EASTON - Tameka McDonald and Rudi Johnson made sure the Aberdeen High girls basketball team returned to the state tournament for the second consecutive year.
The junior duo helped the ninth-seeded Eagles grab a 22-point lead in the third period of yesterday's Class 2A East region championship final against Easton. When the Warriors responded with their best run of the game, McDonald and Johnson scored every Aberdeen point in the final eight minutes to secure a 62-41 victory over the No. 3 seed.
Johnson finished with a game-high 23 points and 13 rebounds as Aberdeen improved to 14-10. McDonald tormented Easton's defense for 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Aberdeen coach Brandi Barnes said the pair powered the Eagles to an early advantage, along with the low number of turnovers (seven) in the first half.
"They've been the key part of the season. When they're on and they get everyone else involved, then our team is on," Barnes said of her junior stars. "And we've struggled with turnovers ... so that's great."
The Eagles will face the winner of the West region - Walkersville - Friday at UMBC. Aberdeen was bounced out of last year's final four by Hammond.
Barnes said reaching UMBC was "definitely" one of her team's goals this season, and added, "We have that experience under our belts so now we can go even further."
Easton - attempting to win its first region crown since back-to-back 2A state titles in 1993 and 1994 - finished the year 12-8. Lynette Copper scored 18 points and had six rebounds, but the Warriors shot 22 percent from the field (15 of 66), including a 1-for-19 effort from three-point range.
In the opening quarter, McDonald had six points and two assists as Aberdeen took control immediately. She fed Johnson for a baseline jumper before turning a steal into a fastbreak layup for a 12-2 edge four minutes in. The Eagles led 20-7 after one period and 32-18 at the break.
Copper had eight points in the third, but Easton entered the fourth behind by 18. She added a crossover jumper to get the Warriors as close as 51-38 with five minutes left, before Aberdeen finished the game on an 11-3 run.
"I told them the team that's the smartest and [that] executes will be the one that's successful," Barnes said. "And we executed the whole game.
A - McDonald 18; Bell 4; R. Johnson 23; Jones 7; A. Russell 2; N. Russell 2; J. Johnson 2; Lane 4. Totals: 26 8-15 62. E - Copper 18; Vliege 3; Jones 3; Nichols 6; Blackwell 1; Greene 7; Baker 3. Totals: 15 10-23 41. Half: A 32-18.