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In like Lions, out like champs: Howard girls capture Maryland 3A crown

Howard players and Coach Scott Robinson celebrate after winning the Class 3A girls' basketball championship game against Poly on Friday in College Park. (Julia Nikhinson for The Washington Post)
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When the clock hit zero, Howard girls’ basketball players ran onto the court, and Scott Robinson threw his hands into the air, a rare display of emotion for the usually stoic coach.

The Lions had beaten Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, 64-52, in Friday’s Maryland 3A state final, a result it had long awaited. The Lions then waited some more, patiently, as Poly received medals and a runner-up trophy. Going second was a privilege granted to champions alone.

“I couldn’t even speak,” said Howard guard Gabrielle Kennerly, who combined with fellow senior Samiyah Nasir for 35 points. “There were no words because [we’ve] never been in this situation before. So to actually be here and accomplish this main goal that we’ve been talking about since freshman year, it’s the huge cherry on top.”

The teams met in last year’s final, and Poly suffocated Howard, 60-37. The rematch provided the Lions a chance to get revenge and to fill a gaping hole in the Ellicott City school’s trophy cabinet. The program’s last state title came in 1994.

Robinson had guided the program to steady success since he arrived in 2011, winning at least 17 games every season. But the Lions (26-1) emerged as a dominant program over the past four years and didn’t have a state title to show for it.

They went 25-0 in 2020 before the season was canceled ahead of the state semifinals because of the coronavirus pandemic. Teams in Maryland didn’t play the next season, but when basketball returned, so did Howard’s excellence in a near-spotless run that ended with the state final loss.

Over the past three seasons, the Lions are now 70-2.

To prepare for the playoffs, Howard set up a grueling schedule for this year, and it suffered its lone loss to Pallotti, a private school.

The results of that preparation showed Friday as Robinson’s squad navigated itself through a variety of thorny situations. Even though Howard led for all but a couple of minutes, for a while it couldn’t stretch its advantage enough to put away Poly.

Meghan Yarnevich, a star sophomore who led all scorers with 24 points, fouled out with less than three minutes remaining. She pleaded with the officials and hoped her squad could hold on to a nine-point lead without her.

It did. With time ticking down, Robinson went down to players on his bench, slapping their hands with gusto as he started to grin. The last 33 seconds were merely a formality — it was time for the trophy presentation.

This time, finally, Howard got to go second.