Southwestern junior Taylor Holmes remembered on Saturday how she and her Sabres teammates felt that no one in the city gave them a chance early in the season to make it to the Baltimore City Division II championship.
With only four players back, a new coach and eight transfers, the Sabres had a lot to overcome, but they slowly silenced their critics. A win over Carver just before Christmas break gave the Sabres confidence and showed them, and their opponents, that they could contend for the title.
They polished off a 17-4 season on Saturday at Morgan State, with a 38-23 win over Carver for their second Division II championship in four years.
"The last time we played Carver, everyone told us we was going to lose," Holmes said. "Everyone, especially around Baltimore City, was saying we was going to lose, we was going to lose and we went out there and my team was sticking together and we beat them by 20 (61-40) and I was like, 'This is what we do. This is my team and I love them.' It felt good, especially as a captain. It felt like we could do anything."
Coach Ulysses Hardy agreed that no one gave the Sabres a chance early on. Even he was skeptical.
"I'm a new coach coming out of Virginia," Hardy said." We had eight transfers and all new kids. [They built] chemistry off the court and during the game we just continued to fight and believe and go back to the times that were hard and basically with my assistant coaches, really just pushing them and [telling them] to believe in themselves."
Holmes said it was an adjustment for the veteran players, but that the team didn't take long to develop its chemistry.
"It was real difficult at first," she said, "but once you get to know your players and their strengths and weaknesses, it just kind of all flows together."
In Saturday's title game, the Sabres (17-4) jumped out to a 9-0 lead but looked a little jittery early, and the Bears cut the lead to 9-7 on Jamara Gray’s 3-pointer.
Southwestern then took off on another run, this one for six points, including back-to-back baskets from freshman Briana West, who finished with 13 points. Heaven Aming's free throw capped the run for a 15-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
That was just the start for the Sabres, who ran their lead to 14 by the end of the third quarter as Aming scored all six Sabres points in a 6-2 run for a 26-12 lead.
West opened the fourth quarter with a basket and the Sabres boosted their lead as high as 21. Shelby Thornton's three-point play with 3:38 left in the game gave Southwestern a 37-16 lead.
"It's all about teamwork," said Aming, a sophomore guard. "You can't do it by yourself. We all just stuck together. We didn't let anybody down. We were kind of nervous because it was the championship, but then we thought about it and we was like, "Well, we got this far, so we can do it again.'"
While both teams struggled with their offense early, the Bears hit only four field goals in the first three quarters. The two teams missed a combined 32 free throws, but the Bears missed 18 -- the scoring margin until Jacquetta Johnson scored the last basket for Carver.
Johnson, a senior forward, led the Bears with seven points.
Southwestern 39, Carver 23
C—McCarrol 6, Gray 6, Fullarol 4, Johnson 7. Totals 8 6-24 23.
SW—Aming 15, Holmes 2, West 13, Simms 1, Thornton 5, Jackson 3. Totals 14 10-24 39.
Half: SW, 15-9.