The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Clarksburg, dominant to this point, can’t stop Western star in Class 4A championship game

Doves 81, Coyotes 68

Clarksburg's Mia Smith, right, scrambles for a loose ball with Western's Ny'Ceara Pryor in the second half. (Doug Kapustin/For The Washington Post)

When Clarksburg fouled Western girls’ basketball guard Ny’Ceara Pryor with 3.5 seconds remaining Friday night, Western’s players smiled and cheered as the Baltimore school’s fans stood on their feet and pulled out their phones.

Western was seconds from winning the Maryland 4A championship, 81-68, at the University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center. The foul offered Pryor the chance to step to the free throw line and cap her dominant performance by reaching 40 points.

Pryor accomplished that by sinking her second free throw before the senior joined her teammates in celebration when the buzzer sounded moments later.

Clarksburg (25-1) had been on the right side of these festivities and stellar performances all season as it cruised through Montgomery County. But in the Coyotes’ first state championship game appearance, Pryor outshined Clarksburg’s stars.

“Even though we couldn’t finish with the win … everyone in Montgomery County is going to remember this group of girls,” said Clarksburg guard Mia Smith, who scored a team-high 28 points. “We’ll go down in history for a long time.”

Clarksburg’s other star, Maryland commit Riley Nelson, was named Maryland Gatorade player of the year this week and had her first chance to play on her future home court against Western (21-2).

In March 2020, Clarksburg’s season ended against the Doves in the state quarterfinals. Since then, Nelson has grown five inches and become one of the country’s top recruits. Still, her goal of winning the state title — and beating Western in the process — remained.

But when Western went to a zone defense, it maintained a defender on Nelson. The junior finished with 16 points on 7-for-17 shooting while Maryland Coach Brenda Frese watched from the baseline. After winning every other game by double digits, Clarksburg came out flat Friday and fell into early foul trouble.

Still, for Clarksburg Coach Sissy Natoli, Friday was surreal. When she began coaching Clarksburg at its opening in 2006, her team was the county’s doormat. As her squads improved each year, expectations grew.

“Sometimes you have to take baby steps before you take those giant steps,” said Natoli, whose squad won the inaugural Montgomery County title last month. “Being able to see our program grow and mature over the 16 years, it's been fantastic.

At the buzzer Friday, after Pryor proved herself as the best player on the court, Nelson crouched at midcourt and pulled her white jersey over her head. She and Smith, who have spearheaded Clarksburg’s turnaround, hugged near the three-point line while waiting to receive their runner-up medals.

“We fell short, but this is definitely just going to be motivation for next year,” Nelson said. “We’re going to come in stronger and faster just so we can come in here and win this.”