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SEABROOK – Less than six seconds remained for Gwynn Park High School to do something to save their season on March 9.
Playing in the girls basketball 2A North Regional Final at Hereford High School in Parkton, Maryland, the Lady Yellow Jackets needed junior Reese Harden to miss her free-throw attempt, collect a rebound and rush down the court for a final chance to tie or win the game.
With four Gwynn Park players waiting for the attempt, Harden’s shot bounced off the rim and hit the ground right away. However, it would be the Hereford junior who outrushed Ivori Green for the ball and ran out the clock, killing Gwynn Park’s opportunity to repeat as regional champions.
An injured Gwynn Park side did all they could do, holding on to a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter against the home team. However, a team-high 14 point performance by Harden was enough for the Bulls to eliminate the Brandywine-based team with a 54-52 win.
The two-point loss ended the Lady Yellow Jackets season on a down but competitive note. Entering the contest, Gwynn Park had won 17 of their last 18 games, with their only loss being against Charles H. Flowers in the County Championships on Feb. 27.
After an eight-day layoff, they had no problem finishing off Central, earning a 38-point victory in the regional semifinals on March 7.
“Although it was not our best performance, we played well enough to win big,” Head Coach Michael Strother said. “We thought going into Hereford that we had an opportunity to win that game as well because of the preparation we had up to that point as well with our young girls.”
However, the Central game proved to be a costly one, as the team’s leading scorer junior Jenae Dublin suffered an ankle injury and could not play the regional final. Meanwhile, senior guard Kroix Dale, Gwynn Park’s third-leading scorer, played while dealing with the flu, leaving team captain Denai Bowman to shoulder the majority of the offense for Gwynn Park.
“With Jenae down, that is 20 points a game and 13 rebounds per game missing,” Strother said. “We went into the game thinking that Denai could carry that offensive load…so we had some hurdles to overcome.”
The strategy was working with Bowman scoring a game-high 19 points. The Binghamton University commit said she was able to get help from her younger teammates like sophomore Kaylee Milburn (six points and eight rebounds) to help contribute in Dublin’s absence. Gwynn Park scored 21 points in the third quarter, turning the tide in their favor and ending the period with a five-point lead.
However, the Bulls powered back with the help of Harden. The junior attacked the weakened defense in the fourth quarter and connected with a long-range jumper with 37 seconds remaining, giving Herford their first lead since halftime. Gwynn Park was forced to foul Harden with 5.7 seconds remaining to have a chance to win before ultimately falling in the end.
“I think that was one of the best games we have ever played,” Bowman said. “During the fourth quarter, I know we were exhausted but I felt like we kept pushing and never gave up.”
Despite the regional final disappointment, Strother said he could not call the season a loss. While the team will be losing its talisman in Bowman, the play of Green and Milburn during the playoffs added optimism heading into next season.
For Bowman, the loss hurts as she was unable to end the school’s state title drought that started after their 2004 win. However, the unity of the locker room will be something that will stick with her as she prepares for her college journey.
“This is heartbreaking,” Bowman said. “I really wanted to win it all since the beginning and it just hurts that we weren’t able to do it.”