By Taylor Moore and Robert Eriksen
Hagerstown, Md. – The No. 2 seeded Baltimore City Panthers today defeated the No. 6 Montgomery Raptors 72-67 to earn its seventh straight trip to the Maryland Juco Women's Basketball Tournament title game.
The Panthers Raelyn Muldrow led all scorers with 22 points on 9-19 shootings, including 3-7 on three-point attempts. She added eight rebounds and two blocks.
Sasha Francis was second for the Panthers with 12 points (6-18) and added five rebounds, five assists and two steals.
"During the regular season, [Montgomery] gave us one of our toughest games," said Baltimore City head coach Felicia Hardy. "So I definitely knew this was going to be a tough game today for us. Montgomery come to play. They have intensity, quickness, quick guards and they can shoot the three, so they kind of match up very similar to our style of play."
Freshman Alexis Mack led the Raptors with 18 points and had six rebounds. The Panthers did not make it easy, as Mack was just 2-13 and picked up 14 of her points at the free throw line.
Baltimore City opened up the game with a 12-0 run that lasted nearly four minutes. The Panthers were active early, applying pressure on the Raptors to create turnovers highlighted by two strong blocks in the paint by Francis and Nia Caver.
The Panthers were able to spread the ball around, which resulted in plenty of open baskets during their initial run and were able to collect seven offensive rebounds for second chance points.
Montgomery woke up during the second half of the first quarter, as they went on a 14-6 to close out the frame and pull within four at 18-14.
The Raptors continued to push as the second quarter began, playing aggressively on both sides of the ball.
Baltimore City was again able to spread the ball around and find an open shot which resulted in two three pointers for Taylor Smith and one for.
The Raptors applied more pressure and were effective in disrupting the Panthers attack while countering with points in the paint. Baltimore finished the game outscoring Montgomery 42-20 in the paint.
Montgomery continued its attack, resulting in 16 chances at the free throw line and hit 12 as halftime approached.
Baltimore City was able to rebound and cause turnovers late and take a 39-35 lead into the break.
A faster style of play for Montgomery proved effective at the start of the third.
The Raptors opened on a 10-0 run to take a 45-39 lead and forced Baltimore City to take a timeout to re-group.
Throughout the third, the momentum was in favor of the Raptors, executing more effectively than the Panthers both offensively and defensively.
With 45 seconds left in the third, the Raptors had made 22 free throws compared to Baltimore City's three. Montgomery finished out the third ahead 55-47, having outscored Baltimore City 20-8 in the third.
Montgomery's Nusaibiah Rashad recorded double-double early in the fourth with her tenth rebound. She finished with 15 points on 4-15 shooting and 12 boards.
Mariah Ellis also had 15 points (5-8) and seven rebounds for the Raptors.
A 10-0 run by BCCC changed the momentum, but Ellis answered for Montgomery with a three pointer to make it a 61-57 Montgomery.
The Panthers took the lead 63-61 with four minutes left on a Vivian Chigbu jump shot.
"I talked to the team at halftime, and again once we got down, about refocusing on us and what we do and that's been my biggest motto," Hardy said. "Yes, we prepare for the other team, but at the end of the day it's about what we do."
Baltimore City posted a 13-0 run late in the fourth to distance themselves from the Raptors with a nine point lead at 70-61 with two minutes to play.
Despite Montgomery's ability to get to the free throw line (29-40), the Panthers were able to outscore the Raptors 25-12 in the fourth to advance to their fourth straight championship game.
The Panthers will play the winner of Harford versus Frederick tomorrow. Tipoff scheduled for 1 p.m.