Pikesville’s girls basketball team had to wait more than two weeks to play its first game, but it was worth the wait.
Thanks to 31 points from Tyra Robinson and 8-for-8 free-throw shooting in the final 18 seconds, the Panthers defeated Baltimore County rival Chesapeake, 71-63, in a nondivision game Friday night.
The Panthers, 4-16 last season, have a new coach in Mike Dukes, a former Towson Catholic coach and an assistant at No. 1 St. Frances the past three years. Dukes also has a handful of transfers to add to a good core of returning players and strong freshmen, giving them strength and depth at every position.
The Gaels pushed, but the Panthers — behind their senior captain — always had an answer. Elijah Epps finished with 26 points, sophomore guard Jordan Toles added 13 and the No. 2 Panthers made 24 of 26 free throws to claim an 81-75 win over No. 5 Mount Saint Joseph on Friday.
The host Bayhawks (2-1) were 16-4 last season and have played in the Class 2A North regional final two straight years, but now they’re in Class 1A with the Panthers, so there could be another meeting in February.
The Panthers, whose season opener was postponed by snow last Friday, and the Bayhawks were well-matched and it showed as Chesapeake, which trailed by as many as 10 points in the second quarter, rallied to take a 47-44 lead into the fourth quarter.
After the Bayhawks pulled ahead 54-51 on Tamara Stanford’s layup off a feed from Trinity Horton with 4:05 left in the game, Robinson, who played at St. Frances last year, took over.
The sophomore guard scored the next nine Pikesville points. Her 3-pointer off a pass from Keante Lewis gave the Panthers a 60-55 lead with 3:15 to go.
As they had much of the game, the Panthers could not sustain enough momentum to put the game away against a Chesapeake team that matched their quickness. The Bayhawks rallied to within one and trailed just 65-63 after Pikesville fouled Horton on a 3-point attempt and she hit two of the three free throws with 12.9 seconds to go.
The Panthers, however, hit all eight free throws they took in the final 18 seconds — two each from Robinson and Kayla Jackson and four from Charia Roberts, who had struggled from the line most of the game. Thanks to all those free throws, Pikesville finished the game on an 8-2 run.
Roberts had missed seven of her first nine free throws, but her ability to finish well was critical to the win.
“Charia stepped up and hit four huge free throws,” Dukes said, “because at that point she wasn’t the one we wanted to go to the line, especially with how her game has been from the line, but she showed the poise and went up there and sunk them.”
For the Panthers, who has played together during the summer and in the fall league, the rust of the first game showed, but so did a lot of potential.
“At first it was kind of slow because we’re all kind of young,” Robinson said. “But we’ve been working out together since the summer. We have great chemistry. Everybody gets along on and off the court.”
The Bayhawks, who won their first two games by an average of 42.5 points, took a lot of positives from the loss, including a 30-point performance from junior guard Horton, an all-county selection last season. It didn’t help to have stellar freshman Kayla Cabbagestalk foul out in the third quarter. Coach Darryl Hunter said that showed him how much she means to the team. He also said rebounding is something the team needs to work on.
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“They finished well,” Hunter said of the Panthers. “Their rebounding and their free throws were on point at the end and they finished at key times. At key times, we had a couple turnovers when we had the lead and when we were trying to break away but turned the ball over two or three times in a row, and I think that broke us for a second. They just had to refocus a little. But I’m proud of what [the Bayhawks] did. They never gave up.”