COLLEGE PARK -- It hasn't been easy and Joppatowne High may not be as good as it was last year but the Mariners are a victory away from consecutive state titles.
Yesterday the Mariners outscored Williamsport, 21-9, in the fourth quarter to shake the scrappy Wildcats and post a 56-39 victory in a state Class 1A semifinal at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House.
Joppatowne (19-4) will meet Worcester County's Pocomoke in the 1A championship game today at 1 p.m. Pocomoke (19-4) edged Brunswick, 75-72, in overtime in yesterday's other semifinal.
It has been a long, hard road back to the finals for Joppatowne, which has played part of the season without two starters from last year's championship team.
But yesterday both senior center Kevin Hockaday and senior forward B.J. Barnes were back in the starting lineup to help spark the Mariners along with senior guard Kilo Mack, who also started last season.
"We felt confident because we had three starters," said Joppatowne coach Mike Bauer. "If we had an advantage we felt it was experience."
Joppatowne's other advantages were quickness and speed and those began to take their toll in the second half after Williamsport (14-12) packed a tight 2-3 zone around Hockaday in the first half to disrupt the Mariners' offensive plans.
Williamsport, a Washington County school which reached the semifinals by upsetting the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the regionals, got within 35-32 early in the fourth quarter.
Then the Mariners turned up the defensive pressure and forced seven turnovers on Williamsport's next eight possessions. Scoring mostly on fast breaks the Mariners went on a 15-3 run to build a 50-35 lead with 2:00 left.
Williamsport managed to hit just 12 of 36 field goals the entire game, including just four of 15 (26 percent) in the second half. The Wildcats had 16 turnovers and were out-rebounded 33-25.
"You've got to give Joppatowne credit they defended us well," said Williamsport coach Kevin Murphy. "We got sloppy with the ball on offense, just plain carelessness. A lot of times they just reached in and picked our pockets. We didn't take care of the ball."
Mack led Joppatowne with 19 points although he made just five of 15 field goals. Senior guard Terrance Cain gave the Mariners a spark with 13 points hitting five of 11 shots and Hockaday also finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Barnes scored nine and had six steals.
Cain's outside shooting helped loosen Williamsport's zone defense and free Hockaday who scored eight of his points in the second half.
"We felt we were quicker and needed to take advantage of our quickness but we couldn't when they were packed in so tight,'' said Bauer.
Cain's performance included a 45-foot three-point bank shot just before the halftime buzzer that gave Joppatowne a 22-21 halftime lead.
The Mariners never trailed again, although Williamsport did tie the game at 24-24 early in the third quarter before the Mariners pulled away to take a 35-30 lead after three quarters.
WILLIAMSPORT -- Myers 1, Noll 4, Lauyer 5, Grove 15, Trumpower 6, Teach 8. Totals: 12 11-13 39.
JOPPATOWNE -- Barnes 9, Hockaday 13, Cain 13, Mack 19, Head 2. Totals: 19 17- 24 56.
Williamsport 10 11 9 8 -- 39
Joppatowne 13 9 13 21 -- 56
BRUNSWICK -- Dawson 15, Bentley 14, Bush 14, Lucas 4, Bolen 13, Sowers 6, Doyle 6. Totals: 27 14-22 72.
POCOMOKE -- Marshall 19, Roberts 29, King 13, Clark 2, Bailey 6, Hemmieon 2, Dennis 4. Totals: 32 8-12 75.
Brunswick 14 21 14 19 4 -- 72
Pocomoke 17 15 25 11 7 -- 75