Skipjacks press their way into region final
Oliver scores 23, Clyde adds 20 to earn title shot against Hawks
NORTH EAST The Skipjacks pressed their way into another championship game.
Top-seeded Chesapeake College (24-3) forced 10 turnovers with full-court pressure six in the first 13 minutes as the Skipjacks raced to a 28-14 lead on the way to a surprisingly easy, 76-63 region semifinal win Saturday afternoon over fourth-seeded Allegany College of Maryland. The state champion Skipjacks, ranked 20th in the country and winners of 13 straight, face second-seeded Hagerstown Community College (26-4) Sunday at 2 p.m. in the NJCAA Division II Region XX title game at Cecil College.
The winner of Sunday’s title game advances to the NJCAA Division II national tournament.
"Coach (Damon Nichols) had us practice our pressure this week to kind of refresh our memories on where we’re supposed to be on the court," said sophomore point guard Deja Acree, who finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. "I guess our pressure was too much for them. When you play a team four times, you learn how to play them."
Chesapeake and Allegany split regular-season games, each winning at home, but the Skipjacks followed up a 75-66 victory in last month’s state finals with one of their most impressive efforts of the season in the region semis. Shantrel Oliver (four rebounds, four assists) scored a game-high 23 points and Denver Clyde (six rebounds) added 20 for the Skipjacks, who never trailed in Saturday’s semifinal.
The Skipjacks were nursing a 12-11 lead before Ashleigh Jones (nine points, five rebounds, four assists) started a 7-0 run with a baseline jumper. Oliver took over from there, turning a steal on the press into a layup and hitting 3-of-4 free-throw attempts as Chesapeake built a 19-11 lead midway through the first half.
"We knew we had to come out with some fire. A couple of games recently we’ve come out flat," said Nichols. "I told them, ’This is the region tournament you can’t come out flat here.’ "
Allegany pulled within 19-14, but the Skipjacks answered with a 9-0 scoring spree. Rose Smith (eight points, eight rebounds) and Clyde each hit two free throws. Then, after another Trojan turnover against full-court pressure, Acree nailed a 3-pointer from the wing and Clyde hit two more free throws for a 28-14 cushion with 7:18 left in the half.
"It worked well," Oliver said of the Skipjacks’ press. "We cut off the middle and our trap was working well on the sideline. They couldn’t get out."
"I don’t think we’ve struggled with a press all year, but we did today," said Allegany head coach Garettt Sherman. "On a couple of those turnovers we virtually handed them the ball. They have a good press, so it’s a credit to them as well."
Lauren Shoemaker stopped the Skipjacks’ run with a layup for Allegany, but Acree, Clyde and Oliver all hit 3-pointers in less than two minutes as the Skipjacks stretched their lead to 39-16 on the way to a 41-22 halftime advantage.
The Trojans (22-9) opened the second half with a 14-6 run, cutting the gap to 47-36 on a pair of free throws by Taylor Siggers (17 points) with more than 15 minutes remaining. That was the first of four times Allegany got within 11 points, but each time the Skipjacks answered with a basket.
"I told our girls, ’A team that good if they get back in the game, we’re going to have problems down the stretch,’ " said Nichols, who was pleased with his squad’s killer instinct.
Madi Nightengale (team-high 18 points) hit a free throw to get Allegany within 11 points for the last time at 56-45 with 10:57 remaining. Oliver answered with a three-point play, grabbing a loose-ball offensive rebound and driving the baseline for a layup as she was being fouled by Shoemaker.
Oliver’s three-point play started a 10-5 run that included a pair of Smith baskets off offensive rebounds as Chesapeake rebuilt its lead to 65-49 to lock up Sunday’s title-game berth.
"We knew from playing them in states that they were tough," Oliver said of the Trojans. "We came out and played our hardest. Once we got up, we never looked back."
Briana Bonaparte joined Nightengale, Siggers and Shoemaker in double figures for Allegany with 16 points.
Sunday’s final between Chesapeake and Hagerstown will be the teams’ second meeting of the season, with the Hawks having pulled out a 56-52 regular-season victory by scoring the game’s final 10 points. Since that meeting, Chesapeake has posted a 16-2 record and Hagerstown has put up a 16-3 mark, but the Hawks have lost three of their most recent eight games.
Nichols said the Skipjacks know what they need to do in order to beat Hagerstown this time around.
"We have to do the same things we did tonight," said Nichols. "We can’t miss assignments on our press, we have to box out and we have to play good defense."
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