Neither Poly girls basketball coach Kendall Peace-Able nor her players can say how many dozens of free throws each Engineer shoots every day. They do know all those practice shots pay off.
The No. 9 Engineers scored the same number of field goals as No. 8 Western in Saturday night’s Baltimore City Division I championship, but they hit 14 more free throws to take a 56-44 victory for their first city title in three years.
“It really helped,” Engineers sophomore Jada Gross said of all the daily free throws. “In practice, [Peace-Able] makes us run, so when we’re fatigued, she makes us go to the free-throw line and that’s what makes it in-game-like.”
In the regular-season meeting, a 60-52 Western win on Jan. 30, the Engineers missed 19 free throws.
All Peace-Able could say about the number of practice free throws since then: “A lot, a lot, a lot.”
On Saturday at Morgan State’s Hill Field House, the Engineers shot 38 and hit at least five in each quarter. Taijah Ridgeway gave the Engineers the lead for good, 7-6, on two free throws. Cache’ Wilson then fed Gross for a basket and Tenea Robinson finished the quarter with a three-point play for a 12-9 lead.
The Engineers (18-4) hadn’t beaten Western since winning the city title over the Doves in 2015. They had lost six straight times, including the past two city championship games, last year’s in overtime. Poly has won three city titles in the past five years.
Coming into the game, however, Peace-Able didn’t want her team to feel the pressure to win.
“They believe in themselves,” she said. “I just asked them to have fun, to be young, to be sophomores and juniors and not put a lot of pressure on themselves. The pressure is on the people who have won it.”
Midway through the second half, the Doves (17-4) got back within two points when Jasmen Walton — who scored 17 points and hit the only two 3-pointers of the game — hit three free throws and a 3-pointer. The Engineers answered with three straight baskets. They then pushed their lead to 35-24 when Dasia Townes took a defensive rebound all the way for a layup with 3:34 left in the third quarter.
The Doves rallied to within 35-30 on a turn-around jumper by Walton. Poly put a quick stop to that with a 6-0 run capped by Ridgeway’s basket off a steal. After that, the Doves didn’t get closer than within eight.
“It feels great,” Townes said of the championship. “Our mentality was to come in and be aggressive, way more aggressive than we were last time, not let up.”
All season, the Engineers have relied on their aggressive defense and balanced scoring. Townes and Gross scored 12 each and Janya Lilly added 10. They got 17 points from their bench, including 13 free throws.
“It’s amazing,” said Donnetta Eaddy, one of only three Poly seniors. “I feel like we really worked for it. We talked and we worked as a team. We set a goal and we accomplished that goal.”
Western coach Tasha Townsend said she took the blame when she met with her team in the locker room after the game.
“I said, ‘I’ll take the blame first. Were you not prepared?’ ” Townsend said. “So they told me, ‘We were prepared.’ I just think they didn’t show up today. You can’t turn the ball over 25 times, you can’t miss 19 free throws and expect to win the game and that’s just flat-out facts. Poly just came out with more energy and more effort and that’s not coachable.”