Trailing by eight points with six seconds left in the first half, Howard High senior guard Simone Wise maneuvered her way past two Frederick defenders and hoisted a wide open three-point shot that hit the front of the rim.
It was that kind of night for the Lions. Reaching their first state semifinals since 1994, the Lions (20-6 overall) couldn’t string enough positive plays to overtake the Cadets, who advanced to the state finals with a 61-56 decision at UMBC.
“I think our girls [Howard] played their hearts out,” said Howard coach Scott Robinson. “I’ve seen them [Frederick] play twice, they are a great and I thought my girls did a good job in fighting back. We got off of to a rough start but we gain our composure.”
“It was definitely intimidating playing out there in the first couple of minutes,” said Howard senior Bailey Benz on playing in a state semi-final atmosphere. “There was a lot jitters in the first minutes and in the first half, we dug ourselves into a big hole in the beginning and we couldn’t get out of it.”
The West champion Cadets (21-4) will take on No. 2 Aberdeen in the championship round Saturday at 6 p.m. Aberdeen defeated Largo from Prince George’s County in the other semifinal Thursday evening.
Frederick, which arrived at the game site nearly an hour behind schedule due to a malfunctioning bus, came out swinging in the opening minutes. Led by a three-head scoring monster of Rachel Johnson (16 points), Lauren Tolson (16 points) and Lynasia Frazier (15 points), the Cadets craved the zone defense of Howard and used a full court press to stifle the Lions.
“We came out knowing that we had to play hard,” said Tolson. “This team [Howard] also wanted it just and we proved [that] we wanted it more, we had to come out strong and that’s what we did and we got the W.”
“Their [Frederick] style is to create havoc, their very good at it and that’s what they do,” said Robinson. “They have the athletes to do it, every time we cut the lead down they would come up and make a big shot.”
Benz and Aluana Jackson both had 13 points to lead the Lions while Wise and April Kuhn both had eight points.
The Cadets leaped out to a 10-2 lead in the first quarter as the Lions committed 11 turnovers and made only one field goal. Howard was in an uphill battle against a fierce defensive Cadet squad that converted 17 Lions first half turnovers into 10 points.
The Lions’ frontcourt of Jackson and Kuhn kept the Lions afloat by scoring five and six points respectively in the first half. Down by 11, the Lions went on an 8-2 run to cut the Cadet lead to five with 3:34 left in the second quarter. Frederick quickly answered and pushed their lead to eight before intermission.
“There is always time and the mindset was to take it one basket at a time, we tried to do that but there wasn’t enough time,” said Wise.
Trailing by 13 points in the final quarter, Howard trimmed the Cadets’ advantage to five with 2 minutes, 23 seconds remaining in regulation. The Lions’ hopes were ended as the Cadets’ India Dotson came up with a steal for Frederick. Moments later, Johnson connected on a jumper which was followed by another Howard turnover.
“I’m really proud of the girls, it has been a great year,” said Robinson.