A Walter Johnson player pushed Whitman guard Nicole Fleck in the back as she went up for a layup late in the fourth quarter of Wednesday night’s Maryland 4A West region semifinal. Fleck went tumbling into the baseline wall, her whole right leg red with gym-floor burns. She was still shaking her wrist when she stepped to the line for two shots after officials called a flagrant foul.
But Fleck knocked down both shots to extinguish Walter Johnson’s last-chance rally, and the play was a microcosm for the entire night. Whitman was simply more composed.
Fleck was one of three Whitman players to score eight points and the Vikings used a scrappy second-half defensive performance to beat Walter Johnson, 49-42, in Bethesda to set up a region final matchup with Gaithersburg on Friday night.
“When the going gets tough, we pull out the win,” Fleck said, reflecting on the flagrant foul that came with 1 minute 45 seconds remaining after Walter Johnson had put together a 7-0 run to pull within 40-35. “I don’t even know, like, how that happened. Just take a deep breath and knock them down. That’s what you gotta do.”
The play was the boiling point in these teams’ third meeting of the season — a game that was chippy and physical from the onset, and one which didn’t produce a double-digit scorer on either side. Walter Johnson (18-6) entered the night riding an eight-game winning streak despite not having its standout center Kristen Larrick (knee) for that stretch, but struggled to find offensive production Wednesday. Whitman (20-4) pieced together an 11-0 run to start the second quarter, and expanded on a 22-21 halftime lead from a series of crucial defensive plays in the third and fourth quarters — including three blocks from junior center Rebecca Ford and a charge taken by senior Dani Okon (eight points) midway through the fourth quarter.
“Teams haven’t been able to score against them,” Whitman Coach Pete Kenah said. “I think we were able to get some stops, which is really our calling card.”
Walter Johnson received eight fourth-quarter points from reserve Erica Boyd, who helped facilitate the 7-0 run that pulled the Wildcats within striking distance with under two minutes to play. But Fleck, just a sophomore, was able to break free behind the press and get a good look at the basket on the ensuing possession. And after she was sent tumbling into the concrete wall from the flagrant foul she looked poised.
“We know [Walter Johnson’s] stuff through and through. We can run their plays better than them . . . they know that we know their plays, so they threw in little glitches there for us,” Fleck said. “In the end it wasn’t very pretty, but we grinded it out.”