The smiles that first appeared during Francis Scott Key's state championship volleyball season were back for an encore last night at UMBC.
With six members from that team, five of them seniors, on a mission to achieve their own version of a double double, the No. 20-ranked Eagles cruised to a 53-23 win over Northern-Garrett, bringing Key its first-ever Class 1A state basketball title.
The five seniors -- starters Stephanie Stambaugh, Cindy Sheedy and Nicole Keffer, along with key reserves Cassie Gilmore and Na'tosha Brooks -- gathered in a tight circle during a timeout with 2: 40 left in a game that the Eagles (25-3) took control of with a 10-0 run to start the second half.
"It's sad. I don't want to leave," said Stambaugh, who's going to North Carolina State next fall on a volleyball scholarship. "These are the best people to play with and also the best friends."
Aside from overcoming shaky first-quarter shooting last night, the Eagles' biggest challenge was getting to the final.
They traveled to Brunswick and came away with a one-point, double-overtime victory over the Railroaders, last year's state champs, to win the South region. Then they shut down the state's all-time leading scorer, Mardela's Rasheedah Akram, to reach the state final, leaving a strong impression this would be their season -- again.
"We wanted it really bad and were really pushing ourselves to win both," said Sheedy. "The beginning of the [basketball] season, we felt it. We knew we could do it."
The Eagles completed the task by going to their post game against a smaller Northern-Garrett team (18-9) in the second half.
Leading 18-13 at the half, they constantly pounded the ball inside, first to Sheedy, who was fouled and hit both free throws, and then to Stambaugh, who scored the next six points.
"That was the key. Our post players started posting hard and we got some good looks. The kids went at it in the third quarter," said Key coach Alice Smith. "This is awesome. This was a great group to work with and they gave a tremendous effort all year long."
Stambaugh finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and three blocks to lead the Eagles. Sheedy added 11 points and seven rebounds.
Sophomore point guard Sindi Stem, who was essential to the Eagles' reaching the next level this season, dished out seven assists and had three steals.
Keffer, playing on an injured knee throughout the playoffs, was the team's floor leader over the past three seasons. Another big piece of the Eagles' combination was junior guard Jessica Matos, who finished with eight points last night and played a big role in shutting down Akram the night before in the semifinals.