The best performance of Danielle Rojas’s season, maybe even career, started with the Wootton student section heckling the Gaithersburg forward when she stepped to the line during the first quarter of Wednesday night’s Maryland 4A West quarterfinals. The students chanted loudly at her every movement, a hinderance that could have rattled any veteran player in a postseason game on the road.
But after Rojas knocked down both of the shots, she turned to the crowd and put her hands up in the air, body language that welcomed the taunts. It was that kind of self-confidence and fearlessness that set Rojas apart, as the senior forward bullied her way to 29 points to lead Gaithersburg to a come from behind, 62-58 win over the Patriots in Rockville.
“I welcomed it,” Rojas said of the playful student section. “I just embraced it. That’s really all I could do.”
Gaithersburg(16-7), which is just two years removed from winning a 4A state title, will meet Marguder in the 4A West semifinals Thursday after the Colonels took down Northwest on Wednesday.
Christine Mabry added 17 for Gaithersburg, and her fifth three-pointer of the night tied the game at 58 with 25 seconds left. On the ensuing inbounds play, Gaithersburg sophomore guard Celina Herndon came up with a steal underneath the basket, drawing a foul and knocking down both shots to give her team back the lead.
“Our plan was to try and trap and get that steal, and try to win the game,” Herndon said. “I did have a lot of pressure, especially being a sophomore, but i just worked through it.”
Undersized Wootton (15-8), which earned a top seed in its sectional, struggled to contain the bulldozing style of Rojas (who scored 16 points in the first half) but still looked as if it was going to escape with a come-from-behind victory late in the fourth quarter. The Patriots trailed for most of the second half until Sheri Addison (18 points) gave her team a 53-52 lead with just more than two minutes remaining, and Jenny Welch (14 points) pushed the lead to three with a putback with less than a minute remaining.
After Herndon gave her team a 60-58 lead with the foul shots, Addison had a chance to tie when she put a floater up in the lane. But with Rojas and fellow 6-foot-1 forward Janessa Fauntroy (12 points) disrupting her path to the basket, the shot rimmed out, and Fauntroy put the win on ice with a pair of free throws in the closing seconds.
“We all want to go out with a bang,” Rojas said. “We want to leave something.”