The Damascus High School girls basketball team's memory is sharp. And fortunately for the Swarmin' Hornets, their game is pretty sharp as well.
After losing a 19-point first half lead in last year's Class 3A West Region final against Frederick, top-seeded Damascus refused to allow itself to see another huge lead erased late in the postseason.
On Friday, the Swarmin' Hornets quickly established a 34-20 halftime lead against visiting South Hagerstown, and extended it to 22 points in the fourth quarter, allowing themselves to clinch the region crown with a 60-42 victory.
Damascus, which gained a measure of revenge by downing Frederick in the regional semifinals, will now advance to the Class 3A state semifinals at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's RAC Arena on Thursday for a 7 p.m. matchup against Aberdeen, the North Region champion.
“We had one slip away last year,” said Damascus coach Steve Pisarski. “We had a big, big lead last year, and we let it slip away and we thought we were the better team. We didn't want that to happen again this year.”
Just to make sure it wouldn't happen, Damascus (22-2) led from the opening tip, as the Rebels never came within double digits after the first four minutes of the second quarter. Two free throws by senior Becky Barret gave the hosts a 26-16 lead four minutes before the end of the first half, and the Swarmin' Hornets took total control from that point.
“[Winning the region championship] feels great,” said Barret, who tallied 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. “It's like I am really so excited that I still have adrenaline pumping. It's like one of the best feelings ever because this was my senior year, and my last game ever on this court, and we got a great win, and now we are going to UMBC for the state tournament.”
Despite the final margin of victory, and the Swarmin' Hornets' efficient efforts on both ends of the court, the hosts did not see any lack of effort from South Hagerstown, which sported a starting lineup without one senior.
“They were so tough, they [South Hagerstown] don't quit, and in the [state] semis [our opponent], certainly aren't going to quit,” Barret said. “Even though this game wasn't really close, it felt like it because they just kept fighting and never gave up. But we had memories of last year, so we did not let up.”
Junior guard Jenna Kaufman led Damascus in scoring with 15 points. She also added four assists and four rebounds. Classmate Kelli Prange added 14 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots. A third junior, Lauren Green, chipped in with nine points and 10 rebounds.
“We were just trying to get inside, and I got some open looks driving, so I took them,” Kaufman said. “ This feels so amazing, we have been waiting for this for so long, and I'm just ecstatic.”
Freshman guard Celensia Dickson led South Hagerstown (21-3) with a 17 point-effort. Junior forward Tayana Stewart contributed nine points for the Rebels.
“It's been a lot of years, and we've been in a lot of region finals without winning on [in recent years],” said Pisarski. “We've been in five or six of them since our last [championship] in 2004. The girls worked hard for this. They were conditioning in September when we came back to school, after playing summer league and AAU. [All season] they have played hard and they earned it, they never complained. They had their eye on this, and hopefully we'll go a little further. They deserve it.”
Damascus 60, South Hagerstown 42
S. Hagerstown 10 10 12 10 — 42
Damascus 18 16 17 9 — 60
South Hagerstown (21-3): Lindsey Bedregal 5; Chelsey Scott 4; Katrice Dixon 5; Alexis Longfellow 2; Celensia Dickson 17; Tayana Stewart 9.
Damascus (22-2): Jenna Kaufman 15; Lauren Green 9; Anna Warfield 7; Kelli Prange 14; Katie Culbertson 2; Becky Barret 13.