CATONSVILLE — With little offense to brag about in the first half, Western Tech turned up the defense in the second and roared back to oust the Southern Rams from the Class 1A state tournament with a 45-40 semifinal win Friday night at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
The victory, coupled with Dunbar’s 55-43 win over Mardela later in the evening, makes tonight’s 6 p.m. title game a rematch of last year’s 1A final. Dunbar won last year’s game 50-42. Western Tech is 20-6 and Dunbar 18-8.
Southern, which had won 18 of its last 19, finished the year with a 22-3 record.
“We’ve had a great year and, personally, I think we just played the state championship game,” said Southern coach Danny Bosley. “We fought hard, but they spread us out a bit and Sydney Clopton got on a run for them in the second half to get them the lead.
“I’m proud of our girls. Proud of our team. We made some mistakes and they made some big shots to come back. I’m happy because of the season we had but disappointed it ended tonight. These kids are great.”
Clopton’s game mirrored that of her team. She had only five points, and the team just 15, at halftime. She had 15 in the second, when Western outscored Southern 30-16.
The Wolverines trailed 24-15 at halftime, took their first lead at 30-29 after a runner in the lane by Clopton with 1:45 left in the third quarter, and led by as many as eight, 38-30, midway through the fourth. They won despite battling foul trouble all evening, with Clopton, a quick-driving 5-foot-3 point guard, and 5-9 Deja Dennis eventually fouling out.
“It was a close-called game, and foul trouble hurts us because we like to put a lot of pressure on teams with our defense,’’ said Western coach Nolan Roe. “But we have a lot of ballhandlers, and a lot of people stepped up when we needed them to, which has been the case all year.”
Clopton finished with 20 points, made 8 of 10 foul shots and had three steals. Ebonee Dixon had 11 points, with six in the fourth quarter, and Daija Coles seven points and 10 rebounds for Western.
Hannah Horne had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Kambrie Bosley, Mandy Sweitzer and Alicia Roth seven points each for Southern. Roth also had eight rebounds, Sweitzer had seven rebounds and Bosley four assists.
Southern, which never trailed in a 10-point win in the West Region final, appeared to pick things up where they left off a week ago against North Carroll. The Rams scored eight of the first nine points, and led 8-1 after a three-point shot by Raeslee Weimer with 4:20 left in the first quarter.
But the Rams struggled, uncharacteristically, on offense the rest of the half — and game — making only 9 of 42 shots from the field over the final three quarters. Even the foul shots wouldn’t fall. After going 10 for 12 in the first half, the Rams, who led the area in foul shooting at 70 percent, were 2 for 8 in the second, and 0 for 4 in the fourth quarter.
“We were up nine at halftime and feeling pretty comfortable, especially with Clopton in a little foul trouble,” Bosley said. “And we pounded the ball inside to try to get their bigs in some foul trouble, too. But we just missed too many shots, and they penetrated well and made some big ones. That’s basketball.”
The big differences in the halves were Western’s press and traps. Southern had eight turnovers in the third quarter. And when the Rams did solve the press they came up empty on the offensive end, several times missing short shots in the lane. Southern scored six points in the third quarter, and trailed 33-30 going into the fourth.
“I think we started panicking at times when they double-teamed us. We hadn’t seen that kind of pressure before,’’ said Weimer, Southern’s point guard, who missed time in foul trouble herself. “We worked on what we needed to do in practice, but we didn’t do it at times tonight.”
“Coach told us we needed to play good defense to win. But they played better defense in the second half,’’ admitted forward Mandy Sweitzer.
Hannah Horne led a final push, scoring eight big points in the fourth quarter and hitting two three-pointers in the final 1:30, the second cutting the score to 42-40 with 37 seconds to go. The Rams missed a chance at tying it after a steal by Roth, and Dixon hit three free throws in the final 17 seconds to seal it.
Neither team shot well, as Western, which was only 5 for 24 in the first half, finished 13 for 46. Southern out-rebounded Western 44-40, but had 23 turnovers.
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org