With a team comprised of four freshmen and three sophomores, Gwynn Lake coach Roland Hall considers talented sophomore guard Jimea Barner to be his "senior."
Against No. 5 Hammond last night, Barner did exactly what one would expect from a senior leader.
With the score tied and less than 10 seconds remaining, Barner dribbled past four defenders, drove along the baseline, and made a layup as time expired to lift No. 9 Gwynn Lake to an victory in the Western Christmas Tournament championship game.
In their first year of existence, the Lakers (9-1) have defeated perennial power Western twice and Hammond, a team that has made five consecutive appearances in the Class 2A state title game.
Gwynn Lake's only loss was a 61-58 setback to defending Class 4A state champion Arundel in the first week of the season.
Despite its youth, lack of depth and height disadvantage -- its tallest player is 5 feet 8 -- Gwynn Lake prevailed over a senior-laden Hammond squad that starts three 6-footers, including 6-1 All-Metro forward Rene Hines.
"After they lost to Arundel, they said they weren't losing any more games," Hall said. "They have in their minds that every time VTC they step on the court they are going to win. I'll be amazed to see what they'll be like in two years."
The Lakers were given a big lift by 13-year-old freshman LaTonia Blue, a 5-8 center who scored a game-high 20 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. She scored 14 in the first half to keep Gwynn Lake close, while Barner -- the team's leading scorer -- was held to five points.
But Barner (14 points) began to heat up in the second half, and there was no question who would take the final shot at the end.
"I didn't take control through the game, and I felt as though it was time for me to take control and do what I thought was right," Barner said. "At the top of the key, I went past one [defender], then two more stepped out and I went past them, and then the one on the low post stepped out and that's when I went around her and laid it in."
Five-foot-eight freshman Tameka Jackson helped clear the path for Barner by setting a screen on 6-2 center Nicole Owe.
Barner, who certainly has the confidence of a senior, added, "No one knows how to stop me when I go baseline. I knew I was going to make it."
Hammond coach Joe Russo was at a loss as to how Barner was able to slice through his defense.
"That was pathetic defense, but what are you going to do? The girl made the shot," he said.
The Golden Bears (5-2), who were paced by Crystal Todd's 18 points, had an opportunity to break the 50-50 tie when she went to the foul line with 15 seconds left.
But Todd missed both free throws, the second rolling in and then out of the rim, and Blue grabbed the rebound for the Lakers to set up Barner's winning shot.
There were four lead changes and five ties in the fourth quarter.
Hammond took its last lead at 48-47 with 2: 25 remaining after Hines (14 points) made one of two free throws.
But the Golden Bears failed to add to their lead, turning the ball over on their next two possessions after stopping Gwynn Lake twice.
Pub Date: 12/24/96