After watching her team play an uninspired first half, Poly coach Kendall Peace clearly wasn't happy.
Thankfully for Peace, a pep talk with an emphasis on defense did the trick, as the host Engineers outscored Randallstown 17-6 in the third quarter en route to a 54-43 win in a Class 2A North semifinal.
The Engineers (19-5) advanced to face archrival City, a 62-50 winner over Overlea in the other semifinal, for the regional championship.
"I'm a defensive coach, so I believe in defense," Peace said. "I played point guard [at Poly] as a student, and that's all about taking care of the ball. We weren't doing that in the first half."
The visiting Rams (18-6) led most of the first half and took their largest lead, 22-17, on Tekoa Lucas' three-pointer with 1:27 left in the half. Poly, with an angry Peace looking on, got a layup from Elisha Clayton and three points on a basket and foul shot by Cynthia Johnson, who finished with 18 points, to tie the game at 22 at the half.
Poly looked like a different team coming out of the locker room. After Randallstown's Imani Graham hit a jump shot to give the Rams a 24-22 lead, the Engineers held the Rams to two points during the next 6:19 while scoring 12 to take a 34-26 lead with 34 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Rams rallied to cut the deficit to two, 39-37, on T'Arra Cutting's layup and foul shot with 4:12 left, but Poly -- behind seven points from Johnson -- put the game away down the stretch. In the last four minutes, Poly made six of eight foul shots to seal the win.
"We played an east-west game instead of a north-south one," Rams coach Ellen Fitzkee said. "They took up a lot of space on the court, and we kept letting them get second and third shots [in the second half]. You can't win like that."
Peace said playing against City in the final will be even sweeter.
"Playing against City will always be special to me because I went to Poly," she said. "Mr. [George] Petrides [City's coach] is a good guy, and it's hard not to like him. Still, it will be Poly-City, so it will be special."
Peace, who is known for her intensity, smiled when asked whether her team surprised her this season.
"Yes, they've been a very pleasant surprise," she said. "We graduated a lot of players last year, so I didn't know what to expect. Every day is different when you have a young team, but they have taken advantage of their opportunities."
No. 3 Arundel 83, Glen Burnie 41 -- Simone Egwu scored 23 points and had 15 rebounds for the host Wildcats (20-5).
No. 5 Catonsville 62, Franklin 40 -- Jessica Nonn had 25 points, nine rebounds and four steals as the host Comets (23-2) beat the Indians in a Class 3A North game.
No. 7 City 62, Overlea 50 -- The host Knights took a 12-0 lead and cruised in a Class 2A North game. Junior forward Akilah Sewell dominated in the paint for the Knights, recording 21 rebounds (nine offensive) and five blocks. City had a balanced scoring attack, led by junior guard Breaira Barksdale, who had five assists and five steals to go along with her team-high 14 points.
South River 72, No. 12 Old Mill 56 -- Amanda Lawrence had 26 points as the visiting Seahawks upset the Patriots. Aleah Queen and Patrice Jones had 16 points each for Old Mill.
Sun reporters contributed to this article.