Fallston, knocked out of the last two state tournaments in the semifinals, finally atoned for past miseries, belting South Hagerstown, 61-43, in a Class 2A game at UMBC Fieldhouse yesterday.
The Cougars (22-1), winners of 18 in a row, will meet Hammond (22-3), working on a seven-game winning streak, for the championship this afternoon at 1 o'clock.
The matchup will pair two of the metro area's top four teams (Hammond is No. 2; Fallston No. 4), and each is in the state event for the fourth straight year -- with varying degrees of success.
Hammond, a Class 2A entry throughout, won in 1992, was second in 1993, and won again last year. As a Class 1A entry, Fallston lost the title to Williamsport in 1992; lost to the Washington County team in the 1993 semifinals, then, in Class 2A last year, lost to Middletown, 45-30.
This time, Fallston had nearly 30 points at halftime, leading South Hagerstown, 28-13.
The Cougars offense was efficient in running its plays, but had all kinds of trouble making the shots.
"We knew they had to settle down; we had just talked about it in the locker room," said Fallston coach Nancy Ferguson of her team's struggle to produce an 8-4 first-quarter lead. "Fortunately, it was that way at both ends."
This was the first state tournament for South Hagerstown, and its tenseness was apparent.
Fallston starters Candy Credito, Jenny Weber and Lori Heffley -- the only seniors on the squad -- were steadying influences in different ways.
The 6-foot-1 Credito, team leader with averages of 11.6 points and 9.3 rebounds, had two first-quarter baskets and three in the second. Point guard Heffley complemented her outside work with four second-quarter baskets.
They accounted for all the baskets but one in the first 16 minutes. Sophomore starter Karen Tiedemann made the other one and went 4-for-6 at the foul line.
South Hagerstown (23-2) never got untracked. It missed as many shots around the basket as Fallston, but the Rebels had no answer for Weber, a 5-9 forward who had more than her five-rebound average in the first half alone.
"It was out of offensive frustration," Weber said of her showing, which included missing six shots, but making four of seven free throws and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Credito led the way with 18 points and 10 rebounds, Heffley had 14 points, and Tiedemann (10 points) combined with Rachel Simon for 16 rebounds.
Tiffany Jones, a 6-1 junior, topped South Hagerstown with 12 points.