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Southern meets 3-time defending champ Pikesville for 1A title Saturday

Mar. 16—COLLEGE PARK — Southern Garrett's 2018 state title kicked off a string of three straight by Pikesville — it's looking to be the team that ends the Panthers' reign with a championship Saturday.

The third-seeded Rams (23-3) will have their hands full with less experience, size and state tournament experience than top-seeded Pikesville (22-3) — the No. 8-ranked team in the Baltimore Sun poll, but what's new?

Southern will hope to play spoiler again, this time at the University of Maryland's Xfinity Center with a championship on the line. Tip-off is slated for 11 a.m.

"It's two totally different teams, and I think whoever forces the opposing team to play their brand of basketball will be the team that comes out on top," Southern head coach Landon Todd said.

"Pikesville has a ton of size, a lot of their offense comes from the paint. They have two bigs that like to post up and crash the boards extremely hard. Their guards also like to create offense by getting in the lane. If we let them dominate us in the paint, we could be in trouble."

How they got here

Southern defeated Catoctin, 55-52, in the state semifinals on Wednesday at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School.

Jayden Weaver scored a career-high 26 points — the final two of which gave the Rams the lead for good with 21 seconds left.

The Rams finished the regular season as the No. 2 team in the Cumberland area behind Mountain Ridge — who they shared the Western Maryland Athletic Conference title with.

Southern got the last laugh, defeating Mountain Ridge, 55-54, on a last-second free throw by Abi Teets. The Rams routed Cambridge-South Dorchester, 66-33, in the quarterfinals to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2020.

Pikesville won a thriller over Baltimore City's Forest Park (22-3), 42-41, in the other semifinal at Thomas Johnson on Wednesday. It was the third time in four seasons the Panthers ended the Foresters' season.

Forest Park, the 10th-ranked team in the Baltimore Sun poll, saw its season end to Mountain Ridge in the 2022-23 state semifinals.

The Miners were eventually stopped by Pikesville, 38-33, in the 1A state title game.

This Pikesville team also had another one-score playoff victory, defeating Loch Raven, 54-53, in the region finals — just two weeks after the Panthers won the same matchup in dominating fashion, 75-44, for the Baltimore County championship.

"We've played through a lot of adversity this year, and these seniors have just shown heart," Pikesville head coach Michael Dukes said after the Panthers' win Wednesday. "We kind of feel like, we can win in any style of game. Whether it's close or whatever it is."

Championship history

While Pikesville has the edge in recent state championship history, Southern has the edge all time.

The Rams have a 4-3 edge in titles, winning it all in '04, '07, '14 and '18. Southern has a 4-5 record in the championship games.

Pikesville has only been to the championship game three times and has won all three in '19, '22 and '23. The Panthers were in the Final Four in 2020, along with Southern, when the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no 2021 season for the same reason.

Southern players to watch

Southern's lone upperclassman in the starting line-up, Carly Wilt, paces the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game to go along with 5.4 rebounds a night.

Weaver's 26 points Wednesday pushed her season total to 314, breaking the Rams' single-season freshman scoring record of 313 set by Jenny Hillen (Class of 1985). The freshman, one of three that start for Southern, averages 11.1 points per game.

Sophomore point guard Emelee Parks is third on the team with a 9.2 scoring average, followed by freshmen Gabbi Berry (5.4) and Kelsey Ward (5.3), junior Gabby Stem (4.1) and freshman Abi Teets (3.8).

Dukes and his assistant coaches were able to watch Southern play Catoctin Wednesday before their Panthers took on Forest Park in the second game.

Here were his thoughts following the Rams' 55-52 victory:

"They're a very active and disciplined team. No quit in them. They're going to play 32 minutes, and we'll have our hands full with them. I saw they showed about three or four different defenses, so we'll have a little work to do the next two days in practice to prepare for them."

Pikesville players to watch

While Southern's youth is well documented, so is Pikesville's experience, as the Panthers bring back five players from last year's championship squad, including four seniors.

The lone non-senior back is also the team's leading scorer in sophomore guard Mariah Jones-Bey (5-foot-6), who averages 11.2 points, 6 assists and 3.6 steals a game.

Senior guards Bree Taylor (5-8) and Aliyah Taylor (5-9) average 10.9 and 6.6 points per game, respectively.

The Panthers' forwards are 6-foot-2 senior Tykeisha Hill, who averages 6.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest, and 5-9 senior Darielle Weems, who posts 7.1 points and 5.9 boards a game.

"Our two bigs can obviously play a big factor in the game," Dukes said. "As long as they play disciplined, we can hopefully keep them out of foul trouble."

Pikesville also mixes in a blend of talented freshmen in 5-foot-7 forward Maya Chase (6.6 points per game), 5-7 wing Ka'nai Pyatt (5.7 ppg), 5-7 wing Samira Hawkins (4.6 ppg) and 5-5 guard Courtney Jenifer (4.0 ppg).

For Southern to have a chance to win today, Todd says his team will have to create mismatches by pulling out Pikesville's larger forwards in the half-court.

"I wouldn't quite consider us physically imposing when it comes to a post presence," Todd said. "What we do have is a ton of kids who can score the ball from all three levels. If we're able to spread their defenses out and make their bigs come out on the perimeter and play defense, we should be able to consistently get good looks at the rim.

"We'll also try to get out and run in transition as much as possible, but of course, in order to do that you've either got to get stops on defense or turn them over."

Defensively, Southern may look to play a zone like Mountain Ridge did in the championship game last year when the Miners played a 2-3 zone with Pikesville having the edge in athleticism.

So far this season, Southern has primarily played man-to-man defense with a 1-3-1 half-court trap, though the Rams did play some 2-1-2 in the region finals against Mountain Ridge.

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