As a member of the Hammond team that suffered through a one-win season in 1989-90, junior Kristen Moraz said she never dreamed the Golden Bears would be playing in the state semifinals two years later.
"I was one of the doubters," she said. "But our coach told us that in two years we'd be state champions."
Fourth-ranked and third-seeded Hammond (21-4) moved one step closer to what seemed like an impossible dream with a 59-48 victory over second-seeded Damascus (18-5) in a Class 2A state tournament semifinal game at Catonsville Community College yesterday.
Hammond, making its first state semifinal appearance, will meet Glenelg, a 45-33 winner over Wicomico, in an all-Howard County final today at 1 p.m.
Freshman Tiki Nicholson scored a game-high 19 points to lead the Golden Bears, who upset then-No. 1 Mount Hebron in last Friday's Region II final. Sophomore Kacy Williams added 15 points, nine steals and nine assists and Moraz contributed 13 points.
The win did not come easy for Hammond, however. Montgomery County's Damascus scored 21 first-quarter points and held a 33-31 halftime lead against a Hammond team that prides itself on defense.
"Our game is playing defense and we just played terrible defense in the first half," Hammond coach Joe Russo said.
It was a different story in the second half, however.
Williams and Tameka Harrison led a defensive effort that held Damascus to 15 second-half points and forced 16 turnovers. After making eight of their first nine shots from the field, the Hornets made just 12 of their next 41.
Theresa Arnett, the Hornets' leading scorer, scored 12 in the first half, but was held scoreless by Harrison the rest of the game.
Hammond used a 10-2 run to take a 54-44 lead with 4:01 remaining, and sealed the victory by making six of seven free-throw attempts in the final 1:19.
In the other semifinal, No. 11 and fourth-seeded Glenelg (18-7) wore down top-seeded Wicomico (21-3) with its man-to-man pressure defense.
Tanissa Dorsey scored 15 and Sarah Jones added 14 to lead the Gladiators, who held Wicomico to just 19 points after the first quarter.
The Indians were able to run early, however, taking a 14-10 first quarter lead behind Jennifer O'Neill's eight points.
"They kept breaking one person [O'Neill] out," Glenelg coach Chuck Struhar said. "She wasn't rebounding, she was just flying out every time. That's hard to cover. [In the second quarter] we just kept one person back and that was the end of that."
Jones scored 10 of Glenelg's 12 third-quarter points to give the Gladiators a 37-25 lead. Glenelg led by at least 12 throughout the fourth quarter.