Playing in the state final four for the first time in program history on Friday against Oakland Mills, Queen Anne’s was determined to stay true to itself.
So, even as the Lions had several shots blocked inside on the way to a five-point deficit after one quarter in the 2A state semifinals, they never waivered from the game plan to continue pounding the ball in the paint. Over the course of the contest, that relentless approach of hitting the glass and not settling for perimeter shots ultimately made the difference in a 57-47 victory.
Of its 23 field goals, 20 came in the paint for a Queen Anne’s team (24-2) that also outrebounded Oakland Mills (17-9) 49-31 on the way to earning a state championship game match-up against Poolesville on Saturday at 1 p.m.
“We don’t have a whole lot of players that can hit the three consistently … we’re not a real perimeter team. We have some size, we like to get the ball inside and we like to get points off of our defense,” said Queen Anne’s coach Mike Kern, whose team attempted only four 3-pointers all evening.
Lions’ senior Kelly Cavanagh (11 points and 10 rebounds) said the team knew coming in how strong Oakland Mills forward Aislynn Riggs was on the interior, but they weren’t going to shy away. And even as Riggs rolled her way to a triple-double (17 points, 16 rebounds and 11 blocks) to lead the way for the Scorpions, Queen Anne’s did manage to get her into foul trouble and find space to convert as the game progressed.
“Going into the game, we knew that she was going to have a lot of blocks … we worked on it at practice to ball fake and dish it off or keep driving and try to get the foul. That’s basically what we did tonight,” Cavanagh said.
Cavanagh was joined in double figures scoring by freshman Jiyah Hollis (team-high 14 points) and senior Allie Harris (10 points). Junior Makenzy Hudock also had a strong game on the interior with five points and 13 rebounds.
On the other side, Oakland Mills’ Marley Grenway (15 points) joined Riggs in double figures scoring. Scorpions coach Walt Hagins said that his girls, even after a relatively strong start, struggled to find consistency with their shooting during the middle stages of the game and it affected their confidence.
“They were very methodical and kind of got us out of character,” Hagins said. “Just us not being here [before] as a youthful team, I saw the jitters in warm-ups.
“Grenway got two big shots [in the first quarter], but after that it was kind of stale offensively.”
Queen Anne’s scored the first six points of the game and held the Scorpions without a basket for the first three minutes. But once Grenway hit a 3-pointer from the wing with 4:32 left in the opening quarter, Oakland Mills seemed to settle in.
Over the next four minutes, Grenway and Riggs hit threes to go along with a couple foul shots from Washington and a layup from McDuffie to give the Scorpions a 13-8 lead at the end of one.
“We settled down and we moved the basketball and that’s what we have done the last part of the season — move the basketball, find our open spots, find our spacing and find our shooters,” Hagins said. “With good ball movement, their defense wasn’t shifting fast and so we were getting the looks that we want.”
But just as quickly as Oakland Mills had grabbed the momentum, Queen Anne’s grabbed it right back courtesy of a dominating second quarter. The Lions opened the period on an 8-0 run and ended up outscoring the Scorpions 12-3 in those final eight minutes before halftime to retake a 20-16 lead.
All 10 first-half baskets for Queen Anne’s were on layups, either in transition or courtesy of making an extra pass on the block.
“At first I was getting a lot of blocks, but they kind of switched up and would dish it off to the second person and I would get caught helping others and not get back to my man fast enough,” Riggs said. “That’s how they got easy baskets, off of that.”
It was five unanswered points from Riggs midway through the third quarter that helped Oakland Mills even up the score at 24-24. But Queen Anne’s answered with another 8-0 run, this time capped by the team’s lone 3-pointer of the game courtesy of Brooke Gordon.
The Lions never lost the lead again.
A 12-3 push to open the fourth quarter was what ultimately put the game away for good, with Oakland Mills never getting any closer than eight points over the final six minutes.
Looking ahead to the match-up against undefeated Poolesville (26-0), the players say the goal is to simply keep the momentum going.
“Now that we have our intensity up from winning this big game, we’ve never been this far before, so really coming into the game tomorrow, we are really ready for another win and finishing our season off,” said Shannon Donovan, who finished with eight points against Oakland Mills. “Nobody expected us to get this far because we are such a young team, so it’s really impressive.”
As for the Scorpions, which don’t feature a single senior on the roster, it was an experience they say that they will learn from.
“I think we were all thinking more about the court and the ball and stuff, and the crowd, because we’re not used to it,” Grenway said. “So definitely when we come back next year, we are going to be more focused on the goal instead of the outside things.”
Queen Anne’s 57, Oakland Mills 47
QA (24-2): Hollis 14, Cavanaugh 11, Harris 10, Donovan 8, Hudock 5, Blanchard 4, Gordon 3, Wilson 2.
OM (17-9): Riggs 17, Grenway 15, Washington 6, Eldridge 6, McDuffie 2, Brown 1.
Half: 20-16 QA.
Reach Brent Kennedy at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports