On the strength of a 16-2 run to open the second half, the fifth-ranked Panthers found themselves ahead of last year’s city title winner H.D. Woodson by 17 points midway through the third quarter. Unwilling to go quietly, the No. 4 Warriors cut Paul VI’s lead down to single digits early in the fourth quarter, but Freeman and the now senior-laden Panthers refused to allow them to get all the way back.
“This is the game last year where, if we were up by eight with 30 seconds to go, we might have given up a couple easy layups and it would have come down to the wire and we might have lost at the end,” Freeman said following her team’s 63-52 win at the National High School Hoops Festival, hosted by DeMatha. “We wanted to come out here and we wanted to make a statement. When we were up by 16, we told each other, we looked into each other’s eyes and we were like, ‘We are not going to let them come back. We are not going to lose this game.’”
The Panthers built their second-half lead not just with scoring from Freeman but also with hot shooting from senior point guard Lauren Cox, who opened and closed Paul VI’s 16-2 run with three-pointers. Cox’s 12 points made her one of three Panthers to finish the game in double figures, along with Freeman and guard Marlena Tremba, who had 11.
Freeman scored 16 of her game-high 28 points in the second half Sunday afternoon, keeping the Warriors at arm’s length even as they shrank the Panthers’ lead to six midway through the fourth quarter. Warriors guard Erin Blaine almost single handedly dragged H.D. Woodson back into the game, scoring 11 of her team’s first 13 points in the fourth quarter to close Paul VI’s advantage.
Blaine finished with 25 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, but her shooting touch went cold late in the fourth. The former Riverdale Baptist guard missed four straight free throws down the stretch, allowing Paul VI to finish the win without a serious challenge from the Warriors.
“It’s so big. Last year we didn’t have any seniors at all. It was all juniors, sophomores and freshman,” Freeman said. “Coming in this year, we have seven seniors and we have three other upperclassmen, juniors. It’s big because now we’re all experienced. We know how to calm down. We know how to handle end of the game situations and pressure. It’s huge.”