The Riverdale Baptist girls’ basketball team already had illustrated its depth in a blowout win in the semifinals of the National High School Invitational, but in the final minutes of Saturday’s championship game, the Crusaders faced their most telling test.
Without star senior Jonquel Jones – a Clemson recruit playing in the Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association High School All-America Game in Denver – and facing the elite back court of Dr. Phillips (Fla.), Riverdale needed to show it had a player capable of seizing control of the game.
Senior Jennie Simms gladly accepted that role.
The West Virginia-bound forward was the vocal leader throughout the contest, dominated on the glass and scored six of her team’s 10 points in the final 4 minutes 15 seconds as the Crusaders pulled away for a 63-59 victory at Georgetown Prep.
“My team, I was able to find them, they were able to find me, and get me the ball when I needed to score,” said Simms, who finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds and was named the tournament’s most valuable player. “I would say it was my team. My team helped me get it.”
Riverdale (37-2) struggled at times to contain the Panthers’ star guards, Sydney McCaskill and Taryn Griffey, the daughter of former baseball star Ken Griffey, Jr. McCaskill had 15 points in the first half, and when Riverdale focused on slowing the junior in the second half, Griffey took over, scoring 17 points.
Riverdale shot just 1 of 9 from three-point range in the first half, and Dr. Phillips was content to sit in a 1-1-3 zone and take away the Crusaders’ inside looks. In the second half, though, those open looks started to fall for Riverdale.
Towson recruit Dominique Johnson’s three-pointer to start the fourth quarter gave the Crusaders a 46-44 lead, and with the zone defense still sagging off shooters, Auteaonna Gilmore knocked down a deep three that opened up a 50-47 lead with 5:33 left.
After Riverdale senior Kelila Atkinson (Wake Forest) went to the bench with calf cramps, Dr. Phillips (30-4) started to chip away again, pulling back to within one with 1:23 remaining. But Simms provided one final lift for Riverdale.
With less than 20 seconds left in the game, the senior drove to the rim and looked to find Gilmore for another three from the corner. The pass was a bit off, however, and Gilmore’s shot was long. With just one second left on the shot clock, Simms grabbed the offensive board – her eighth of the game and Riverdale’s 34th – and put it back at the buzzer to give the Crusaders a three-point lead.
“When I first caught it I seen one [on the shot clock] and I just let it go,” Simms said. “I was like something gotta hit.”