Freshman guard Tiki Nicholson scored a game-high 24 points last night to lead visiting Hammond to a 55-42 victory over Towson in a Class 2A, Region II semifinal.
The third-seeded Golden Bears (19-4), who advance to tomorrow night's regional final against top-ranked, top-seeded Mount Hebron, needed a big second half to pull away from the tenacious Generals (18-3).
Hammond appeared ready to blow out Towson early, as Nicholson and the Bears' pressure defense put the Generals in a 13-4 hole midway through the first period. But Towson, behind the three-point shooting of Brandi Standridge (eight points), cut the lead to 17-13 at the end of the quarter, then took a brief, 24-23 lead late in the first half.
"We weren't playing defense. . . . We let them have too many open shots," said Nicholson of the Towson run.
The Bears quickly regained the lead, though, to take a 27-24 advantage into halftime.
Then, 90 seconds into the second half, Towson suffered a bad break when forward Aby Burk (nine points, nine rebounds) went down with a thigh injury.
When Burk departed, Hammond was clinging to a 32-29 lead. The Bears responded by scoring six straight points to extend their lead to 38-29 with 4:41 left in the period. Burk returned for the fourth quarter, but Hammond began the period with another 6-0 run -- two baskets and two free throws by Nicholson -- to make it 51-34 with 5:20 left in the game.
"When one of your best players goes down, it hurts," said Towson coach Bev Snyder. "That was the key to the game. It would have been nice to see the outcome if that injury had never happened."
Blanche Kuebler led Towson with 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Sarah Weaver added nine points and nine rebounds.