook to set up tomorrow's 3 p.m. final against second-seed Western at UMBC.
The Doves (25-0), ranked No. 1 in the metro area, rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat third seed Oxon Hill, 50-49, in the other semifinal.
Junior guard Michelle Salmon had 13 points and five rebounds for second-ranked Old Mill (24-1), winner of 21 straight games and the past two state 4A titles. Senior forward Debbie Dawson added 12 points and 13 rebounds, and senior guard Stacy Himes had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Senior guard Stacey Hawes led Springbrook (18-7) with 16 points. Senior center Lora Aggour added 13 points -- including 11 in the second half -- and 12 rebounds.
"We got beat by a team that deserved to win," said Blue Devils coach Bill Wiley, who is retiring after 16 seasons. "Obviously, we got as far as we could go."
There was nowhere for Springbrook to go but down after Old Mill ran off 14 straight points.
The Blue Devils had wiped out a 13-8 deficit after one quarter on three straight baskets from Hawes, who is heading to Wake Forest University. But senior forward Anne Chicorelli (nine points, nine rebounds) made a jumper and two free throws, and Dawson scored inside for a 19-14 Old Mill lead.
Wiley called a timeout, but when play resumed, so did the Patriots' onslaught.
Salmon, making her third start in a row, converted a three-point play and made a layup after a steal and outlet pass from Christine Baer. After a Springbrook turnover, Himes spun and banked in an off-balance three-pointer with time running out in the half.
Chicorelli made two free throws and Himes scored off the glass to open the third quarter, extending the lead to 31-14. Springbrook closed to 36-26 with 2:25 left in the quarter, but Salmon hit a baseline jumper and Dawson scored inside twice to re-establish control.
"Debbie had a great game. She was our inside player today," said Old Mill coach Pat Chance. "She didn't get frustrated and she was getting beat to death underneath."
Patriots guard Lee Ann Lezzer entered the game in the fourth quarter and hit two three-pointers and two free throws to keep Springbrook at bay.
Old Mill went 19-for-64 (29.6 percent) from the floor, but 13-for-18 from the line.
"Our shots weren't falling early and we hit a little dry spell, but we didn't stop there. We picked up the pace," Salmon said.
"We never get down on each other. If shots aren't falling, we'll get it in there somehow."
She's hoping enough shots drop against Western to give Old Mill an unprecedented third consecutive state 4A championship.
"It's come down to this, and we're going to see which is the better team," she said.
Chance said: "Western is a great basketball team. They're well-coached. . . . They're ranked No. 1 in the area, we're not. And they're ranked by USA Today, so I would say they'd be the favorites going in."