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RAC ’Em Up

Vikings topple defending champ Gaithersburg to claim first regional title since 1995; next up is Eleanor Roosevelt for state semis at UMBC’s RAC Arena.

As the Gaithersburg Trojans staged a furious second-half rally in the regional girls basketball championship last Saturday, the Whitman players and coaches had a litany of thoughts running through their heads.

“I was thinking ‘Can we hold on?’” said Whitman coach Pete Kenah. He wondered if his team could make enough plays down the stretch to win.

“I just kept on thinking … ‘This could be three minutes left in my high school career,’ and I did not want that to happen,” said senior guard Zoe Walsh.

When junior forward Erin Brown stepped to the free-throw line with the game tied at 53-53 and 1 minute, 36 seconds to play, she wasn’t thinking about the score, or even the game.

“Weirdly enough I was thinking about my grandfather,” said Brown. Brown said that her grandfather, Jack Davis, is ill. “I just wanted to do it for him.”

Brown hit both shots and added one more with 1:01 to play to put the Vikings up for good. Whitman held on to win the regional championship 59-53 over Gaithersburg on March 3 before a raucous crowd of approximately 600 at Montgomery Blair High School.

THE TROJANS overcame a 40-21 deficit early in the third quarter behind an aggressive defense that caused the Vikings to turn the ball over time and again.

Trailing 38-21 at the half, Gaithersburg coach Ivan Hicks told his team that they just needed to settle down.

“I told them to relax and let the game come to them,” said Hicks. The Vikings countered the Trojan full-court press easily in the first half, but the Trojans switched to a different press in the second half and the Vikings struggled to move the ball upcourt.

“Their intensity overwhelmed us,” said Kenah. “Their press shifted… and it bothered us.”

The Trojans outscored the Vikings 18-5 in the third quarter to pull within 43-39 with one quarter to play.

“We let them get back in the game in the third quarter [by] not rebounding or helping on defense,” said Whitman junior guard Julie McCabe.

“‘Julie, please don’t foul out,’” Kenah remembered thinking to himself as Whitman’s lead dwindled. Kenah knew that he would need the junior’s defensive skills to hold off the Gaithersburg surge, but McCabe had fouled out a few times during the regular season and was playing the fourth quarter with four fouls.

“I fouled out a lot this season; I can’t really control my limbs,” McCabe said.

McCabe picked up her fifth and final foul with 5:30 to play and the Vikings leading by just three points, but after briefly surrendering the lead the Vikings righted the ship. Sophomore Morgan Werner hit a jump shot from the left wing that Kenah said was critical, and then Brown took over, both with her scoring and by grabbing crucial rebounds in the game’s final minutes.

“Then there was Erin Brown down the stretch,” said Kenah. “She was huge — not only the free throws but the rebounds.” Brown finished the game with 16 points (including 10-of-16 free-throw shooting) and two blocked shots.

“I was upset [about fouling out], but we just have so much confidence in each other, I just knew that people would step up,” said McCabe, who finished the game with 14 points.

“We worked so hard, off-season and on-season … each and every player on this team contributed to this,” said Brown.

WITH SATURDAY’S loss, Gaithersburg finished the season 15-7, and relinquished last year’s regional title. Senior guard Chant’e McKinney led the Trojans with a game-high 17 points.

“I just told the girls after the game how proud I was of them, they played a great game,” said Hicks.

“They’ve been an unbelievable team the last three, four years,” said Kenah.

For the Vikings, savoring the victory isn’t something that they plan on doing. Kenah said that the team’s “24 Hour Rule” doesn’t permit them to dwell on any win or loss for more than a day, and as the only team in the county not to have lost two games in a row, Kenah said it has served them well so far.

McCabe said that the next step — Eleanor Roosevelt at UMBC on Thursday, March 8, will be exciting, but not unfamiliar for the Vikings.

“We go to UMBC each season to watch them play and to look at their locker room, so it’s going to be crazy going there for our own game,” McCabe said.

After surviving the Gaithersburg onslaught, McCabe said that she hopes the victory will make prepare them for the road ahead.

“I think we’ve been tested and we know we can do it now,” McCabe said.