Largo players leave the court after losing to Pikesville in a Maryland 1A semifinal game Saturday at Towson University. (Doug Kapustin/For The Washington Post)

Many of Largo’s six seniors pulled their white jerseys over their faces after a 71-41 loss to Pikesville on Friday night in the Maryland 1A semifinals. They weren’t heartbroken just because their high school careers were over; they were angry with themselves.

“We didn’t just play as a team like we were supposed to,” forward Billie Johnson said.

“Everybody didn’t show up to play,” guard Johnnae Matthews said. “We practiced well, but I guess everybody got nervous because of the title of the game.”

Many of Largo’s starters were role players last season. This season, they stepped up to guide the Lions to their fourth consecutive state semifinals appearance. But in the biggest game of its season, Largo failed to score in the first quarter at Towson University’s SECU Arena.

“You can’t start a game [trailing] 15-0 in the first quarter and think you’re going to have some type of momentum,” Largo Coach Ayana Ball-Ward said.

“I applaud them for the way that they came out in the second quarter and played. If we would’ve played like that the entire game, it probably would’ve been a closer game.”


Largo's DeAuntra Nixon fights for a loose ball on the floor with Pikesville's Taylor Sawyer. (Doug Kapustin/For The Washington Post)

Guard Vanessa Schwarzmann led the Lions with 11 points.

Largo (18-9) fell to Southern by four points in last year’s Maryland 1A championship. The Lions brought back seven players from that squad, but they lost their three leading scorers. Largo’s returning players combined for 10 points in last season’s state title game.

For the first time in Ball-Ward’s 15 years coaching the Upper Marlboro school, she didn’t have a high-volume scorer to lean on. Instead, the Lions relied on ball movement and balanced scoring.

Largo’s inexperience showed early in the season during a 3-4 start.

But Largo settled in and finished 11-4 in Prince George’s County 1A/2A/3A play and beat Surrattsville in the Maryland 1A South region championship.

“Nobody expected us to be here because of who we lost,” Ball-Ward said. “For them to make it this far and for them to beat the teams we beat to get here, that’s awesome. It shows their character, and it shows their drive to want to win.”

Pikesville (25-4) led by 20 points in the second quarter before Largo scored its first point. The Baltimore County school will play Coppin Academy or Smithsburg in the championship on Saturday evening at SECU Arena.

Largo, which committed 34 turnovers, allowed 38.4 points per game entering Friday.

“It’s been a rough season,” Ball-Ward said. “For them just to accept the challenge and take hold of that challenge throughout the season was awesome for me as a coach.”