The tale of the shoo-in and the surprise

March 10, 1994|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Staff Writer

It's no surprise that Howard County is sending two girls teams to the state basketball tournament. The surprise is which two.

Of course, No. 1 Hammond looked like a shoo-in in Class 2A, but No. 16 Howard seemed a long shot at best in Class 3A.

Seeded sixth in the Class 3A East region, the Lions went on to upset Broadneck (54-50), then-No. 6 Mount Hebron (37-29) and then-No. 16 Poly (42-33). They managed the sweep with better shooting than they had seen all year and a furious man-to-man defense.

"They're very excited," said Lions coach Craig O'Connell, whose team earned its second straight trip to the state final four. "But still, as of [Monday], they were really tired. At the Poly game, when the buzzer sounded, there was no jumping up and down, no excitement. They were just so darn tired."

The excitement came the night before when the Lions (14-11) upset Mount Hebron after losing to the Vikings twice during the regular season. The Lions were such heavy underdogs in the region that Randallstown coach Dave Wright, anticipating a final-four meeting, scouted Mount Hebron late in the regular season and never bothered with Howard.

Now, the Lions face top-seeded and No. 9 Randallstown (21-2) at 9 tonight at UMBC. In the other semifinal, second-seeded Whitman (23-0) of Montgomery County meets DuVal (16-6) of Prince George's County.

The Lions will need that furious defense once again if they hope to stop the Rams' All-Metro forward Nyota Mitchell, who is averaging 29.8 points and 13 rebounds a game.

"We're going to take our best defensive player and try to keep her away," said O'Connell, who didn't want to be more specific about his defensive game plan.

At the same time, the Lions may have to crank up their offense even more if they hope to keep pace with the Rams, who average 73.1 points a game, more than any other team in the state tournament.

Senior guard Emily Moore led Howard with 14 points a game during the regional playoffs. She averaged 10.5 for the season.

The Lions have a couple more big offensive weapons in three-point ace Yamika Blackston, who had 10- and 16-point efforts in the regionals, and forward Mona Jackson, averaging 12.8 points and 8.9 rebounds.

"We had been shooting less than 30 percent all year," said O'Connell. "But in our last two games during the county season [wins over Wilde Lake and Atholton], we just really had good games offensively. I think that sort of gave them the idea that, 'Hey, we're as good as he's been telling us all year.' "

In Class 2A, top-seeded Hammond (21-1) plays third-seeded South River (13-12) in the opening round Friday at 5 p.m. at UMBC. Defending champ and third-seed Middletown (23-0) of Frederick County takes on No. 6-ranked Fallston (21-0) in the other semifinal at 3 p.m.

The Golden Bears, who won the title in 1992 before falling to

Middletown in last year's final, are determined to reclaim the championship.

"They're really excited about having the opportunity to make up for last year -- especially Kacy [Williams] and Sonia [Keiner]," said Hammond coach Joe Russo, of his senior captains. "We had five goals for the season, and we have one more to go."

Hammond missed out on only one of those goals so far by not winning the highly competitive IAABO Tournament at Christmas.

Since then, they have beaten Western to earn The Baltimore Sun's No. 1 ranking, won the Howard County title and taken the regional championship.

The key to the Bears' game is a swarming pressure defense resulting in a relentless transition offense. They boast six players scoring indouble figures -- Tiki Nicholson (16.1), Keiner (11.7), Williams (11.4), Tameka Harrison and Kellye Townsend (10.3 each) and freshman sixth-man Rene Hines (10.1). All are shooting 46 percent or better from the field.

South River's top weapon is 6-0 center Pam Patterson, $l averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds a game. Coach Ronald Price said she is the key to the Seahawks' game.

"If we can open up the inside with our center, we might have a shot at making it a close game, and after that who knows," said Price, whose team makes its first final-four appearance in seven years.

If the Bears can get by South River, they could face a rematch with Middletown, a 53-48 winner in last year's state-title game.

The Knights have won 49 straight games.

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