The fourth time was the charm for the Walt Whitman High School girls basketball team.
After being banished from the regional playoffs the past three seasons by Gaithersburg, the Vikings were finally able to return the favor and did so in commanding style. They ended Gaithersburg’s three-year hold on the Class 4A West Region title through a 46-31 win on Friday at Paint Branch High School.
Whitman, which previously lost in the regional final, semifinals and quarterfinals to the two-time defending state champion Trojans, established a 6-1 lead after an ugly first quarter (16 combined turnovers, 12 combined fouls) and then a 22-8 advantage by halftime en route to the lopsided victory.
“I think they said it best at the Academy Awards where dreams come true and it really did happen tonight,” said Vikings coach Pete Kenah, whose team reached the state semifinals for the first time since 2007. “Three years is such a long time. We’ve been back in the locker room crying at the end of the season. I just couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Whitman (21-4) reached Thursday’s 4A state semifinal contest against Poly (21-4), the 4A North Region champion, to be held at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s RAC Arena through its swarming man-to-man and trapping halfcourt defenses that just smothered the Trojans, who committed over 20 turnovers for the game.
“Our defense was really [good],” said Vikings guard Maddie Cannon, who had a late steal that led to the fifth foul for Deja Rollins (11 points). “We worked really hard on our gaps and we have such a good chemistry. Our defense is what won our game.
“Usually in the playoffs, whoever starts well, finishes well. We really wanted to win; we wanted to beat the two-time defending champions. It really made us fight for it.”
Gaithersburg, in fact, was held to just two field goals in the first half and none in the first quarter. Its first field goal came on a basket by Christine Mabry with 3 minutes, 12 seconds left in the first half.
“To hold a team a point in a quarter, you can’t ask for much more than that and I think they only scored seven in the second quarter,” Kenah said. “We felt it was a real positive having to get to play them one time [in the regular season] to see some different things they did. We just felt very comfortable with the things that they were trying to do.”
Gaithersburg (18-5) responded with 12 third quarter points, but still trailed, 33-20, going into the final eight minutes. It got as close as eight points on a jumper by Rollins with 3:12 left in the game, but seven made free throws down the stretch sealed the win for the Vikings, who dropped a 49-47 decision to the Trojans Feb. 8.
“We just couldn’t get any shots and Whitman was executing,” Trojans coach Adrian McDaniel said. “They had a great game plan and they executed. The first half, we scored one point in the first quarter — that was a season low — and we could hardly score in the second quarter. It just wasn’t our night.”
Rollins ended her four-year tenure with three region titles, two state titles and one regional final appearance. Janessa Fauntroy contributed six points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in the loss.
Offensively, Whitman received at least one point from nine players, led by Cannon’s 10 points. Rebecca Ford had six of her eight points in the final quarter, including a shot clock-beating jumper to push the lead to 15 points early in the fourth.
Walt Whitman 46, Gaithersburg 31
Walt Whitman 6 16 11 13 — 46
Gaithersburg 1 7 12 11 — 31
Walt Whitman (21-4): Kim Durante 3, Maddie Cannon 10, Nicole Fleck 4, Dani Okon 9, Marissa Cannon 2, Avery Witt 5, Rebecca Ford 8, Linn Bumpers 1, Marie Hatch 4.
Gaithersburg (18-5): Deja Rollins 11, Dejanai Lowe-Hillard 5, Briana Jones 3, Janessa Fauntroy 6, Stephanie Pantos 4, Christine Mabry 2.