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FORT WASHINGTON — After recording the most wins in program history in a long time, the Northern girls basketball were just a game away from the regional championship game.
It would be a tough test to get to that title game as the Patriots traveled to take on top-seeded Friendly of Prince George’s County in the Class 3A South Region semifinals.
In a battle of the two Patriots teams, Friendly was too strong inside, hit perimeter jumpers and possessed ball-hawking defensive pressure that help it solidify a 56-33 victory.
Northern (15-8 overall) trailed 21-12 at halftime, but closed to within 26-20 early in the third quarter. That would be the closest that the visitors would get, as Friendly exploded on a 16-4 run to take a 42-24 lead after three quarters and help put the game away eventually in the final period.
Friendly head coach Carroll Holmes was pleased to not only advance to his team’s second-straight regional championship, but liked how the girls played with a lot of intensity.
“We always bring a lot of pressure defense and that helps us generate our offense, said Holmes, whose team is now on a 10-game winning streak and will take on third-seed Westlake in a region final rematch at 7 tonight. Westlake defeated second-seeded Chopticon in the other 3A South semifinal on Wednesday night, 74-47. “We got the ball inside and the girls were really strong around the basket.”
Leading Friendly (19-4) inside were senior forwards Chayla Lewis and Janay Carter with 17 and 11 points, respectively. Lewis and Carter also had 10 and nine rebounds, respectively.
On the perimeter, senior guard Danielle Pray finished with 13 points and nailed three of the team’s four three-pointers on the night.
“It’s real exciting to go back to the regional final,” said Lewis, who scored 11 of her points in the first half. “This was our goal to get back to that game. We did a good job of sharing the ball and using an inside-out type of game. I was able to use my pump fake and hit some jump shots and we controlled the boards.”
Despite numerous turnovers from Friendly’s press defense, Northern head coach Brad Kingsbury mentioned that when his team did break the press, they had some trouble getting into the half-court offense.
“We didn’t handle the press well at all, Friendly is a real tough team. We had a lot of nerves,” Kingsbury said. “I thought the girls competed, we did the best that we could.”
Northern only scored three points in the first quarter, and did not score its first field goal until it was 36 seconds left in the period.
Friendly led 9-3 lead after the first, then saw Northern come to within 11-7 early in the second quarter, but Friendly went on a 10-5 run to take the 21-12 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Northern senior Naaila Cooke hit a three to bring her team to 23-17, then Pray put Friendly up nine on a three of her own..
Freshman Mykaela Bailey (10 points) brought Northern back to within six on another three from the left corner with 5 minutes 45 seconds left.
“Friendly came out with more intensity than we did,” said Cooke, who finished with a team-high 14 points. “When we made a mistake, we got down on ourselves. You have to be ready to play versus a team like that.”
From there, Friendly went on an 8-0 run, as Lewis’ jumper and Carter’s free throw and putback from an offensive rebound helped extend the lead to 31-20. With less than two minutes left, the lead was pushed to 42-22.
“This season was very special to be a part of,” Cooke added. “We battled all the way to the top, we were winners regardless today. With being on the team I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Northern will bring back a core of younger players for next season, including Cassidy Cross, Bailey and Natalie LaPlaca, to be productive scorers for Kingsbury’s unit.