Hammond and Wilde Lake ended up in the same place, today's state girls basketball tournament at UMBC, but they took different approaches to getting there.
From the beginning, the defending Class 2A champ Golden Bears expected to be there -- especially four-year veterans Tiki Nicholson and Tameka Harrison, who never have ended a season short of the state title game.
"They just expect to win," said Hammond coach Joe Russo. "That's something that's self-driven especially the two seniors because they've been there. They've won it a couple times, lost it once and they understand this is their last shot, so they're going to do everything they can."
On the other hand, none of the Wildecats have been to the state final four. The last time Wilde Lake reached the semifinals was in 1976 although last year's team fully expected to end up at the state tournament.
"Last year, we [thought we] were here," said Wildecats coach Kelly Storr. "We were going to be at the state tournament and things fell apart because that's the way we looked at it. This year, we took one game at a time and that's really helped us improve."
In today's semifinals, Hammond and Wilde Lake both open their title drives against teams from the Eastern Shore.
The No. 2 Bears (21-3) meet Parkside at 3 p.m. in a Class 2A semifinal. In the 9 p.m. nightcap, No. 15 Wilde Lake (15-7) faces Pocomoke in a Class 1A semifinal.
Hammond's reputation for smothering defense and quick-strike transition offense has reached the Eastern Shore.
.' "Can't we play somebody else?"
said Parkside coach Lance Lewandowski of his reaction to finding out the Bears would be his semifinal opponent.
Even though the third-seeded Rams are 21-3 with three players averaging 15 or more points, Lewandowski said he doubts they can match up with the second seeds.
"It's going to be extremely tough for us. We have a very young team. We don't have a lot of height to match up against them. We'll struggle," he said.
The Rams, who last made the final four in 1993, played only one team ranked in The Baltimore Sun's Top 20 this year, losing to now-No. 14 St. Mary's, 80-67.
Although the Rams have a balanced offense in guards Jill Livezey (18.4 points) and Cortney Urban (15) and 6-2 center Tish Wescott (15.5 points, 18 rebounds), Lewandowski said the Rams have not seen much man-to-man defense.
The Bears live by man-to-man pressure. Guards Nicholson, Harrison and Brandy Peaker spark a transition game that has helped four Bears score in double figures. Harrison and Nicholson are outside threats who can drive and average 16.2 and 13.1 points, respectively.
On the inside, 6-0 Kellye Townsend averages 13.9 points and 13.2 rebounds while 6-1 Rene Hines adds 13 points and 12 rebounds.
With his team's skill and experience, Russo said there is one key to winning another title. "Kellye and Rene have to stay out of foul trouble. The games we've lost, they've been in foul trouble. That's what hurts us the most," he said.
If the Bears can keep their starters on the floor, they should end up in tomorrow's 1 p.m. title game. There they would face the winner of tonight's other semifinal between No. 4 and top-seeded Fallston (21-1) and South Hagerstown (23-1).
While the Class 2A opponents know something about each other, Class 1A opponents Wilde Lake and Pocomoke know nothing more than they can learn from statistics.
"I just think it's a good matchup," said Pocomoke coach Gail Tatterson Gladding. "Their two post players [5-10 Krista Entrop and Adrean Mabry] are a little bigger than our girls and that concerns me on rebounding, but we've had that struggle all year long. It's nothing new."
The scoring stats weigh heavily in favor of top-seeded Pocomoke (23-1). The Warriors average 67 points and have four players scoring in double figures, including 5-6 guard Miketta Mills, who averages 28 points.
The Wildecats average 46.5 points and have only one person scoring in double figures, 5-5 point guard Kristen Riismandel with 12.8.
However, the Wildecats have played a much tougher schedule than the Warriors, who won the Bayside Conference Championship but did not play any teams off the Eastern Shore. In comparison, the Wildecats have played one tough opponent after another.
"It's been tough this whole year," said Storr. "That's prepared us for playoffs because it's never having a game that you know you're going to win. I think the constant defensive pressure we had to play against, the offenses, the outstanding players is all really going to help us out."
If the Wildecats can get past Pocomoke, they would play for the title tomorrow night at 8 against second-seeded Joppatowne (22-5) or third-seeded Southern of Garrett (18-5), a team they already have beaten twice this season.