Skipjacks’ second-half surge subdues Seahawks
Alert Smith keeps Chesapeake close until teammates step up
FREDERICK Rose Smith knew Thursday’s state women’s basketball tournament game started at 3 p.m., but her teammates must have hit the "snooze" button on their alarm clocks.
Smith was the only Skipjack who seemed awake at the start of Chesapeake College’s Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference state tournament quarterfinal against Cecil College. She stopped Cecil’s game-opening, 9-0 run with a jumper 5:36 into the contest, scored eight first-half points and was active inside both defensively and on both boards.
In fact, the freshman forward’s play was a major reason why the second-seeded Skipjacks, despite their horrendous start, only trailed Cecil by a point, 33-32, at the break.
"Rose played big real big," said Chesapeake head coach Damon Nichols. "She was laying everything on the line and that motivated everyone else."
Luckily for Chesapeake, all the Skipjacks were ready to play in the second half. Chesapeake scored the first eight points after intermission to take the lead for good and then the Skipjacks (19-3) put their collective foot on the accelerator while blowing past Cecil, 70-51. The win advanced Chesapeake to a 3 p.m. semifinal Saturday against Frederick Community College, the sixth-seeded tournament host.
Frederick (20-7) upset third-seeded Hagerstown Community College, 91-78, in Thursday’s closing quarterfinal. Chesapeake defeated the Cougars, 62-49, in an early season contest in Wye Mills.
In the opening minutes of the Cecil game, the Skipjacks did not appear destined for the state semifinals. Smith, however, said the team was unfazed by the early adversity.
"Once we woke up, we started playing our game," said Smith. "We knew we could handle it."
"Rose was the catalyst," said Deja Acree, Chesapeake’s sophomore point guard. "Somebody had to break the ice for us."
Once the Skipjacks got untracked, they were pretty impressive in turning back Cecil. Shantrel Oliver had a double-double (16 points, game-high 10 rebounds) while Denver Clyde combined a game-high 21 points with nine rebounds seven of them off the offensive glass. Smith finished with 14 points and four rebounds, Ashleigh Jones had 10 points and four rebounds, and Acree contributed nine points and a game-high four assists.
Most impressively, the Skipjacks held Cecil to 18 second-half points and completely clamped down on the Seahawks at the end, finishing the game on a 14-2 run.
"We got off to a good start," said Cecil head coach Andrew Coston. "You want to maintain that for 40 minutes if you can, but it’s not easy against a good team. We just couldn’t sustain it as long as we wanted to."
Cecil (12-12) could not have hoped for a better start. Candace Ingram scored two quick baskets on inside layups, Shanice Smith hit another layup and split a pair of free throws, and Brianna Thomas sank two foul shots as the Seahawks shot out to a 9-0 lead. Chesapeake, meanwhile, was 0-for-3 from the floor with five turnovers four by Acree as Cecil tried to turn the game into an early blowout.
Acree who did not have another turnover the rest of the game said the Skipjacks didn’t panic.
"We are very confident in each other," said Acree. "We believe in each other. That’s all it takes when you have a strong team."
Smith’s jumper off a smart, across-the-lane feed from Jones and a Clyde 3-pointer quickly got the Skipjacks back in the game at 9-5. Chesapeake took the lead with a 9-0 run of its own, building a 20-16 cushion as Oliver hit a pair of transition layups off Seahawk turnovers and a free throw.
Cecil responded to Chesapeake’s run. Thomas (team-high 18 points) scored nine points in a 17-7 Seahawk surge, capped by a 3-pointer by Shantia White (11 points) that gave Cecil a 33-27 lead with just over a minute left in the first half.
Just when things appeared to be getting out of hand, Clyde nailed a 3-pointer and Oliver hit an off-balance jumper off the break to pull the Skipjacks within a point at the half. Meanwhile, Thomas who scored 34 points in Cecil’s 71-59 first-round win over Harford picked up her third foul with 2:30 remaining in the first half.
Chesapeake’s little spurt at the end of the first half was actually the start of a 13-0 run by the Skipjacks that spilled over into the second half and put Chesapeake ahead to stay.
Acree put Chesapeake in front, 34-33, with a jumper and Jones scored a transition layup. Acree and Jones then each went coast-to-coast for layups that stretched Chesapeake’s lead to 40-33, and the Skipjacks’ defense took it from there.
After combining for 20 first-half points, mostly on uncontested jumpers from the wings, Chesapeake held Thomas and White to just nine second-half points.
"3 (Thomas) and 5 (White) were getting open in the first half because we were lazy getting out on the shooters," said Nichols. "We knew who their shooters were, but we had to get out on their shots. We also forgot the rotation in our zone and people were out of position defensively. In the second half we just changed the rotation up."
"Honestly, at first we were playing lazy defense," she said. "We had to pick it up on defense and get the stops we needed."
Cecil stayed in contact with the Skipjacks until about seven minutes remained, still only trailing by seven points (56-49) after Shanice Smith’s baseline jumper. Jones, however, started a 12-0 Skipjack run with a beautiful baby hook in the lane, Oliver drained a 3-pointer, and Rose Smith converted a steal into a layup for a 63-49 lead.
Clyde hit four straight free throws and Acree went 3-for-4 from the line down the stretch to close out the game.
Chesapeake, which opened the season with eight straight wins, has now once again won eight straight to tie the Skipjacks’ own team record. Their 19th victory also extended their own single-season school win record.
Notes: The other semifinal is already set, with top-seeded regular-season state champion Montgomery Rockville set to meet fourth-seeded Allegany College of Maryland in Saturday’s 1 p.m. semifinal, but both teams needed big rallies to avoid bigger upsets.
Rockville, ranked fifth in the nation in NJCAA Division III, scored the final 10 points to pull out a 72-67 victory over No. 8 CCBC-Dundalk. Allegany faced double-digit deficits in both halves before rallying for a 65-64 win over No. 5 Prince George’s Community College in Thursday quarterfinals.
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