Cardwell dropped a deep three that pushed the Yellow Jackets’ lead to 15 — with a bandage below her right eye, covering a cut suffered in a loose-ball scrum that had bled on her No. 22 jersey and forced her to change into a spare.
“I knew I’d come out of this game with some kind of scar,” Cardwell said while laughing afterward. “It’s always intense against Largo.”
In front of a big crowd on senior night and with the top seed in the playoffs on the line, the rivals battled in a physical duel, much like the one the teams played at Largo earlier this season, a 75-70 Lions win.
But this time Gwynn Park’s physical defense won out, a team effort embodied in the play of Cardwell, who scored 18 points while defending Alexys Long, the Lions’ leading scorer who is about a half foot taller than Cardwell.
“Our intensity was the difference this time,” said Cardwell, who flashed a smile in the midst of high-pressure defensive possessions on several occasions, relishing the opportunity to disrupt Long and the rest of the Lions (16-6, 16-1 Prince George’s 3A/2A/1A) by never allowing them to maintain possession comfortably.
Asked why he opted to use Cardwell on the versatile Long — who scored a game-high 19 points — Gwynn Park Coach Mike Strother cited her aggression, athleticism and speed.
“We wanted her to use her speed to get in front of Alexys and not let her get off on a streak with her threes,” Strother said. “She did exactly what we asked her to do.”
Cardwell and the Gwynn Park defense disrupted Largo all over the floor, a favor the Lions returned when they could, forcing most of the game to be played in a frantic back-and-forth between the foul lines rather than orderly half-court sets.
When Largo did find its way into the paint, the Lions ran into 6-foot senior Ashanti Freeland, who kept her feet and swatted shots away from the much smaller Lions and tallied 16 points, many of them in the third quarter when Cardwell (the cut) and fellow senior star Takayla Ellis (foul trouble) were on the Gwynn Park bench.
With the win, Gwynn Park (18-2, 16-1) avenges its lone conference loss and finishes with the top seed heading into the Maryland 2A playoffs. The Lions and Yellow Jackets share the Prince George’s 3A/2A/1A league championship, and a Sunday coin flip will determine which team plays No. 1 Eleanor Roosevelt (20-0, 17-0 Prince George’s 4A) next Thursday for the county championship.