Sofia Harrison created a little bit of drama by waiting until the final day to submit the proper paperwork needed to try out for the Atholton High girls' basketball team last fall. After the way she played in a 61-54 win over Milford Mill Academy in a Class 3A state semifinal Thursday at Towson University’s SECU Arena, the No. 11 Raiders are thrilled the scrappy senior guard beat the deadline.
And while Harrison can’t match the potent one-two punch of her senior backcourt mates Ryan Jones and Francesca Vanegas, who combined for 42 points Thursday, she's been a vital cog in the Howard County school's success this season. Despite being just 5-feet-2, Harrison hauled down seven rebounds and scored nine points.
“I decided at the very last minute that I wanted to play,” Harrison said. “And Fran (Vanegas) told me, once I made the team, that we’re going to states — and here we are now.”
The Raiders will be in the title game at 8 p.m. on Saturday against Frederick at SECU Arena. Frederick routed Prince George's County Frederick, 69-38, in the other 3A state final four contest Thursday evening.
The Columbia school, which won three road games in last week's East Region playoffs, is a win away from its first title since 2007 (Class 2A). The Raiders owe a huge debt to Harrison.
“She’s probably the smallest player we have on the court,” said Atholton coach Julia Reynold. “But she has the heart of a post player.”
It took a huge effort from the senior trio of Jones, Harrison and Vanegas to overcome the North Region champion Millers. After a sizzling first quarter during which both team's offenses were in high gear, Atholton was able to continue the pace in the second quarter.
The Raiders, who converted 47 percent of their shots from the floor in the opening period and still trailed, 22-21, after eight minutes, upped the ante in the second quarter by shooting at a 60-percent clip to take a 39-29 advantage at the intermission. Atholton held Milford Mill to just 3-for-14 shooting in the second quarter.
“One thing about our team is that we make adjustments,” Reynold said. “We stayed in the zone but we had to better identify who their shooters were.”
Vanegas, who scored the Raiders’ first nine points of the game, led all scorers with 12 points by halftime while Jones boasted 11 at that juncture. The Millers cut into the lead at the beginning and end of the third quarter, both times shaving the deficit to four points.
The Baltimore County school was even closer in the fourth period, twice trailing by only two points. In the end, though, it was Jones and Vanegas who made clutch plays down the stretch.
Jones stepped behind a pick to nail a 3-pointer to give Altholton a a 56-51 advantage before a Lane put-back cut the margin to 56-53.
“Our girls are really good screeners,” Jones said. “When the defender goes under the screen, it clicks in my head to shoot. If they go over the top, I drive.”
Vanegas took it from there, weaving through Miller defenders to roll in a layup while being fouled. She then swished the ensuing free throw to make the score 59-53 with one minute, 33 seconds to go.
"I’m more of a driver, and I thought they might foul me," she said.
Milford Mill coach Latoiya McAliley said that her young team had some "slippage" against the Raiders.
"We had a couple of hiccups," she said. "We're a young team, but that's not an excuse. Sometimes, some things can catch up with you. But I think they'll learn something about themselves."
So has Atholton seniors, who will try to keep the 3A title in Howard County after Glenelg won the crown last year. In 2014, the Raiders lost an epic double overtime match to Poly in the East Region final. Atholton lost again to Poly the following year in the East final.
“Experiencing that as a freshman, now coming into this I know when to relax and at the end not to freak out,” Vanegas said. “It’s just a feeling you don’t want to feel again.”
Class 3A state semifinal
at Towson University
No. 11 Atholton 61, No. 15 Milford Mill Academy 54