Largo has appeared in three consecutive Maryland state championship games and won the Class 2A title in 2016. But for the first time in Ayana Ball-Ward’s 15 years coaching the Lions, the team didn’t have a clear identity to her to start this season.
In the past, Ball-Ward could rely on a star to score 20 or more points every game. When Largo graduated its top three scorers from last season, Ball-Ward scraped her pressing system and implemented more passing plays.
After their inconsistent start, Largo’s players are beginning to jell with another playoff run in mind.
“Every kid wants to live that dream to play on the state level,” Ball-Ward said. “At the beginning of the season, it was real dim for us. We had a lot of moments where we didn’t look clear on our path. Now that they’re coming together, it’s becoming more clear.”
In its first campaign in Class 1A last year, Largo, leaning on forward Tania White, fell to Southern in the state championship. The Lions’ full-court press defense generated much of their offense. Now, Largo has less speed, so Ball-Ward included more passing drills to work the ball through two of her 6-foot players.
On Friday night, three Largo players scored in double-figures in their 59-44 win over Douglass, which the Lions could face again in the playoffs. Largo (14-8, 9-4 Prince George’s 1A/2A/3A) caps its regular season Friday against Friendly.
“Every night,” Ball-Ward said, “I have six players who could be the man.”
While Largo lost key contributors from last season, it returned seven players who endured last year’s postseason heartbreak. With the Lions’ recent playoff success, they aspire to reach the championship every season.
“I challenge my teams every year, ‘What’s your legacy going to be?’ ” Ball-Ward said. “That’s their challenge to make sure they leave something to talk about. The past couple of years, all those teams have left a name for themselves.”
Memory of fallen teammate inspires Osbourn Park
For senior guard Shay Hagans and her teammates, capturing the Cedar Run District championship Friday meant more than back-to-back titles.
Before the championship game, Osbourn Park received news that former player Nadia Davidson died after a car accident on her way back from the Yellowjackets’ semifinal game Wednesday against Battlefield.
Davidson graduated in 2017 and went on to play at Coppin State before transferring to Division II Louisburg (N.C.). In 2016, she and Hagans led the way in the Yellowjackets’ conference title game.
“I called her my Swiss Army knife. She was full of utility and she could do it all,” former coach Cliff Gorham said. “On the court, could play any of those roles. ... She was one of the sweetest kids you could meet.”
Her impact on the team was evident, and last week’s news perhaps affected Hagans most. The two grew up in the same area and played together at Osbourn Park for two years.
The weight of the situation pushed the Yellowjackets to try to play a perfect game for their fallen teammate.
“You could tell when the game started, [Shay’s] sole purpose was to get it done for Nadia,” Coach Chrissy Kelly said. “She did, along with 11 other girls, and winning a district championship shifted into memory of her.”
They beat Stonewall Jackson, 55-51, to win their second consecutive title. In Davidson’s senior season, the Yellowjackets fell to the Raiders by four points in the district final.
On Friday, Hagans put up 24 points to reach 1,405 total, tying Osbourn Park’s all-time girls’ scoring record.
Osbourn Park (19-4) will begin the Class 6 Region D tournament Wednesday, playing either Herndon or Marshall.
— Sammi Silber
Healthy Cardinals hoping to disrupt WCAC playoffs
Bishop Ireton enters the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference playoffs as a bit of a wild card. The Cardinals had a strong regular season, losing conference games only to the top teams: Paul VI, Bishop McNamara and St. John’s. They won all the games they were supposed to and played for an upset in the others.
“Before those games I told them ‘We’re coming in as the underdog, we have nothing to lose,’ ” Coach Kesha Walton said of those matchups with nationally ranked opponents.
But Walton is hoping her team has an added dimension, as point guard Laila Jewett is back from injury. Jewett had been out since Dec. 15 but returned to the lineup for the Cardinals’ regular season finale against Carroll.
As the team played without a true point guard, they needed some of their shooters to handle the ball more and spot up less. Now, with a distributor on the floor, Walton is hoping they can get more outside looks and open up the game. That could also make it easier to get it inside to senior forward Akunna Konkwo, one of the best-known playmakers in the WCAC and the program’s all-time scoring and rebounding leader.
“It’s been frustrating at times for Akunna this season as teams double- and triple-team her,” Walton said. “But we just ask her to stay focused. We lean on her for her leadership.”
The Cardinals kick off the WCAC playoffs with a quarterfinal matchup against O’Connell, a team they beat by two in overtime last week.
— Michael Errigo
Oakland Mills is thriving with just eight players
Take a look at the Oakland Mills bench during a game and there are sometimes more empty seats than occupied ones. In Thursday’s action, Marriotts Ridge had more bench players than Oakland Mills had bench players and coaches combined.
But that hasn’t fazed the team as the Scorpions were tied for first place in Howard County standing as recently as Wednesday. With just eight players on the roster, Coach Walt Hagins uses strategic practices to keep them fit.
“We try to condition how we play basketball. We don’t just do frivolous running for the run of it,” Hagins said. “We take practices really seriously and we are spending energy and trying to stay fit basketball-shape-wise. Our practices are strategic and directed.”
After losing to Marriotts Ridge and then Hammond, Oakland Mills fell out of contention of the he Howard County title race. But the team has its eyes — as few as there may be — on a bigger prize.
When Hagins took last year’s squad to the state semifinals in his first year as coach, he did it with 10 on the roster. Hagins said he is confident the team can achieve the same feat with fewer players.
“The county title is just a byproduct of the big goal. The big goal was to compete for the state championships,” he said. “If we’re able to play the best basketball we can at that time, I think everything else will take care of itself.”
— David J. Kim
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