Mount Hebron junior guard Alisha Mosley could not shake the defensive shadow of Howard senior guard Rebecca Powell in the first quarter as the visiting Lions aligned a box-and-one zone to stop the Vikings' leading scorer.
After her scoreless first quarter in which Howard grabbed a nine-point lead, Mosley (18.2 ppg) heard Mount Hebron coach Pat Becker's sternly challenge her to "work a little harder."
Mosley heeded the advice and tallied 31 points in the remaining 24 minutes -- including 14 consecutive free throws in the second half -- to rally No. 11 Mount Hebron past No. 13 Howard for a 59-47 victory for the Class 3A East region title and a trip to UMBC for the Class 3A state semifinals.
"We needed this win to get over the curse on this court," said Mosely, referring to her team's early playoff exit the last two seasons. "We thought with a new coach we could break it."
Trailing 45-40 after Howard sophomore forward Chanelle Carter (12 points, eight rebounds) sank a turnaround jumper to start the fourth quarter, Mosley began a personal 15-point quarter with two free throws to close the gap to 45-44. Moments later, she stole a pass for a lay-up that gave the Vikings the lead for good, 46-45, with 5:58 remaining.
"I think Alisha Mosley is sensational," said Howard coach Craig O'Connell.
"We've tried everything to stop her. I've never seen a player -- boy or girl -- who could bump into two defenders, muscle past them, shoot the ball off the glass and score."
Mount Hebron, winners of six Class 2A state titles from 1979-1991, also received 20 points and eight rebounds from senior forward Kathy Doyle, who was a reserve freshman guard on Mount Hebron's last state championship team.
Howard's loss brought the end to senior forward Mona Jackson's career.
The Lions' 1,000-point scorer did not go quietly, as she overcame early foul difficulty to score 26 points, collect 11 rebounds and swipe five steals. Her last steal and layup cut Mount Hebron's fourth-quarter lead to 48-47 with four minutes left, but the Lions would pull no closer.
"We knew we couldn't stop Mona, only contain her. So we tried to stop Chanelle," said Mosley, who could only smile as Jackson left the game with 19 seconds left to a standing ovation and a loud chant of "Mona" from the 200 Howard fans.
Second-seeded Mount Hebron (18-7) -- a surprise victim to Howard in the Lions' playoff march to last year's 3A state championship -- won both meetings against third-seeded Howard (16-9) during the regular season by a combined six points.
Jackson won the opening tip and helped the Lions dominate the first quarter. Jackson scored eight points as Howard took a 12-4 lead before she picked up a quick second foul and went to the bench with 2:54 left in the first.
"It was a great game featuring two sensational players," said O'Connell.