BLADENSBURG – As they took on Laurel High School on Jan. 3, the Bladensburg High School girls basketball team turned to seniors Asia Adams and Ethel Kamani whenever they needed a basket.
But late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line, the Mustangs could not rely on either. Adams, who finished with a game-high 22 points, received her fifth foul and was removed from the game with 2:08 remaining. Then Kamani, who scored 16, fouled out with 54.5 seconds left. With its two best players on the bench and a hard-charging Marissa Steel almost single-handedly willing Laurel back into the game, 54.5 seconds was an eternity.
But other Mustangs answered the bell. On the next possession, junior Laaila Dodo stole a pass and was fouled. She hit two free throws to push the lead to 54-51. Bladensburg fought off two second-chance opportunities on the next Laurel offensive possession before Edrina Namirembe came up with a steal following a jump ball that stayed with the Lady Spartans.
Bladensburg would hang on for a 54-51 victory, handing Laurel its first loss of the season.
“I told kids that they’re going to have to start coming around because if I was playing, I’d try to stop Asia, and I’d try to stop Ethel,” Bladensburg Head Coach Lester Butler said. “They have to learn to step up.”
The Mustangs had been in control since the second quarter, but Steel got going late to make it a tight game down the stretch. The 6-foot junior was the fastest player on the court and started to use that speed late to attack in transition. A fast-break finish and free throw trimmed Bladensburg’s lead back to single digits at 43-35, and another three-point play cut the Mustangs lead to 46-42 with 4:36 remaining.
Steel would score 13 of her team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, taking over when she looked like she was running on empty.
“Even though we were down, my coach always said play like it’s the last quarter, and it was,” Steel said. “So if nobody’s going to do it, I’ll have to carry them myself.”
However, every time it looked like Steel would help Laurel pull off the comeback, Bladensburg had an answer. After her three-point play cut the lead to four, the Lady Spartans (5-1) lost Kamani in their full-court pressure, and she scored.
Kamani wasn’t finished, countering a Steel free throw on Laurel’s next possession with another layup. Then with just over a minute remaining after another Steel free throw, Kamani scored again to push the lead back out to 52-48. Steel would hit one more free throw, and Cassidy Johnson scored her only two points of the night from the foul line on back-to-back possession, but Laurel could never get over the hump.
“You never want to lose, but when you do, you have to learn from that,” Lady Spartans Head Coach Michael Hines said. “I think this is a game we definitely could’ve won, but we learn from it.”
Bladensburg was able to keep Laurel at bay earlier in the game thanks to Adams. Hines used any way he could to try to take her out of the game, including a box-and-one.
“I was just really trying to adjust because I’d never had a team box-and-one me,” Adams said. “When I saw that I had to think of myself as a Division I guard and make myself available for the pass.”
Nothing worked consistently, as Adams was still able to attack and make plays. She was too quick for Laurel’s guards, especially in the open court. Adams also hit two 3-pointers, including one from Steph Curry-range.
The thrilling finish was juxtaposed by a ticky-tack first half when it seemed like neither team was able to get through an offensive possession without a foul.
Bladensburg and Laurel combined for 36 free throws over the first 16 minutes, compared to just 24 over the final 16. The foul trouble affected Laurel more, as Steel picked up her second foul with 3:42 left in the first quarter.
The Mustangs are now 7-0, matching their win total from last season. Matching that mark has them setting high goals, especially after knocking off a Laurel team that beat them three times last year and advanced to the regional finals.
“Winning against them felt like we could do something,” Kamani said. “We can take it to states.”