Barely one minute had passed following the Paint Branch High School girls’ basketball team’s 73-37 victory in the Class 4A North Region over visiting Catonsville when a step ladder was pushed under the basket at the far end of the court. Senior guard Kiara Colston cautiously climbed to the top, scissors in hand, and once the net was within reach looked to the school’s athletic director, Heather Podosek, and asked, “Like this?”
Colston was questioning the proper technique with which she should cut the netting from the basket’s rim; it was the only thing the Panthers (23-2) seemed unsure of during an afternoon of complete dominance against their Baltimore County opponent.
One by one Colston’s teammates and coaches followed her to the top of the ladder, each cutting off a piece of the net until both baskets were detached, a testament to just how much Saturday’s win meant to them.
Paint Branch has won four state championships and was dominant for much of the 2000s. But no member of the current team has been to the state tournament. Saturday’s region title marked the Panthers’ first since winning three straight from 2007-09. Their last state title came in 2008.
Third-year coach Rochelle Coleman was a member of Paint Branch’s 2001 championship run and said she has had her sights set on helping the Panthers return to the tournament since she took over the program in 2011-12.
The Panthers will face perennial state power Eleanor Roosevelt from neighboring Prince George’s County in Thursday’s state semifinal scheduled for 5 p.m. at Towson University.
“Last year was the first class [in recent years] not to have [won a region title],” Coleman said. “One of the things when I took over was wanting to make sure we held up that [winning] tradition. All the time when alumni come out, they talk about winning [region titles].”
Paint Branch possesses all the tools necessary to win a state championship: athleticism, speed, size, sheer basketball skill. Within that the Panthers boast individually versatile players, allowing them to play a variety of different styles based on what is thrown at them.
Evident in their performance Saturday, Paint Branch is capable of putting up big numbers — Colston and junior guard Dasia Harris average 18 points per game, Tyra Sinclair another 10 points — and does so quite often. But it was the Panthers’ defensive effort from the start against Catonsville that impressed Coleman most, she said.
Paint Branch jumped to a 21-6 first-quarter lead; four of the Comets’ six points came from the free throw line. The Panthers held Catonsville scoreless for the first four minutes of the second quarter in building a 39-16 halftime lead. While the Panthers have benefitted this season from a much improved presence inside the paint — Nicola Ekuban and Sofilia Ngwafang made it very difficult for the Comets to do anything around the rim — it was their perimeter shooting that propelled them Saturday. Led by Harris (25 points), Colston (19) and Sinclair (15), Paint Branch netted 12 3-point shots Saturday.
The game was all but clinched by halftime but it was important for the Panthers to keep up their intensity, Harris said. That wasn’t hard given the opportunity they were faced with.
“We know we all kind of play the same position so we just share the ball,” Harris said. “It means so much to us to get back to states. We knew we had a chance and we took advantage.”
Paint Branch 73, Catonsville 37
Catonsville 6 10 10 11 — 37
Paint Branch 21 18 14 20 — 73
Catonsville — Taylor Barton 15
Paint Branch: Dasia Harris 25, Kiara Colston 19, Tyra Sinclair 15, Jasmine White 7.