Western's zone defense gave Woodlawn forward Ronda Shelley a lot of trouble through most of yesterday's Class 4A North regional girls basketball final, but Shelley made the Doves pay for a critical error with 34 seconds left.
As the Doves pressured the inbound pass under their basket, Shelley sneaked away for an uncontested layup off a long Brittney Taylor feed to all but seal the No. 2 Warriors' 68-61 victory over No. 12 Western for a second straight regional title.
The Warriors (23-0) advance to Thursday's 5 p.m. state semifinal at UMBC against Oxon Hill.
In yesterday's clash between the Baltimore County champion Warriors and the City champion Doves (21-5), Shelley turned in the big plays in the clutch.
The 5-foot-11 junior, who scored seven points and had 13 rebounds, had a hand in seven straight points with a basket, an assist and three steals in the final minute. Her big bucket capped a two-minute run boosting the host Warriors from a 59-56 deficit to a 66-61 lead.
Doves coach Donchez Graham tried to stop that momentum with a timeout after Zhondria Benn cut the Warriors' lead to 64-61. The Doves emerged in the full-court press.
"I saw they were all going up," said Shelley, "so I figured if I got back, no one would see me. When we got the ball in, Brittney saw me going long and we got the two-point conversion."
With the Doves sending two players to trap the ball, Taylor looked for the open girl.
"They didn't realize there was someone back," said Taylor. "They were too busy protecting the front court, trying to get a quick steal and the easy shot. Ronda waved her hands and made the fact that she was open known. I saw her and I launched it."
Taylor finished off the game with a follow shot to complete a 12-2 run that began with a Tiara Wildy three-pointer. Wildy, who had been kept in check most of the game, nailed a 20-footer with 2:27 to go to tie the game at 59. A minute later, Western forced a pass inside that Shelley picked off and fed to Kim Carr open under the basket.
Shelley converted a free throw off her next steal and off her third, got the ball to Taylor, who fed Wildy for the transition layup and a 64-59 lead.
"Mental mistakes," said Graham, who sometimes had four freshmen on the court. "I tip my hat to the Woodlawn kids. They made some great plays and they're going to be a formidable opponent [at states]."
Jeanell Hughes, who scored the Doves' first nine points, contributed a game-high 21 points as well as 11 rebounds and four assists. Benn had 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Ebony Dennis had 11 points and five steals.
The Warriors got 13 points each from Taylor and Carr, who also had 12 rebounds. Candice Britton had nine points, four assists and four steals.
WEST-Dennis 11, Hughes 21, Benn 10, Dixon 4, Woods 2, Johnson 9, Sloat 2. Totals 27 6-10 61. WOOD-Heard 2, Wildy 8, Clark 7, Britton 9, Taylor 13, Shelley 7, Baldwin 9, Carr 13. Totals 27 9-21 68. Half: Wood, 39-29.