The four senior starting seniors on the Clarksburg Coyotes Girls Basketball team made history Thursday night, and they have sophomore Phylicia McInnis to thank for it.
Sure the starting seniors, Ciara Wright, Jamiere Jefferies, Kaylan Jackson, and Gabby Haddad played very well against Gaithersburg in the 4A West sectional playoff game, but it was McInnis who sealed the victory finally making a foul shot to put the Lady Coyotes up by four with 1.6 seconds remaining.
That foul shot, which came on the back-end of a two-shot foul propelled the Lady Coyotes to the 4A West Regional Championship game for the first time in school history. They will play Whitman at 3:30 pm on Saturday. In a quirk of fate, the Clarksburg boys team will also be playing Whitman at 1:00 pm on Saturday, as they too play for the 4A West Regional Championship. Both games will be played at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.
Indeed, it has been a magical post-season for Clarksburg basketball, with both teams playing and beating the same schools since the second round. The Clarksburg Basketball Program has bounced Quince Orchard and Gaithersburg from post-season play and hopes to continue the trend against Whitman on Saturday.
Unlike, Tuesday’s dismantling of Quince Orchard, the Lady Coyotes victory over Gaithersburg was not without its worrisome moments.
After jumping out to an 18-8 lead at the end of the first quarter, many in the Clarksburg gym were looking forward to another post-season blow-out. But, Gaithersburg’s Celine Herndon exploded for 16 of her total 27 points in the second quarter. Including four buckets from behind the three-point arc. Clarksburg took a slim two-point, 29-27 lead in the locker at halftime.
Although Gaithersburg never would rest control of the lead, the Lady Trojans pushed Clarksburg throughout the second half. The Lady Coyotes managed to pull out to an 11 point lead late in the third-quarter, but Gaithersburg would continue to chip away at the lead. Gaithersburg’s Javana Jones would have 10 of her 11 points in the third quarter to keep the game within reach. Meanwhile, Clarksburg’s Gabby Haddad would keep pace with nine points of her own in the third quarter. She would finish with 19 points.
Early in the fourth quarter, Clarksburg would again begin to pull away opening up and 10 point lead, 54-44 with 5:19 remaining. Again Gaithersburg would answer, this time in the form of Julianne Noveras, who would drain three straight 3-balls, and a long ranger field goal to cut the lead to just three points, 63-60, with 36.3 seconds remaining.
“They have so many weapons,” said Clarksburg Head Coach Cecilia Natoli, “They have an inside game, and their three-point shooters are coming to life. When you slow one group down, here comes the other group. In the end, they are hitting threes, I told my girls, don’t over shift. We were just trying to match up. We went with a smaller lineup, and I put my starting point guard back in the game to try to match up, and they still kept shooting threes.”
Gaithersburg began to give fouls forcing the Lady Coyotes to earn any future points from the foul-line. First they sent Gabby Haddad to the line with 25.7 seconds left, but she was unable to connect and give the Lady Coyotes a two-possession lead.
Gaithersburg would gather the ball, work it down the court and find Kim Dickenson, on to replace Jones who had fouled out. Dickson got a good look at the three-pointer from the corner, but the ball would rattle off the rim and be tapped out of bounds by a Clarksburg player. Trojan ball under the basket, the inbound pass would find Faith Wilson in the key. She would get a shot off that would hit the rim and bounce right to Clarksburg’s Allie Janowiak, with 7.2 seconds to play.
Janowiak would immediately be fouled. In the last 7.2 second, the Clarksburg junior would shoot two since Gaithersburg was in the double-bonus. Janowiak’s shots would not fall. Both shots would hit the rim and bounce out, and the tension in the gym would ratchet up with each missed opportunity. Gaithersburg would foul Janowiak again with 3.1 seconds remaining. And once again both shots would bounce tantalizingly on the rim and bounce out.
Clarksburg’s Jamiere Jefferies would be called for fouling Gaithersburg’s Seraphina Pierre-Louis while going for the rebound with 2.4 seconds remaining. The Clarksburg faithful held their breath as Pierre-Louis would miss both shots, and the ball would be touched out of bounds by a Trojan.
Gaithersburg would foul Phylicia McInnis on the inbound and send her to the line to shoot two with 1.6 seconds remaining, as the Lady Coyotes clung to a three-point lead. McInnis would miss the first, but nail the second shot to secure the victory 64-60 and the program’s first-ever trip to the regional championship.
“Our energy in the fourth quarter was good,” said Natoli. “Our kids just dug deep and battled back. They would score and then we would score. We had a few turnovers that we could have avoided. We need to slow down when the clock is in our favor, but we panicked a little bit toward the end and gave the ball back to them, and their three-point shooters came to life.”
Natoli said after the win over Quince Orchard that the team worked on playing defense without fouling, which worked well on Tuesday night, but against Gaithersburg, the girls fell back on old habits late in the game. “We did a good job of not fouling until the last two minutes of the game,” said Natoli. “We couldn’t get a stop without fouling, but they missed a few free throws which helped us. We are going to continue work on our defense. We need to be ready to play defense against Whitman. We have to step it up, when you go to the regional finals, the pyramid gets smaller as you get to the top, and the better teams advance. We have to be ready. We have a practice day tomorrow and be ready on Saturday.”
Whitman comes into Saturday’s game with a record of 21-3, riding a 16 game winning streak. The Lady Vikings haven’t lost since Dec. 26, 2016.
Top: Teammates lift Phylicia McInnis up in celebration after she nailed the final foul shot to punch the Lady Coyotes first ticket to the Regional Championships versus Whitman on Saturday.
Next: Senior Gabby Haddad (22) with the jumper for two of her team-leading 19 points in the victory.
Next: Senior Jamiere Jefferies (2) with a rebound putback for two of her 14 points.
Next: Senior Kaylan Jackson (3) extends her all-time scoring record with two more points. She would add 14 points to her record in Thursday night’s game.
Next: Clarksburg Sophomore Phylicia McInnis (23) lines up the foul shot which sealed the victory for the Lady Coyotes.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.