Poly's girls basketball team has lived on the edge throughout the playoffs, but Thursday night the Engineers slipped off one step short of their goal, falling to Damascus, 49-37, in a Class 3A state semifinal at Towson University's SECU Arena.
The Hornets, who lost to eventual champion Aberdeen in last year's semifinals, center their game around 6-foot-5 Kelli Prange, who averaged 21.4 points per game this season. The No. 2 Engineers held her to 15, but the Hornets puzzled Poly with their zone defense, dominated the defensive boards and moved the ball extremely well, creating openings inside and out.
Damascus (23-3) will go after its first state title on Saturday at 6 p.m. at SECU Arena, and will play the winner of the late semifinal between No. 4 Milford Mill and Westlake.In the regional playoffs, Poly needed overtime to get past No. 6 City and double overtime to beat No. 13 Atholton. Despite being within 39-37 of Damascus with 2:20 to go Thursday, there was no magic this time.
The Hornets' Lauren Green hit seven free throws and Jenna Kaufman hit three in the final 2:09 as Damascus managed the final minutes like veterans.
The Engineers (25-2) had hoped for a title after falling in the Class 4A final last season and they did a good job defensively on Prange, especially early. They also forced a lot of second-half turnovers, but could not convert their chances, missing too many layups to overcome Damascus, from Montgomery County.
"The problem today was we struggled on offense," said Poly senior Teira Pendleton, whose team shot 24.5 percent from the field.
Poly closed a six-point deficit to 37-35 and were within 39-37 on Khepera Stokes' layup with 2:20 to go, but could get no closer.
"I feel as though we weren't as conscious of attacking like we usually do because they were so [tall]," Poly senior point guard Jasmine Smith said. "We got away from what we usually do, but I still think we played a pretty good game. We just could have been better on the offensive side."
One of Poly's strengths throughout the season had been rebounding, but the Hornets (23-3) had 28 defensive rebounds among their total of 38. Poly had 27 total rebounds
"We did a great job rebounding, because I think [Poly] is the best rebounding team we've seen all year," Damascus coach Steve Pisarski said. "We faced Riverdale Baptist and they were the best team we faced all year, but I thought this team, on film, was as good a rebounding team as anybody. To [the Hornets'] credit, they rebounded."
In the first half, the Engineers used a zone defense to hold Prange to eight points. Morgan Newton, Poly's 5-foot-11 forward, got plenty of help in containing Prange, but the Hornets, ranked No. 6 by The Washington Post, moved the ball extremely well, creating shots for her teammates.
With the 3-point shooters to complement Prange's 21.4-point average in the paint, the Hornets got 20-footers from Kaufman and Anna Warfield in the first half. Warfield's jumper broke a 14-14 tie and gave the Hornets the lead with 3:02 left in the second quarter.
The Engineers took their first lead of the game, 22-21, early in the third quarter when Smith hit a runner and Pendleton made two free throws. A foul on Prange gave her two free throws to take back the lead.
Smith then fed Pendleton for a 24-23 lead, but Green's free throws put Damascus back on top before Kaufman boosted the lead to 27-24. Prange's 3-pointer made it 30-24 with 3:43 to go.
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Young's three-point play ended the Hornets' momentum and 5-9 Pendleton grabbed a loose ball over Prange under the Hornets basket, but missed the layup. Poly created turnovers but struggled to convert them, and Damascus increased its lead to 35-29 by the end of the third quarter.