By Daniel Fama and Jack Creegan
LARGO, MD – The Harford Fighting Owls today won its fourth consecutive Maryland Juco Conference Women's Basketball Tournament, defeating Baltimore City 46-45 at Prince George's Community College.
Harford's Ryan Holder was voted tournament Most Valuable Player, after turning in a 15-point performance in the final and averaging 9.7 for the tournament.
Holder's teammates Adrienne Jones and Tiana Swearinger were voted to the All-Tournament team, averaging 17.3 and 14 points per game, respectively.
Baltimore City's Bianca White and Amia Howard also made the All-Tournament team. White averaged 15 points per game for the tournament and Howard had 10.7 per game.
Neither team faced much resistance on its path to championship Sunday, as they both earned convincing wins in the quarter and semifinal rounds.
The Fighting Owls had a tournament point differential of 211-104 (+107) heading into the contest, while the Panthers sported and equally impressive 201-92 (+109) differential.
The Panthers entered the game shooting 52% for the tournament and 43% from behind the arc, compared to the Fighting Owls who shot 49% and 36%, respectively.
In their only prior meeting this season, the Fighting Owls beat the Panthers 79-71 behind a 16-pont effort from Holder.
The first quarter would start from behind the arc with the first three field goal attempts being three-pointers, two from the Fighting Owls.
After being fouled on a three-point attempt, Harford's Jones would make all three from the line, capping an Owl's 11-3 run to open the quarter and forcing the Panthers into an early timeout with 6:25 left in the first.
An intense opening quarter atmosphere saw the Owl's take a 19-10 lead heading into the second.
A 7-2 run to open the second quarter pulled the Panthers within four. A series that saw Baltimore City's Raven Williams hit a jump-shot, followed by a Panther's block by Raelyn Muldrow, swung the momentum in the Panthers favor.
The Owl's would not record their first points until 6:10 left in the quarter.
A Panther's timeout with 4:06 left in the second gave the Fighting Owls a chance to regroup and toughen up their defense.
Following the timeout, the Panther's would only score two more points before halftime. Baltimore City would cut the lead to as little as four points in the second but found themselves trailing by eight.
In a defensive struggle, Baltimore City went cold from the field in the first half, shooting just 19.5% compared to Harford's 30%.
Panther's Williams would lead her team in scoring with eight points on 4-9 shooting at the break.
Fighting Owl's Holder led all scorers with 10 points, adding four rebounds in the process, to help lead Harford to a 27-19 lead.
The offensive struggles continued for both teams early in the third quarter and it was not until the 7:50 mark that the score line finally changed courtesy of a Baltimore City basket.
The Panthers got the lead all the way down to three with 6:16 left in the quarter, the slimmest lead since early in the first half.
Holder gave the Fighting Owls its first second half points with 5:25 remaining in the quarter, hitting a big three-point shot.
That basket triggered a 12-0 run for Harford that put them in the driver's seat heading into the final quarter. Jones scored 8 points in the third period.
Baltimore City came out swinging in the final quarter, going off on a blistering 9-2 run to start.
The lead shrunk all the way to four with 1:45 remaining in the game. Harford missed two free throws with a chance to extend the lead to six and Baltimore City made them pay with a basket on the other end to cut the lead to just two, the smallest lead of the game up to that point.
A foul on Harford put Baltimore City on the line for two shots with 30.4 seconds remaining in regulation.
They made the first and missed the second, but Dony'e Moses collected a strong rebound and drew another foul, sending her to the line with a chance to take the lead.
Moses missed both free throws, but incredibly, Baltimore City was able to grab yet another rebound and held possession with the game on the line.
The Panthers missed the potential game winning shot, coming up just short, as Harford collected the rebound and the tournament championship by a final of 46-45.
"We breathed through it and stayed together as a team," said Holder on how she and the team kept their composure. "That's the important part, to stay together as a team and stay level headed and that's what we preach and practice. We knew both [teams] would go on runs, but it all comes down the last couple of seconds, where we had to stay together."
White led the Panthers in scoring with 14 points and Howard posted an impressive stat line of nine points and 14 rebounds.
Tournament MVP Holder finished with a game-high 15 and also chipped in six rebounds.
Jones added in 14 points of her own.
"It means a lot," said head coach Mike Seney about winning his fourth straight tournament championship. "For lack of a better [term], to dominate the league like we've done is a total dedication to my players that I've been able to coach over the last four years."
*Andrew Feminella, Philip McCown and Chandler Aversa contributed to this article.