With a little more than five minutes left in yesterday's 2A state championship game at UMBC, defending state titlist Hammond couldn't have asked for a better scenario.
The Bears had just completed a 7-0 run to take a 43-37 lead over Middletown, Hammond's biggest lead of the game. And the Bears had done it while several starters had watched from the bench in foul trouble. All signs pointed to another championship.
Middletown had other ideas. First, the Knights charged back with eight unanswered points to take a 45-43 lead with 1:24 left. Then, after Hammond tied the score at 45 to force overtime, Middletown scored the first four points of the extra period, then shook off a bad day at the foul line by making its last four free throws to take the title with a 53-48 victory.
Middletown (Frederick County) completed a 26-0 season and won its third state crown. The Knights won their second state title under coach Mark Miller, who guided them to the title in 1989.
"We weren't supposed to come down here and beat them. They're the defending state champs, they're quicker than us and they played a real tough schedule," Miller said. "We had the attitude that if we stayed close until the end, we would win the game. And we had some girls step up at crunch time."
The Knights showed poise that had not been required often this year. Before yesterday, their closest margin of victory was 15 points.
Guard Kara Reed stepped up the most for Middletown. She scored a game-high 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting . She sparked the Knights' comeback in regulation, started a 4-0 run in overtime by driving through two Hammond defenders for a tough layup, and clinched the victory by converting both ends of a one-and-one with 9.6 seconds left.
It was a maddening day for the Bears. First, they found on Tuesday that starting guard Tiki Nicholson had to undergo minor surgery and would miss the championship game. Nicholson's trip to the hospital came three days after the title game would have been played, had it not been for last weekend's blizzard.