Twenty minutes had passed since the final buzzer of Old Mill’s 57-54 overtime win in the Maryland 4A East region championship game Saturday afternoon, but Patriots Coach Rick Smith still roamed South River’s court, seeking a ladder and a pair of scissors.
It had been four years since the Old Mill girls’ basketball team had claimed a region crown, and the seventh-year coach sought the net as a piece of memorabilia.
So as the gym’s lights went out and his players mingled, Smith kept searching.
“Almost every team that we played four years ago feared us,” Smith said. “Now, they don’t fear us because they think they can play with us.”
The No. 17 Patriots (22-4) did it on the road against a South River team that they knew was nearly their equal. The No. 18 Seahawks (21-4) beat Old Mill by one point in January. Old Mill then beat South River for the Anne Arundel County title Feb. 23, winning by two on a buzzer-beating layup by forward Deja Atkinson.
Saturday’s win sent the Patriots to the state semifinals against Bethesda-Chevy Chase at 5 p.m. Thursday at Towson University’s SECU Arena.
Atkinson (13 points) was again in the thick of things in the closing moments Saturday. Old Mill led by a point with 27.8 seconds remaining in overtime when Atkinson made a pair of free throws.
In Old Mill’s initial meeting with South River, she missed a key free throw that would’ve sent the game to overtime — a miscue the junior said motivated her Saturday.
While Atkinson thrived late, Niagara University signee Sydney Faulcon dominated with a game-high 27 points.
“From the beginning, I had faith [we could win a title],” Faulcon said. “We had great chemistry.”
After Old Mill fell to Severna Park on Jan. 29 for its third loss in four games, Smith told his assistants to have more faith in their players in late-game situations. The Patriots have won nine consecutive games since.
Soon after the final buzzer sounded Saturday, the Patriots players grouped together, stuck their index fingers in the air and waited for the cameras. They were so eager to celebrate that they forgot to accept their regional title plaque, which North Point had claimed the previous three seasons.
“I’ve been with my seniors for three years,” Atkinson said. “I care a lot about them. It was big for them to get one championship before they graduate.”
Eventually, Smith would find a pair of scissors and clip his nylon keepsake, and he thought back to his previous region title.
“It [means] more to us this year,” he said, “because of how we had to do it.”