Maryland 4A girls: Whitman bullies past Gaithersburg to win West region; Paint Branch falls to Baltimore Polytechnic

The Whitman girls basketball team was having a hard time hearing instructions from Coach Pete Kenah during the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the Maryland 4A West region tournament this week. So in preparation for Friday’s final against Gaithersburg, Kenah had a couple of his junior varsity players hold up bright pink signs behind him, so the players on the floor could see what calls he was making. One of the signs said “Husky;” another read “Weak.”

Whitman played the role of the former against its recent postseason foil on Friday night in Burtonsville. The Vikings bullied the two-time defending state champion Trojans into their worst offensive performance of the season to win 46-31 at Paint Branch, setting up a date with Baltimore Polytechnic in a Maryland 4A state semifinal on Thursday. The Lady Engineers used a last-second three-point-play to edge Paint Branch 45-43 in a wild 4A North final in the first half of Friday’s doubleheader.

“We’re not the best one-on-one players,” Kenah said, “but we think that we have a really good system, so we just came up with the idea like they do in football where they hold up those cards.”

On Thursday, Kenah blasted music in the locker room and practiced the sign communication with his players, and on Friday, the Vikings (21-4) looked completely prepared at the boisterous neutral site. Whitman held Gaithersburg to just eight points in the first half (including one in the first quarter), and did not reach double-figures until early in the third quarter. By that point, Whitman already led 24-10.

The Vikings played throwback offense (Maddie Cannon was the only player in double-figures with 10) and received a few pivotal plays late in the third quarter, including a three-point play from senior Dani Okon (nine points) that ballooned the lead to 31-17.

“We just played our game,” said Okon, who averages a team-high eight points per game. “I think we can definitely make it to the state championship and win that if we play the game we’ve been playing the whole season.”

In the fourth, Gaithersburg never threatened. Kenah used a swarming defensive strategy on the Trojans’ star forward Janessa Fauntroy (six points), and every time Whitman would get a stop, Kenah would put his hands up and yell “slow.” He didn’t need a sign for that. It was night of redemption for Kenah, who had lost to Gaithersburg in the playoffs the last three seasons,.

“Three years is such a long time. We’ve been back in those locker rooms crying at the end of the season,” Kenah said. “We lost all five starters . . . and it’s just such a team. Has there been a team that the leading scorer averages less than nine points a game to win the region? I mean I don’t know, it’s just such a throwback team.”

In the North region final sophomore Aneah Young converted a three-point play with 1.2 second left to lift Baltimore Polytechnic over host Paint Branch.

Young finished with 11 points and Teira Pendleton added 14 for the Lady Engineers, who led for most of the game but had to rally in the fourth quarter after Paint Branch (21-4) opened the stanza with a 9-0 run to take a 34-33 lead with just over five minutes remaining. The Panthers’ Kiara Colston scored 11 of her 19 points in the final eight minutes, including a runner in the lane with about five seconds left that gave Paint Branch a 43-42 lead.

After Poly called a timeout, the ball was inbounded to Young near half court, and she proceeded to dribble down the right side of floor and was fouled after hitting a layup. Paint Branch called a timeout to draw up a play after Young connected on her free throw — but sophomore guard Daisa Harris’s desperation heave from about 30 feet out hit the front of the iron.

Harris finished with eight points for Paint Branch, which was half her season average in points per game. The Panthers struggled offensively for long stretches on Friday, going without a field goal for the first four minutes of the second quarter and nearly the first seven minutes of the third quarter before coming alive in the fourth.

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