Three turned out to be the lucky number for Dunbar's girls basketball team this season.
Not only did the Poets win their third straight state championship last night, but they owe the threepeat mostly to their three defensive stalwarts - Bianca Sullivan, Teara Williams and India Johnson. The trio harassed Smithsburg to the tune of 35 turnovers and No. 4 Dunbar blew open a fourth-quarter tie to defeat the Leopards, 62-46, in the Class 1A final at UMBC's RAC Arena.
The Poets, who had won the previous two Class 2A crowns, became only the sixth program in the 30-year history of the girls state tournament to win three consecutive titles. They also became the first Baltimore City team to claim a third championship.
"I can hardly put it into words, it feels so good," said senior guard Toni Kennedy (No. 3), who led the Poets with 13 points. "Through the year, you have your ups and downs, but when you get here and you win, it just wipes all that stuff away. You feel like you're up in the sky, just flying."
The victory did not come easily. The Poets (26-1) flew out to a 12-2 lead, sparked by a couple of Williams three-pointers, but they could not put away the Leopards until late in the fourth quarter.
The Leopards (23-4) tied the game twice, at 29 and at 41, but each time the Poets' defense responded. With their full-court press and relentless man-to-man, the Poets had 23 steals.
But Williams, Sullivan and Johnson, hounding the Leopard guards at the top of the press, led the way as they have all season for a team that gave up an average of 43.7 points.
"They're so quick," said Smithsburg guard Katy Powell, who scored 21. "We've never played against anybody with that kind of pressure. Every time you turned around, there was somebody there trapping us."
Twice, the Leopards closed a 10-point Dunbar lead as Powell hit some clutch shots.
"We fell apart a little bit, so we had to come back as a family," said Sullivan. "When we got back together as a family, we stepped up our defense and we got back in the lead."
The 41-41 tie came with 6:40 left in the game before Dunbar's 6-foot center, Ciarra Jones, put the Poets on top for good with her second straight 13-footer.
"I was having a little bit of trouble in the post," said Jones. "They would double-team me in the post, but they were in a 2-3 zone, so the middle was wide-open the whole time."
Jones' basket with 6:20 to go set off a 12-2 Poets run that sealed the championship. In the final minutes, the Poets converted three Smithsburg turnovers, beat the press and looked for Jones, who scored eight of her 10 points in the quarter. Sullivan's free throw with 2:14 remaining gave the Poets a 53-43 lead.
The Poets remain unbeaten in state tournament play, winning all six of their games, which made the threepeat even more rewarding.
"This is like the first one," said Poets coach Wardell Selby. "The first one was sweet and it's hard to get two and harder to get three. People were saying that 1A wasn't a challenge, but for the seniors going out to make history and be in an elite group in the whole state to win three in row, that's really sweet."
Next year, Selby and the Poets will be looking for a new lucky number - four.
DUNBAR-Kennedy 13, Williams 12, Sullivan 3, Leake 9, Jones 10, Oliver 2, Johnson 8, Chase 3, Melvin 1, Price 1. Totals 19 18-37 62.
SMITHSBURG-Stouffer 4, Powell 21, Small 7, Feiser 6, Gholson 4, Mackey 3, Hickman 1. Totals: 19 7-16. Half: D, 27-21.