The Arundel Wildcats could be called many things in the Class 4A state championship at UMBC's RAC Arena on Saturday, and all of them would be true. Frustrated, angry, opportunistic and fiery all come to mind. In the end, though, just call them champions.
The fifth-ranked Wildcats (23-4) staged a fierce rally midway through the third quarter to come back from a nine-point deficit and defeat Gaithersburg, 53-40, to win the championship in a game that was much closer than the score indicated.
Sherrone Vails and Talen Watson led the Wildcats with 16 points each, while Colleen Marshall and Sarah Seipp led Gaithersburg (23-4) with 14 apiece.
The title is the program's fourth, but the first since 2004. It also erases two years of frustration at the state tournament for Arundel, which lost in the semifinals last year and the final in 2008.
"It looked bleak for us [at the half], and I kind of lit them up," Arundel coach Lee Rogers said. "We kept getting fouled, and we lost our composure a little. I gave them a fiery speech at halftime, and they responded."
The game looked like a tale of two halves. The Wildcats couldn't seem to solve the Trojans' defense, led by 6-foot-1 Aisha Ahmad. Gaithersburg used a strategy that denied the ball in the paint to forwards Vails and Brianna McKellery, and it clearly frustrated the Wildcats. They shot only 22.7 percent from the field in the first half and trailed 23-14 at the break.
Trailing 25-18, Arundel got a break when Ahmad picked up her fourth foul with 4:02 left in the third quarter. After that point, the Wildcats - who had never led - went on a 9-2 run to tie the score at 27 with 25.7 seconds left in the third quarter.
The final period was all Arundel. The Wildcats got most of their scoring from Louisville-bound Vails (nine points in the quarter) and Massachusetts-bound Watson (10 points) to outscore the Trojans 26-13 the rest of the way.
"We really picked up our defense in the third quarter," said Aleisha Henderson, who hit a key 3-pointer in the third-quarter Arundel run. "We kept our composure, and we had the will to be successful. We believed in ourselves."
Gaithersburg coach Adrian McDaniel blamed the loss on his team's lack of defense in the final period.
"We just had some mental breakdowns and didn't execute like the first three quarters," McDaniel said. "We weren't rotating like we should and didn't put a body on [Vails]. We just fell short today."
G - Sott 4, K. Marshall 8, C. Marshall 14, Seipp 14. Totals: 12 12-22 40.
A - Watson 16, Vails 16, Henderson 8, Moore 2, Grant 3, B. McKellery 6, K. McKellery 2. Totals: 15 21-30 53. Half: G, 23-14.