Hammond's girls basketball team has yet to lose a game, but one might not realize it by listening to Golden Bears coach Joe Russo.
During the first month of the season, Russo has fretted about mental lapses that have plagued the Bears. He has worried about how the Bears would perform against a quality team with an inside height advantage.
Russo rested a bit easier Friday night after the host Bears beat Paint Branch of Montgomery County, 56-47, to win the Bear Invitational Basketball Tournament.
Paint Branch, a Class 4A school, brought a 5-2 record into the tournament title game.
The Golden Panthers, who advanced to the finals with a 61-28 victory over Wilde Lake in the first round Thursday, also brought along a formidable frontcourt in6-foot-1 senior center Amy Greene -- four inches taller than any Hammond starter -- and 5-foot-10 senior forward Amy Cunningham.
And Hammond (6-0) promptly solved the problems with three solutions: Kacy Williams, Sonia Keiner and terrific pressure defense.
Williams, Hammond's sophomore point guard, riddled the Golden Panthers' zone defense with no-look passes, excellent inside fakes and strong outside shooting en route to a 22-point, five-rebound, three-assist evening.
Keiner, Hammond's sophomore forward and the perfect complement to Williams, scored a game-high 24 points, including 18 in the second half, with a mixture of outside touch and inside power.
And the Bears set the table repeatedly with a blend of half-court traps and full-court pressure that forced Paint Branch into 25 turnovers.
"We're mostly a defensive team. That's where we get a lot of our points," saidKeiner, who added eight rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Keiner played the key role for the Bears after the game's turning point. Greene, who had 11 points -- but more importantly, three fouls -- at halftime, picked up her fourth just 94 seconds into the second half, and went to the bench with Hammond leading, 30-27.
Keiner then scored nine of the Bears next 13 points to push the Bears in front,43-33, with four minutes to go in the period.
Then, with 1:17 left in the third quarter, Greene fouled out, igniting a celebration by the Bears.
But Paint Branch regrouped impressively to score seven straight points and pull to within 43-40 at the end of the period.
But with Greene on the bench for good, Keiner stepped up again, and this time she put the game away by scoring nine of the Bears' final 13 points. Paint Branch committed four straight turnovers in the finaltwo minutes.
"She (Greene) was their best player, and when she went out, that put a lot of pressure on them," Keiner said. "But I think we should be more consistent."
"We lose concentration sometimes.When you have a team by 10 points like we did in the third quarter, that's when you put them away," Russo said. "The girl (Greene) fouledout, and they got so excited that they didn't play.
"Still, we played excellent. We kept our composure. I'm excited that we're 6-0," added Russo, whose Bears beat St. Frances of Baltimore, 56-30, in the opening round.
"The girls feel real confident. When they walk on the floor, they think they're going to win. It wasn't like that last year."
Greene led Paint Branch with 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Cunningham added 13. Suzanne King had 12.
Keiner finished the tournament with 43 points and 15 rebounds. Williams wound up with 36 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and 11 steals.
In Friday's consolation game, St. Frances defeated Wilde Lake, 51-42,behind Melba Chambers' game-high 29 points.
The Wildecats (3-3), who were without senior point Renita Young for the tournament -- she was away on vacation -- could not handle Chambers or St. Frances' full-court pressure defense in the fourth quarter.
St. Frances eraseda 27-24 Wilde Lake lead with a 27-point explosion in the final period.
Chambers, who scored 19 in the second half, gave St. Frances a 32-30 lead early in the quarter.
She then scored six of the next nine points, as St. Frances extended its lead to 41-32 with 3:30 left.