It has become a rite of winter for the Dunbar girls basketball team, which was seeking its fourth straight state title last night.
It didn't come easy for the Poets and it probably wouldn't have come at all if not for another huge fourth quarter by 6-foot senior center Ciarra Jones.
So instrumental in the Poets' state title last year, Jones scored nine of her 15 points in the fourth quarter to help No.16 Dunbar turn away Pocomoke, 53-48, in the Class 1A final at UMBC's RAC Arena.
In last year's 1A state final, Jones scored eight of her 10 points in the fourth quarter to help Dunbar put away Smithsburg. In this year's regional final, Jones scored eight points in the final period as the Poets came-from-behind to beat Forestville.
Last night, the girl teammates call Big C, was big in the clutch again.
"That's when your team needs you," said an emotional Jones, who was tackled to the court by her teammates and piled on in the post-game celebration. "This just feels so good to win four state championships. This was my last chance."
The Poets (23-4), who won their eighth straight state tournament game, became the second team to win more than three state crowns in a row. Dunbar, which won consecutive 2A titles before capturing back-to-back 1A championships, is within one of the tournament record of five straight titles, which was set by the now-closed Brooklyn Park in the late 1980s.
"This one means the most because we made history," said senior point guard Ashley Chase, who scored seven points to go along with five rebounds and five steals. She played well down the stretch, keeping alive several Dunbar possessions with her hustle.
The Warriors (24-2) of Worcester County led much of the way before Jones asserted herself inside. Playing with four fouls, Jones got free inside and scored off a pass from Chase to tie the game at 45 with 3:10 to play.
She then put in a nifty flip shot with her back to the basket to make it 47-45, and that grew to a four-point advantage when Chase got a steal and layup with 2:20 to play.
Pocomoke, whose undoing can be traced to a 12-for-26 performance from the line, inched to 49-48 with 1:33 left after freshman Andrea Reed (team-high 15 points) knocked down two free throws.
But Jones scored and was fouled on the Poets' next possession. Her free throw made it 52-48 with 1:02 to play and Pocomoke was finished after that.
It was the Poets, however, who appeared to be doomed early.
Dunbar made just two of 13 shots in the first quarter and eight of 31 in the first half. Fourteen turnovers and foul trouble didn't help matters much.
But the Poets, who had trailed by as many as 11, closed the first half on a 6-0 run, capped by senior Bianca Sullivan's steal and layup as the buzzer sounded, to pull to 28-23.
The Poets, who then switched to a man-to-man defense to limit the Warriors' penetration and force more turnovers, cut Pocomoke's lead to 39-37 on a basket by senior Shalane Price (11 points) late in the third quarter.
In the fourth period, the Poets turned to Jones, who delivered once again.
"I told them history could be made so let's go out and do this," Dunbar coach Wardell Selby said. "This is the way we wanted our seniors to go out. This was definitely the toughest one and it probably won't sink in until tomorrow."
P-Nixon 10, Purnell 9, Reed 15, Hall 4, White 1, Holden 5, Andrews 2, Clark 2. Totals 17 12-26 48.
D-Hill 13, Johnson 1, Sullivan 2, Chase 7, Leake 4, Price 11, Jones 15. Totals 22 9-15 53. Half: P, 28-23.