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Alex Rychwalski | Pressure? Never heard of her

Mar. 14—FREDERICK — First-year Southern head coach Landon Todd is as perplexed as the rest of us.

It doesn't make logical sense for his Rams, with four freshmen, a sophomore and no seniors in their rotation, to be this successful in close games, and yet they are, and they're going to play for a state championship on Saturday.

Down 52-51 to Catoctin in the semifinals as the clocked dipped below 30 seconds, every red-clad spectator in attendance at Thomas Johnson, while nervous, had an idea of how that game was going to end.

They've seen this movie before.

Freshman Jayden Weaver gave Southern the lead with a jumper in the lane with 21 seconds left, sophomore Emelee Parks stole the ball seconds later, and junior Carly Wilt put the finishing touches on the rally with a transition bucket.

One unlikely triumph could be considered a fluke, but Southern winning five straight in single-digit games is no coincidence — the latest a 55-52 Final Four win Wednesday to send them to the title game for the first time since 2018.

Nothing makes sense about this Southern Garrett girls basketball team, but it doesn't have to. They win first and figure it out later.

They still haven't figured it out.

"It takes a ton of guts and will to win games like that," Todd said. "You typically get results like that out of upperclassmen, seniors, juniors. But to do it with the line-up that we've been doing it, I think it's counterintuitive.

"It makes no sense whatsoever, but somehow those kids find a way to win it. They just want to win. ... When the game's on the line, those kids aren't afraid to take the shot."

No player embodied fearlessness like Weaver, who waited until Southern's biggest game of the season to score a career-high 26 points — 12 of which came in the fourth quarter.

Weaver hadn't topped 20 points since Southern's first game of the season, a 59-49 win over Allegany on Dec. 7.

Why does the 5-foot-6 guard think Southern is so effective in close games?

"We really just connect as a team and know that we have to play with our heads," the freshman said, "and play to the level that we know if we want to keep going."

Weaver hit Southern's first two buckets of the fourth quarter, a 3-pointer to tie the score at 39 and another to give the Rams the lead with 5:44 to play.

It was reminiscent of another Southern come-from-behind victory on Jan. 18 when the Rams trailed Tucker County, 42-33, in the fourth quarter before Weaver buried consecutive treys to spark the Rams' 23-5 finish to the game in a 56-47 road win.

Southern started that game down 15-2. It was down 9-2 to Catoctin on Wednesday.

It trailed last year's state runner-up Mountain Ridge, 8-0, to begin the Class 1A West Region I finals before winning 55-54 for the Rams' first state tournament appearance since 2020.

Freshman Abi Teets won that contest with a free throw with 3.7 seconds left.

"At a certain point, you just sit back and just hold on tight," Todd said. "You ride it as long as you can because we're not supposed to be here. This is supposed to be Mountain Ridge playing in this game getting a chance to get redemption after losing in the state finals last year."

Few expected Catoctin to play as well as it did with its leading scorer and assister Taylor Smith out with a knee injury, coach Todd being one of those people, but coach Amy Entwistle and her team showed their quality.

With just two days of practice without its star, Catoctin scored 52 points in defeat — its first loss when scoring at least 43 points. The Cougars were previously 22-0 when doing so.

Brooke Williams led the Cougars with 18 points, 15 in the second half, but it was the unexpected efforts of Grace Williams and Kelsey Troxell that almost pushed Catoctin to its second title game in three years.

Troxell made a trio of 3s, her first time making more than two in her high school career, and Grace Williams scored 12 points — just her fifth time in 27 games scoring in double figures.

Catoctin's tight man-to-man defense also traveled well, and it took an equally good defensive effort from Southern to garner the win.

Parks' steal after Weaver's go-ahead bucket was the game's biggest defensive sequence.

"Offense wins games, and defense wins championships," Parks said. "Defense is what kept us in that game, it's what won us that game."

Now, the cardiac Rams will play for its fifth state championship Saturday against three-time defending title-winner Pikesville, a 42-41 victor over Forest Park in the other semifinal.

It won't be the first game Southern has seen at the University of Maryland this year. The group made the trip on Feb. 3 to see Caitlin Clark drop 38 points in a 93-85 Iowa win against the Terrapins.

Coach Todd has no clue how his young Southern squad continues to get the job done in close games, and he hopes he'll be dumbfounded again on Saturday.

"Pikesville has a chance to win four in a row, and we want to dethrone them," he said.

Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.