The Old Mills girls basketball team sent a message to Western and every other team in the state last night:
"Yes, we are that good."
The long-awaited meeting between the second-ranked Patriots and No. 1 Western wasn't even close. Old Mill led throughout a convincing 59-35 victory in the Class 4A state championship game at UMBC.
Senior guard Christine Baer led Old Mill's balanced offense with 12 points. Senior Debbie Dawson (nine points), junior Michelle Salmon (nine points) and seniors Stacy Himes (eight points, nine rebounds) and Anne Chicorelli (eight points, seven rebounds, five steals) were also key contributors for the Patriots.
With the victory, the Patriots (25-1) became the first Class 4A team to win three consecutive state titles.
And perhaps more importantly, Old Mill proved a point.
The Patriots were dubbed overachievers by some when a sophomore-laden team won the state championship two years ago.
Although they repeated as state champs and finished as the No. 1 team in The Baltimore Sun's poll last season, the Patriots' performances in the state semifinals were less than awe-inspiring.
That and the perception that Old Mill plays a weak schedule in Anne Arundel County led some to believe that the Patriots weren't in Western's class.
Western (25-1), ranked 13th nationally by USA Today, has been ranked ahead of Old Mill all season.
"I'm sure that we were the underdog. They were ranked in USA Today and we weren't," said Chance, who also led the Patriots to a state championship in 1986. "But I never think about respect or anything like that. Those are things that people think about who get $300,000 a year to coach.
"We just want our kids to have fun, play hard, be fair and see how well they can do. That's what we've done for four years and that's what we did [last night]."
Although Chance down-played the notion that the Patriots were on a mission for respect, some of her players felt differently.
"Miss Chance wasn't all gung-ho about playing Western, but we knew Western was a good ball team, and it would show how good of a ballclub we were," said Chicorelli. "People hype them up, but a lot of times we weren't given the same break. They were ranked ahead of us but we knew we could play with them and we knew we could beat them."
Said Himes: "Everyone perceived [Western] as being unbeatable. But we knew in our hearts that we could beat them, and we went out and put everything into it. Everyone was waiting for us to get some good competition and we got it. And look what happened."
Western coach Breezy Bishop saw what happened, but she probably couldn't believe her eyes.
Old Mill's full-court man-to-man pressure defense stymied the Doves, who turned the ball over 27 times and shot just 23 percent (12-for-52) from the field.
Western was unable to work the ball inside and its outside shots weren't falling.
The Doves, whose 35 points were a season-low -- trailed, 31-19, at halftime. It was the first time this season that Western had been held to under 20 points in the first half.
Bishop attributed much of her team's poor showing to a lack of practice time.
She said her team had not practiced since Friday because of a city rule that prohibits teams from practicing when schools are closed. City schools were closed on Monday and Tuesday as a result of Saturday's snowstorm.
Old Mill practiced for about an hour Tuesday after receiving permission from Anne Arundel County Superintendent C. Berry Carter.
"You can't prepare for a championship game when you're not allowed to practice," Bishop said. "I called around to the other counties to see if they were practicing -- and they all were. I set my team up to lose.
"My hat's off to Old Mill. I congratulate them. The outcome may have been the same, but I'm saying they would not have beaten us by almost 30 points."
Western, which was led by sophomore forward Chanel Wright (16 points), went the final 2:47 of the second quarter and the first 3:43 of the second half without a field goal.
Old Mill extended its lead to 44-27 after three quarters and led by at least 15 in the fourth quarter.