CATONSVILLE, Md. — Aberdeen sophomore Kierra Palmer missed badly on a few three-point shots in the first half of Saturday’s Maryland 3A state final against River Hill. One shot hit high off the backboard, and another missed the basket entirely, triggering the River Hill student section to relentlessly chant “air ball” whenever she touched the ball the rest of the game.
But in the rematch of last year’s state final, those loud chants faded by the fourth quarter, as Palmer was clearly not shaken. She scored 14 of her 22 points in final eight minutes to rally Aberdeen past River Hill, 51-47, at UMBC’s RAC Arena as the Eagles captured their second consecutive 3A title.
“I thought about last year. Because last year was so much fun winning a state championship as a freshman,” said Palmer, whose team beat River Hill, 62-48, in last season’s title game. “And to win it now, it feels good.”
Aberdeen (24-3) started two freshmen and two sophomores on Saturday night — and the Eagles looked the part early on, too. River Hill (24-4) outrebounded Aberdeen 29 to 14 in the first half, and 14 of the Hawks boards came on the offensive end. River Hill jumped out to a 19-10 lead at the end of the first quarter thanks to 10 points from Jenna Collins (15 points) — and her twin sister, Julia, hit a deep three late in the second quarter to help give the Hawks a 28-18 halftime advantage.
That lead was still 10 points, 38-28, late in the third quarter, but what Aberdeen couldn’t do physically (outrebounded 51-26), it made up for with speed (18 steals). Two of those picks came in the final seconds of the third quarter, when the Eagles closed the frame with a quick 6-0 run.
Palmer took over in the fourth. After she silenced the rambunctious River Hill student section with a fadeaway 16 footer off one foot, she came back on the following possession and drilled a three-pointer from the left baseline that tied the score at 41 with about five minutes remaining.
“Our defense just took over. Gave us some opportunities for some fast break points that really ignited our offense,” Aberdeen Coach Amber Mines said. “And once we went up, we knew we weren’t going to go back down.”
After Aberdeen expanded its lead to 48-41, River Hill made three-pointers on back-to-back trips with less than two minutes remaining, and got the ball back trailing by one with just under a minute left.
That’s when Palmer made the most important of her nine steals on the night, taking the ball in for a basket with 29 seconds left — and the Hawks didn’t have an answer offensively.
“We knew their student section was going to bring it hard tonight. So we knew that might be a factor with the younger players on the team,” Mines said, “but it was just about finding our rhythm.”