Before Joppatowne's girls basketball team lost to Smithsburg by 21 points over the Christmas holiday in Hagerstown, the Mariners spent the day napping on their bus and walking around an outlet mall, because they entered the tournament late and raised only enough money for one night's hotel stay.
Saturday night, the No. 13 Mariners were plenty rested and fully focused as they scored the first 15 points and avenged that loss, 63-46, for their first state championship, the Class 1A crown, at UMBC's RAC Arena.
After Smithsburg's win in December, Joppatowne coach Michael Harris said Leopards coach Katy Barnhart told him she would see him at next year's tournament. He told her he would see her at the big tournament. He thought they were that good.
Harris also thought the Mariners would grow into a tournament team, because they started out with three new players among their top six.
Before Saturday's game, the Mariners (26-2) spent a lot of time watching film and planning for the rematch.
They expected a tough inside battle, but Shakara Head and Kourtney Lewis-Or, who combined for 26 points and 23 rebounds, got the best of the battle in the paint. Brittany Thornton hit an early 3-pointer, and Zameria Jones was too quick for the Leopards in getting to the hoop. They boosted the 15-0 lead to 36-16 with Head's follow shot to open the second half.
"When they turn it up, they're pretty impressive," Harris said. "When they turn it up and they're working together and playing defense, it's a scary thing. That was one of our best [performances] but I've seen it before."
The Leopards, whose 6-1 center Sara Rishell got into foul trouble early, rallied in the third quarter with their perimeter shooting. They hit 11 3-pointers in the game, four of them in the third quarter. Three in a row, including three from Katie Sprecher, pulled Smithsburg within 43-35 just 27 seconds into the fourth quarter, but Harris put all of his starters back on the floor and they scored the next 15 points.
Thornton, the only senior starter, hit all six of her free throws in that run and the Mariners finished 20-for-35 from the line.
"This means a lot to me," said Thornton, the Mariners floor general who had 11 points and five assists. "This was our goal for the last four years. We [won it with] our focus and how much we wanted to win."
Joppatowne's title is just the third championship for a Harford County girls team, coming after Fallston's second straight title earlier in the day in 2A.