Pikesville girls basketball coach Mike Dukes thought having played in the Baltimore County championship game at Towson University’s SECU Arena a few weeks ago would cut down on the young Panthers’ jitters when they made their first appearance in the state semifinals Friday.
But the No. 12 Panthers are still young and they turned the ball over 27 times against final four veteran Southern of Garrett County, helping the Rams take a 49-37 victory in the Class 1A semifinals.
The Rams (24-1) have been to the state semifinals six straight times and they’re in the title game for the fifth year in a row. They won in 2014, but they’ve come up short the past three years. They will return to SECU Arena for Saturday’s 6 p.m. state final against Largo.
In their first appearance in the state semifinal, the Panthers’ only lead was 4-2. After that, they turned the ball over 15 times in the first half. The Rams scored 24 points off turnovers throughout the game. Southern stole the ball 18 times.
“Definitely, we still see some of the jitters tonight and I think the youth came out,” Dukes said. “We rely so heavily on a number of freshmen and sophomores, so I think it showed especially in spurts during the game. We had some lapses on defense when they really capitalized and they were able to keep some separation.”
Dukes, in his first year at Pikesville, said the Panthers’ communication on defense broke down at times and they missed some assignments.
The Panthers, who had just one senior on the floor, helped the Rams run their lead to 10 in the first half with those turnovers. Pikesville chipped away at the lead at times, but it turned the ball over twice in the final minute of the third quarter and the Rams ran their lead to 10 going into the fourth.
Rams coach Rodger Bowman said it helped his team to have had experience in the state tournament. Senior forward Kayla Harris, who led the Rams with 18 points, said it felt like home with the Southern band playing.
The Panthers, who lost to Catonsville in the Baltimore County championship game at SECU Arena, will need at least another year to feel at home there.
“Because this was our first year of everyone playing together,” Pikesville sophomore Charia Roberts said, “I’m hoping next year, we will come together more, talk more on defense and have more chemistry.”
Roberts led the Panthers with 15 points and 15 rebounds while Tyra Robinson added 10 points.
The Panthers turned the program around this season, finishing with a 22-3 record after winning just five games last year. They lose just one senior, guard Kayla Jackson, and bring back a talented group of young players.
In the first half, the Rams scored 14 points off turnovers as the Panthers struggled to hold onto the ball. They turned over their first four possessions of the second quarter, which helped Southern go on a 6-0 run and boost their lead to 16-8.
Although the Panthers eventually cut the lead to two when Robinson fed Roberts off a turnover to pull within 29-27 with 2:10 left in the third quarter, the Rams got two free throws from Harris and a basket from Brooke Davis before Harris and Davis converted two Panthers turnovers to take a 37-27 lead into the fourth quarter. The Panthers got no closer than within nine points the rest of the game.