No. 3 Southern battles No. 2 Catoctin tonight for spot in 1A girls title game

Mar. 13—FREDERICK — With a spot in the Class 1A title game on the line, Southern is tasked with getting past one of the top defensive teams in the state.

The third-seeded Rams (22-3) take on second-seeded Catoctin (23-3), which hasn't allowed more than 44 points — a 31.6 average — in any game this season.

Tip-off in the likely low-scoring affair is slated for Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Thomas Johnson High School. The Rams are searching for their first championship berth since 2018.

"Catoctin is 23-3 for a reason," Southern head coach Landon Todd said. "They're a phenomenal basketball team. Their strength is their team defense, they're relentless on that end of the court. They apply great ball pressure, they rotate extremely well off the ball, and they play so hard. Their defense creates a lot of their offense."

The Rams advanced to the state semifinals with a rout of sixth-seeded Cambridge-South Dorchester, 66-33, on Saturday night.

Southern is playing in its 15th Final Four all-time and is 9-5 in semifinal games. The Rams have won four state titles ('04, '07, '14, '18) and were runners-up in '95, '01, '15, '16 and '17.

Catoctin cruised to a 55-18 rout of Surrattsville in its quarterfinal affair.

The main question entering the Final Four is the status of the Cougars' point guard and leading scorer Taylor Smith, who injured her knee during the first quarter against Surrattsville and was seen on crutches later in the game.

Area sports fans will remember Smith, a University of Virginia softball commit, for her 19-strikeout no-hitter to lead Catoctin to a 1-0 upset of Allegany in the softball state quarterfinals last spring.

The words of teammate Brooke Williams to the Frederick News-Post after the Surrattsville game didn't inspire much hope for her playing Wednesday.

"She keeps us focused. Before every game, she's our top leader that gives us our motivational speech, and obviously we're gonna miss that," Williams said, "but we're going to have to work together and come out stronger."

Still, Catoctin has a history of recent success, making the 2022 Class 1A state title game where it fell to Pikesville, 51-42.

The Cougars ended Fort Hill's season in the '22 semifinals with a 50-40 victory.

Catoctin has played in six semifinal games all-time with a 3-3 record. The Cougars won the 2006 state championship and were also runners-up in '86.

With both squads placing a heavy emphasis on defense, Wednesday's tilt may be a low-scoring slog.

"Both teams play a very similar brand of basketball," Todd said. "We each take pride in our defenses, we each rely on defense to create offense, and we each like to push the tempo in transition.

"Catoctin has a size advantage on us, so we'll need to keep them off the boards as much as possible and not allow them to play inside out basketball. Much to the chagrin of spectators, I expect this to be a low scoring affair. It could very well be a race to 45 points."

The two sides share a common opponent in Mountain Ridge, which defeated Catoctin, 44-42, on Feb. 14 in Frostburg.

The Rams were 2-1 against the Miners, winning at home in the Class 1A West Region I championship 55-54 (March 6) and 56-49 (Jan. 11) and losing 50-40 on Feb. 12 on the road.

Southern has more offensive depth than Catoctin on paper with five scorers that average at least five points per game compared to four for the Cougars — an even bigger advantage if Smith isn't able to play.

Junior forward Carly Wilt and freshman guard Jayden Weaver pace the Rams in scoring at 11.9 and 11.1 points per game, respectively. Sophomore Emelee Parks (9.2) and freshmen Gabbi Berry (5.4) and Kelsey Ward (5.3) are also players to watch.

Southern averages 15.6 assists per game compared to 10.6 for Catoctin. The Cougars have an edge in rebounding (33.8-25.8) and steals (13.8-12.7).

Smith, who averages a team-best 12 points a game, also leads the Cougars in assists (4.3) and steals (3.2) and she's third in rebounding (5.2). Williams is the team's second-leading scorer at 11.1 per game, followed by Kelsey Troxell (6.1) and Grace Williams (5.5).

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