As the Damascus High School girls basketball team watched a 14-point lead against visiting Frederick High in Wednesday’s Class 3A West Region semifinal dwindle to three in the final minute of regulation, the Swarmin’ Hornets couldn’t help but let their minds drift to last March, coach Steve Pisarski said.
In the 2012 region final, Damascus let an early 19-point lead slip in a one-point loss to the Cadets. Frederick’s late-game surge was its second comeback; the Cadets closed a 14-point, second-quarter gap to six by halftime.
But there was no way history was repeating itself Wednesday, Damascus 6-foot-1 senior forward Becky Barrett said. She made sure of it.
In admittedly her best game of the winter, Barrett doubled her season scoring average to net a game-high 16 points in leading the No. 1 seeded Swarmin’ Hornets to a 51-43 win over two-time defending region champion Frederick.
Damascus (22-2) plays host second-seeded South Hagerstown in Friday’s region final. Damascus is looking for its first state tournament appearance since 2004, third overall. It has never reached the state championship game.
“When they got going, I started to get worried that this was going to be like last year. But I was like, ‘We are not losing this game.’ We were not going to lose to Frederick again, there was no way I could deal with that,” Barrett said. The Swarmin’ Hornets, whose only losses were to out-of-county teams in mid-January, have seldom been tested this winter — they’d outscored their previous nine opponents 68.4-29.3. And it looked early like Wednesday would be a similar story.
After perhaps the quickest start of any team this season — Jenna Kaufman’s layup off the tip-off gave Damascus a 2-0 lead four seconds into the game — the Swarmin’ Hornets, who held a major size advantage, jumped to an 11-4 lead in four minutes.
They played to their strengths early, moving the ball quickly and playing off each other seemingly effortlessly to take a 20-6 lead midway through the second quarter.
Then, the smaller but quick-footed Cadets made their move. Dajah Gee’s first of three 3-point shots helped close the gap late in the first half. Gee paced Frederick with 14 points.
“We always believe we can come back. That’s what I want, as a coach, I want my girls to play real hard and they played their hardest. I’m proud of my players,” Cadets coach Keivette Hammond said.
Kelli Prange (16.3 points per game) is Damascus’ biggest offensive threat but what makes the Swarmin’ Hornets so dangerous is their long list of potential scorers.
Prange put up 13 points in an average game for the 6-4 junior but typically her supporting cast, players such as Barrett came to the forefront to pick her up, Pisarski said.
“Kelli is our best player but she didn’t have a great game. It shows something about the rest of our team. [Wednesday] Becky was our rock. She leads us in rebounds. [Wednesday] she made her shots. She doesn’t try shots she shouldn’t and she shot a high percentage. Last game every single player who played had a great game. Today she led us,” Pisarski said.
After Damascus’ 14-point lead midway through the fourth quarter was cut to three points with just under one minute left in regulation, Barrett and senior Lauren Derby combined to go 5 for 6 from the free throw line to help settle the team and clinch the Swarmin’ Hornets’ third straight region final appearance.
“I don’t know whether we weathered them or they ran out of time. They’re a good team. There’s a reason they’ve won two straight region titles and a state title. They do not stop coming at you,” Pisarski said. “I think it was good to get a close game in, you have to know you can play them. The girls played with a lot of poise those last two or three minutes.”
Damascus 51, Frederick 43
Frederick 6 8 15 14 — 43
Damascus 16 4 17 14 — 51
Frederick (16-8):Dajah Gee 14, Courtney Davis 8, Kiyanna Chaney 7.
Damascus (22-2): Becky Barrett 16, Kelli Prange 13, Jenna Kaufman 11, Lauren Green 5, Lauren Derby 4, Anna Warfield 3.