Once-routed Western stuns Poets in city final

Hughes, freshman Dennis score 41 for crown, 59-55

Dunbar won 76-33 in Jan.

Girls basketball

February 26, 2003|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Defending champ Dunbar went into last night's Baltimore City girls basketball championship intent on stopping the heart and soul of Western's team - leading scorer Jeanell Hughes, who averages 26 points per game.

Instead, the Poets found themselves in double trouble when Western unleashed a second offensive threat - freshman Ebony Dennis. With Hughes and Dennis running the floor and hitting 11 of 12 shots in the first half, Western got far enough ahead to stay one step in front of the deeper, more experienced Poets squad, pulling out a 59-55 victory at Morgan State's Hill Field House.

The Poets, who had beaten the Doves, 76-33, on Jan. 28, closed to within one at the end of the third quarter, but they never managed to tie. Beth Sloat's three-pointer with 58 seconds left all but sealed Western's victory, giving it a 58-54 lead.

But the Doves took control much earlier, giving the Poets trouble with a quick-moving 1-2-2 defense and an offensive show from Hughes, a 5-foot-9 forward, and Dennis, a 5-6 guard.

The two combined for 41 points and shot 64 percent from the field, 7-for-11 each. No surprise for Hughes, but Dennis, who scored a career-high 21 points, started this season on the JV, moving up when Hughes broke her jaw in December.

"Since she came up she's been nothing but a joy," said Western coach Donchez Graham, who spent the previous four years as Wardell Selby's assistant at Dunbar. "The first time I saw her I knew she had something special. Boy did she step up tonight."

Dennis gives the Doves something they've been lacking, a second consistent offensive threat.

"She was getting some easy breaks and she was running the court. That caught us off-guard," said Selby. "We put pressure on them and she was releasing every time. We needed somebody to stay back."

After Hughes scored eight of the Doves' first 10 points, she fed Dennis for her first basket. Both players shot 4-for-4 in the first quarter as the Doves ran up a 21-9 lead.

The Doves (19-4) knew the early lead would be critical, because the Poets (16-4) have enough depth to wear down most teams with their pressure defense. That happened in the earlier meeting.

Right after that game, Graham and Hughes began talking about two years ago when the Poets won the first meeting by 27 points, but the Doves pulled out the city championship.

"That was my sophomore year," said Hughes, "and I remember it was depressing losing that first game, but all that matters is who wins the championship."

The Poets had won two of the past three titles, but the Doves have now won five in seven years.

Last night, the Poets whittled a 26-13 deficit to 26-22 on Bianca Sullivan's three-pointer with 3:09 left in the half. They remained within striking distance the rest of the way, but early foul trouble for their two key players, 6-0 center Ciarra Jones and high-scoring forward Shalane Price (20 points), didn't help.

The Poets pulled within one point six times in the last 8:24, but they never could close the gap. They missed five free throws in the fourth quarter.

Said Selby: "It was like climbing a ladder and never getting to the top."

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