The much-anticipated meeting between No. 1 Western and No. 2 Hammond proved to be worth the wait.
It featured 15 lead changes, four ties and several standing ovations.
And by the time the game was over, the area had a new No. 1 team.
Sophomore Kellye Townsend's basket with five seconds remaining lifted No. 2 Hammond (15-1) to a thrilling 61-60 victory over top-ranked Western (16-2) in the Fuel Fund Classic at the Baltimore Arena last night.
With the win, Hammond is expected to claim its first No. 1 ranking when The Baltimore Sun poll is released Tuesday.
"Winning the states is the ultimate, but this is right up there," said Hammond senior point guard Kacy Williams (12 points, six assists, six rebounds), who was part of the Golden Bears' Class 2A state championship team as a sophomore.
Western, ranked No. 19 nationally by USA Today, had taken a 60-59 lead with 27 seconds left when junior forward Chanel Wright (game-high 23 points) made one of two free throws.
Hammond then worked the clock down to 10 seconds and Tiki Nicholson (team-high 17 points) took a shot from the right side of the lane that was partially blocked.
Townsend (15 points, eight rebounds) grabbed the rebound underneath and scored the game-winner.
"After Tiki took her shot, I ran under the basket and the ball bounced right to me," Townsend said.
The Doves were unable to get a shot off on their final possession as Kimberly Smith (20 points, four three-pointers) overthrew Marion Moore under the basket, and Hammond's Sonia Keiner (10 points) came up with the steal as time expired.
Western and Hammond had been ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, since the start of the season.
The teams could have met in the IAABO Tournament championship game in December, but Hammond lost in the semifinals. Then the Fuel Fund Classic game scheduled for Jan. 17 was postponed due to bad weather.
"This was one of the best games I've ever seen," said Western assistant coach and former UMBC head coach Sue Furnary.
"It was a showcase game and it's great for the sport of women's basketball."
The Golden Bears had taken a 53-45 lead with 4:55 remaining on Keiner's basket off a feed from Williams.
Tesha Tinsley responded with a three-pointer to reduce the Doves' deficit to five.
Western then stepped up its defensive intensity.
The Doves forced turnovers on three of the Golden Bears' next five possessions and pulled even at 57 on Tinsley's layup off a fast break.
Wright then came up with her third steal in a span of 2:30 and hit a turn-around jumper in the lane to give Western a 59-57 lead with 1:24 left.
Williams found an open Townsend, who scored inside to tie the score at 59 with 1:12 left.
"The difference in the game was that we didn't play very good defense until there were four minutes left to play," said Furnary, who spoke to the press while Western coach Breezy Bishop talked to college recruiters.
"Hammond played excellent defense the whole game and was very poised. They passed well and took good shots."
Although the Doves likely will relinquish their No. 1 ranking, Furnary said the game should help them prepare for the state playoffs.
"I think the game will help both teams," she said.