Woodlawn's quest for an unbeaten season and its first state girls basketball championship seemed certain to end in the waning seconds of last night's Class 4A semifinal game against Oxon Hill.
The No. 2 Warriors trailed by three points with 13 seconds left, but Candice Britton and Brittney Taylor's back-to-back shots followed by a mistake by the Clippers' coaches, who called a timeout they did not have, sealed a 54-50 victory at UMBC's RAC Arena.
Instead of watching from the bleachers as they did last season after being eliminated in the semifinals by the Clippers, the Warriors improved to 24-0 and advanced to meet defending champion Churchill (22-3) for the title tomorrow at 3 p.m. at UMBC. The Bulldogs edged No. 2 Arundel, 63-60, in yesterday's other semifinal.
The improbable comeback began with the Clippers (20-4) ahead 50-47 with 29.6 seconds left. Britton looked for a long shot, but with her teammates - including three-point ace Tiara Wildy - covered, Britton opted for a 10-foot baseline jumper. She hit it and drew a foul.
"I was going to pass to Ronda [Shelley], but she wasn't open, so I took the shot," said Britton, who admitted she felt fortunate to draw the foul.
Her shot pulled the Warriors within 50-49, but her free throw rimmed out. The Warriors, however, got the ball back when the rebound caromed out of bounds off an Oxon Hill player.
Taylor, a sophomore guard who finished with 19 points, hit a short runner with 3.1 seconds left to put the Warriors up 51-50.
"It's a spur-of-the-moment shot," said Taylor. "It's just something you do when you know that you're down and you've got to step up. I knew I had to take the shot. I knew it was time for us to win."
After Taylor's basket, the Oxon Hill coaches called time with two seconds to go. Because they had already used all of their timeouts, the Clippers were hit with a technical foul.
Clippers coach Debra Anderson, whose team has been to the final two of the last three years, refused comment after the game.
Taylor hit one of the two free throws. The Clippers' Denesha Kenion then quickly fouled Britton, who hit both shots in the one-and-one for a 54-50 lead with 1.6 seconds left.
The Warriors held a lead from the 3:37 point in the third quarter until 1:33 remained in the game. Latricia Jones hit a turnaround jumper to tie the game at 47. The Clippers scored nine straight points to go up 50-47.
Woodlawn's rebounding through much of the second half helped it hold the Clippers' inside pair of 6-foot-2 Jones and 5-11 Rayven Simms to a combined two field goals and six total points in the fourth quarter. Simms finished with 14 points and Jones with five.
Wildy, who finished with 16 points and four three-pointers, also gave the Warriors momentum early in the fourth quarter with back-to-back 20-footers. They boosted the Warriors' lead to 41-34 with 6:13 to go.
A year of experience at the state tournament paid off for the Warriors. Although they got off to a slow start, they rallied to erase a 6-0 Clippers lead with a 13-point run.
A year ago, they had 12 turnovers in the first half. Last night, they had 13 in the entire game.
All season, the Warriors have planned a return trip to UMBC and a trip to the state final. Last night, Woodlawn coach DeWayne Burroughs said he saw that determination at halftime.
"I told the kids you've got to prove it to everyone that you're where you're supposed to be, and they looked me in the face and said, `We're not losing,' " said the fourth-year coach of the Baltimore County champions.
OH-Kenion 19, Hill 6, Jones 5, Simms 14, Wood 2, Cooper 4. Totals 19 11-21 50. W-Heard 5, Wildy 16, Britton 10, Taylor 19, Shelley 4. Totals 21 8-11 54. Half: OH, 24-19.