Fallston center Nicole Lauer sat out much of the season with a stress fracture in her foot. She also sat out much of yesterday's state tournament semifinal against Snow Hill because of three early personal fouls, but she still sparked the Cougars to a 45-40 victory last night at Catonsville Community College.
The victory advanced the Cougars (18-5) into their first state final. They will meet Williamsport, a 50-41 winner over Brunswick, tonight at 6.
Fallston last appeared in the state tournament five years ago.
With Lauer sitting out during the second quarter, Snow Hill used a pressure defense to take a 21-13 lead. The 5-foot-10 senior returned after the intermission to score six of her eight points during a 10-point run that put the Cougars ahead, 33-29, after three quarters.
She also grabbed three rebounds and scored once on a putback.
"That probably turned it around," said Fallson point guard Cindy Jenkins. "Nicole came back and she put in the shots. If the other team is aggressive, you can count on Nicole to put all she's got into it."
Freshman guard Lori Heffley (10 points) capped the run on a short jumper off a feed from Jenkins (eight points, four assists).
Lauer fouled out early in the fourth quarter, but her offensive contributions had helped the Cougars regain control.
"Fallston handled our press as well as anybody we've seen," said Snow Hill coach Bob Mitchell, who had counted on his team's transition game to score more than 40 points.
The Eagles cut the Cougars' lead to 38-36 with 3:39 left when Petra Purnell converted an offensive rebound. But Fallston's Pam Toth countered on a short jumper off an assist from Tammy Kloiber.
The Eagles closed within 43-40 with 18 seconds left before Jenkins sealed the victory with two free throws. In all, Fallston converted 11 of 16 free throws, including five in the waning moments.
Snow Hill missed 12 of 16 free throws. "We don't like anybody to know it, but that's been our Achilles' heel," said Mitchell. "In the games we lost this year, it killed us."