For much of yesterday's Class 3A North regional girls basketball championship, No. 8 Catonsville managed to slow the pace and keep the game close, but when No. 3 Western picked up the tempo in the fourth quarter, the Doves ran away with it.
Akeema Richards and Keirah Hicks scored off turnovers early in the fourth quarter and set off a Doves run that boosted their five-point lead to 16 in four minutes, fueling a 56-40 Doves victory - their second straight over the Comets in the regional final.
The Doves (20-6) advance to the state final for the fifth straight year and will meet the winner of yesterday's West regional final between defending state champ Paint Branch and Urbana on Thursday night at UMBC's RAC Arena. They are looking for their first state crown since 1995.
Guards Richards and Hicks, who scored 18 and 16 respectively, combined for 19 of the visiting Doves' fourth-quarter points, starting with the two early jump shots. Those baskets doused any momentum the Comets got from Shelby Polk's buzzer-beating three-pointer that cut the Western lead to 32-27 at the end of the third quarter.
With 4:05 to go, Hicks fed Richards, and Ashle Craig added a free-throw that boosted the Doves' lead to 48-32 with 3:29 to go.
"They tried to slow it down, but we wanted to keep it up-tempo, because we know they can't run with us," said Richards, an All-Metro senior headed for West Virginia. "We know they wanted to have a slow-tempo game. That way they get their offense on back-door cuts, but we had to stop that. We did an excellent job on the help defense on the screens and the back-door cuts."
The Comets (23-3) hung in with that game plan and some timely three-pointers from Polk (13 points) and All-Metro guard Shamika Williams (17 points, nine rebounds), but the Doves were too quick and too deep down the stretch for the Comets, who played only six girls and were without starter Kelly Brown, suffering from mono.
The Doves also got a fine performance inside from 6-foot-2 sophomore center Brielle Ward (11 points, 15 rebounds).