Pikesville girls basketball coach Mike Dukes hesitated a bit to switch his team out of its preferred man-to-man defense for the second half of Wednesday night’s regional final at Loch Raven.

Although the Panthers had an easy time with Loch Raven during the regular season, the Raiders controlled Wednesday’s first half. Something had to change for Dukes’ two-time defending Class 1 state champions.

Once he flipped the switch after halftime, the No. 10 Panthers erased a nine-point Loch Raven lead. Going into the fourth quarter, they had all the momentum they would need to win the 1A South Region I championship, 57-48, and advance to the state quarterfinals.

“First game, we had big success guarding them and we really did a great job of containing them, keeping them away from the rim,” Dukes said of the Panthers’ 57-29 win three weeks ago.

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“This first half, they were breaking us down without a doubt and we knew we needed to try an adjustment. I was leery of their outside shooting, that’s why we didn’t want to go zone, but we felt like we needed to change things up at least to see how the zone worked and it was highly effective in the second half.”

In the second quarter, the No. 11 Raiders outscored Pikesville, 21-7, but the zone along with two quick 3-pointers from senior guard Jayda Mayles and freshman guard Mariah Jones-Bey set the tone for the rest of the game. Loch Raven turned the ball over eight times in the quarter.

“The zone defense was good, " Mayles said, “because they were driving to the basket and finishing or getting fouls and we really couldn’t stop it. We were just moving slow, so we went to the zone, identified the shooters and they weren’t finishing at the rim anymore because we would collapse.”

The Raiders, led by 17 points from sophomore guard Maya Gordon, took their biggest lead of the game, 32-23, into the break. Tied at 18 with 4:43 to go, the Raiders finished the half on a 14-3 run, sparked by a long 3-pointer from junior guard Destany Harris (11 points) and capped by a layup from junior guard Meona Boykin (10 points).

They held the lead until the final play of the third quarter. Jones-Bey, who led the Panthers with 24 points, hit a 3-pointer to pull within one. Junior guard Bree Taylor then grabbed a steal and fed Jones-Bey for a layup to push the Panthers ahead 44-43, a lead they would never relinquish.

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Loch Raven’s guards like to drive and assistant coach Dale Fairfield said the team never adjusted to Pikesville’s zone.

“We wanted to go fast, but we needed to slow down,” he said, “so a seasoned Pikesville team could make the adjustment. We’ve gone fast from game one up until the second half of this game and to try and change that identity was just a little bit too much to ask for our girls.”

To open the fourth quarter, Jones-Bey fed Mayles for another 3-pointer from the corner and Loch Raven (20-2) never recovered. The Panthers (20-5) took a 51-43 lead before the Raiders scored again.

Loch Raven assistant coach Dale Fairfield gives the No. 11 Raiders a pep talk during a timeout Wednesday in the Class 1A South Region I championship. He said the top-seeded Raiders played their best game of the season despite falling to No. 10 and two-time defending state champion Pikesville, 57-48. The Raiders concluded their season 20-2 after finishing 8-10 a year ago. (Katherine Dunn)

This was the second stellar playoff outing for Jones-Bey, who scored 23 in the 52-46 regional semifinal win over Francis Scott Monday night. Against Loch Raven, she also hit three 3-pointers, shot 7-for-7 from the free throw line, and had five steals and two assists. She scored 16 in the second half.

“We just brought our energy up,” Jones-Bey. “I said from the beginning they had more energy than us and during that halftime, when we were down, we all had a team talk without the coaches, saying that everybody had to keep their head up, keep their energy up and continuing shooting their shots, feeding one another, just trusting one another to be able to get us to the basket and bring us back up.”

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The Panthers also benefited from playing a tough early schedule and from their playoff experience. The Raiders haven’t won a regional championship since 2004 and won their only state title in 1976.

Still they enjoy a terrific turn-around season going from 8-10 last season to a 20-win season without a starting senior. Their only losses were to Pikesville, the Baltimore County champion.

Fairfield, who led the team in the absence of head coach Jerome Ragsdale, said the Raiders played their best game of the season in the finale.

“Pikesville is the litmus test of the 1A,” Fairfield said. “We knew that it was going to come down to a very good team to beat them or we were going to see them again. We know — and even moving to next year we know — that we’re going to see them. We have to beat them. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best and they’re the best in the 1A right now.”

The Panthers will host a state quarterfinal game likely Saturday with the time and opponent yet to be determined.

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Pikesville 16 7 21 13 — 57

Loch Raven 11 21 11 5 —48

Pikesville—Mariah Jones-Bey 24, Amya Moore 2, Aliyah Taylor 11, Bree Taylor 7, Tykeisha Hill 3, Jayda Mayles 10. Totals: 18 14-22 57.

Loch Raven—Aarlyn Gibson 5, Destany Harris 11, Maya Gordon 17, Meona Boykin 10, Morgan Jones 2, Sydney Ennis 3. Totals: 16 10-15 48.

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