Fallston's undefeated girls basketball team knew that Largo, its opponent in last night state Class 3A semifinal, liked to run, so the No. 11 Cougars showed they could, too.
Largo went into the game at UMBC's RAC Arena averaging 83 points, but it was the Cougars who set the fast pace, executed their offense, controlled the boards and hit their free throws en route to an 80-65 victory.
"They play a high-pressure defense, but we like to run, too," said Fallston coach Mike McTeague. "We knew they like to run ... so it was all about how well we handled the ball and how well we limit our turnovers and put the pressure on them and that's what we did very effectively."
In addition to not executing their offense as well, the Lions, ranked No. 9 by The Washington Post, simply had no answer for Fallston's combination of 6-foot junior forward Jess Harlee and 5-foot-5 freshman guard Rachel Holehouse. The duo combined for 48 points and went 23-for-30 from the free-throw line. Harlee finished with 26 points, 22 rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
The Cougars (27-0) will go after their first state title tomorrow at 8 p.m. at RAC Arena against the winner of last night's other semifinal between No. 3 Western and defending champion Paint Branch.
Fallston took a 36-19 lead into the second half, before the Lions (23-4) rallied to within 44-38 with a 13-4 run, but the Cougars recovered, running their lead to 17 two minutes into the fourth quarter.
"I just remember what it felt [like] to lose by one point [two years ago]. That was just heart-crushing," Harlee said of her first trip to the state semifinals. "Everybody on my team hasn't been here before, so we just felt the motivation and the energy in the gym."
The Cougars also got 10 points each from Lindsay Garnett and Monica Fischer while Jessica Lyons led Largo with 17 points. The Lions shot 33-for-44 from the free-throw line and outrebounded the Lions 51-34.
Paint Branch 76, No. 3 Western 68:: Western has throttled opponents all season with its superior speed and athleticism.
In last night's Class 3A state semifinal, however, the Doves simply couldn't match the inside power and bulk of defending state champion Paint Branch at UMBC.
Led by the physical inside play of 5-10 senior Khalilah Quigley (25 points) and 5-11 senior Chandel Brown (11), and the perimeter flash of James Madison recruit Tarik Haslop, the Panthers - ranked No. 3 by The Washington Post - built a 15-point lead by late in the first half, then held on to end the Doves' 14-game winning streak.
Western (20-7) now has lost at the state tournament four straight years, including back-to-back losses in the semifinals. Trailing, 39-24, the Doves stormed back into the game in the fourth quarter, pulling to within three after three-pointers by Ashley Craig and Keirah Hicks.
Moments later, they cut it to 63-62 when Akeema Richards (game-high 28 points) nailed a jumper from the foul line. Western, however, never could take the lead.
Paint Branch (24-2), winner of 17 straight, will play for its fifth state title on Saturday.