Raiders' Beauty Comes From Being Title Holder

Eleanor Roosevelt basketball players Chantel Petty (45) and Alexis Malloy embrace their championship win, while Olivia Applewhite (44) and assistant coach Yolanda King help step up the celebration.
Eleanor Roosevelt basketball players Chantel Petty (45) and Alexis Malloy embrace their championship win, while Olivia Applewhite (44) and assistant coach Yolanda King help step up the celebration. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
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By Jeff Nelson
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

CATONSVILLE, Md., March 17 -- With its senior star in street clothes and its opponent possessing more height and overall athleticism, Eleanor Roosevelt embraced its only possible strategy last night: Play a physical, feisty, aggressive style and force Arundel to commit as many turnovers and fouls as possible.

By capitalizing on the game's less attractive qualities, the fifth-ranked Raiders were able to appreciate the beauty of something that's never been done: four straight Maryland 4A girls' basketball championships.

Ahjah Hall's putback with 24 seconds left proved to be the winning points as Eleanor Roosevelt prevailed in a heart-stopping thriller, 52-50, at the RAC Arena on the UMBC campus.

"Did you all see that?" asked Raiders Coach Rod Hairston. "The resiliency of these young ladies is amazing to me. I was so impressed with the way they stuck in there."

Fourteenth-ranked Arundel led by four with a minute left, but Eleanor Roosevelt junior Noel Bullock hit a three-pointer from the corner with 54.6 seconds on the clock to cut the Wildcats' lead to 50-49.

Bullock, a first-year varsity player, was inserted into the starting lineup after All-Met Brooke Wilson injured her knee in the 4A South Region final. Bullock went scoreless in a state semifinal win over Blake, but she contributed seven points in the title game.

"She made a comment in practice the other day," Hairston said. "She said, 'I don't know about you guys, but this is my first one, my first championship game.' And she played amazing. She hit the biggest shot of her career tonight when it counted for the money."

After the Raiders forced Arundel's 21st and final turnover of the night, junior Elashier Hall -- who filled Wilson's role as the go-to player and scored a game-high 19 points -- drove to the basket and missed a running layup.

Five-foot-9 junior Ahjah Hall (no relation to Elashier) got her 10th rebound of the game and made the putback to give Eleanor Roosevelt a 51-50 lead with 24 seconds left.

That the Raiders' go-ahead basket came off a rebound was fitting; the Raiders (24-2) outrebounded the Wildcats 50-36, despite Arundel's distinct size advantage.

"We focused on boxing out," said Roosevelt's tallest player, 6-foot-1 junior Olivia Applewhite, who finished with eight points and 14 rebounds. "We all just cleared the rebounds, and that was the key to this game."

After a miss by Arundel (22-6), Elashier Hall added one free throw and got the rebound after missing the second, but then missed two more free throws with three seconds to play.

Arundel's Ebonne' Jones launched a half-court shot for the win that was right on line, but it went off the backboard, hit the front of the rim and bounced away at the buzzer.

Wildcats junior center Simone Egwu was forced to watch most of the second half and fouled out with three minutes to play.

"If there is a worse feeling than coming to the state championship and getting second place, [watching the end] was it," she said. "I wanted to be on the floor with my team." When it was suggested afterward that Eleanor Roosevelt thrived by making the game ugly, Elashier Hall smiled and said simply: "Thank you."

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