Cindy Jenkins knew just what she wanted to give her grandfather, Jack, for his 79th birthday -- a regional championship for her Fallston basketball team.
With Jack Jenkins in the stands Friday night, hisgranddaughter and her teammates delivered, withstanding a late Joppatowne rally to win the Class 1A, Region III championship, 44-40.
"That was his birthday present from me, and it's the best one he could get," Jenkins said after she scored a game-high 12 points.
The victory earned the top-seeded Cougars (17-6) their first trip to the state final four since 1987. They will play in the state semifinals Friday at Catonsville Community College. No Harford County girls team has ever won a state title.
For Jenkins and her teammates -- and grandpa, too -- there were moments when it looked as though third-seeded Joppatowne might be making the trip instead.
The Cougars raced out to a 14-4 lead, but the Mariners (10-9) came roaring back in the second quarter. The Mariners continued to rally, taking the lead twice in the fourth quarter, but Fallston sealed the victory with two big plays in the final minutes.
With Joppatowne leading, 38-37, Pam Toth drove the baseline for a layup and was fouled by Lauren Glaze.Toth capped the three-point play to put the Cougars back in the lead, 40-38.
After Joppatowne turned the ball over on a three-second violation, Tammy Kloiber fed to Suzy Harrison at the other end. The freshman center banked in her only basket of the night for the game-winner and a 42-38 Fallston lead with 1:22 left.
Early on, the Cougars were in complete control. Jenkins popped three short jumpers, and Harrison added five points on free throws in Fallston's early 14-4 run.
The Cougars led, 18-7, early in the second quarter. But Jenkins picked up her third foul just two minutes into the quarter and had tosit down.
"We were ready for anything except Jenkins on the bench," Fallston coach Nancy Ferguson said. "That's one less ball-handler,and even if she hadn't been scoring, she's got the level head out there."
With Jenkins benched, the Mariners started moving the ball inside and were able to put together a 10-point run. Thori Staples (10points) hit a short jumper with six seconds left in the half, pulling the Mariners to 20-19. The Cougars shot one-for-16 from the floor in the quarter.
Jenkins returned in the second half but Joppatowne was able to stay close. The Mariners finally went on top, 36-35, on Santae Boyd's turnaround jumper. Fallston's Nicole Lauer answered withher only basket of the game, but Kendra Meggett put the Mariners back on top, 38-37, before the Cougars took the lead for good.
For the Cougars, getting to the state final four wasn't an early season goal. Fallston suffered five of its six losses in the first six weeks ofthe season.
"It probably wasn't a goal until we beat C. Milton Wright," said Jenkins. "We knew if we beat C. Milton Wright, we had a chance of going to Catonsville (Community College, site of the final four)."