Defense was the best word to describe Poly High’s girls basketball’s victory over Thursday evening against Mercy.
A smothering, oppressive, in-your-face type of effort that included holding the No. 8 Magic to a mere two points in the second quarter to forge an imposing 25-10 halftime advantage that was never challenged in the final 16 minutes, sending the second-ranked Engineers to a 57-42 non-league decision in Northwest Baltimore.
“We’ve always been a defensive program,” said Poly senior guard Da’Brya Clark, who was one of three Engineers to reach double figures offensively with 13 points. “I’ve been here for four years now (and) we’ve always been a defensive program. Defense has never been a problem. We work hard every day in practice on our defense and on our rotations and on our intensity and just playing the way we want to play.
“Our transition fuels our offense. Sometimes, we can get into a slump, getting comfortable shooting jumpers, but if we get a couple of steals and layups, that will boost us up and get us back on the right foot.”
After surrendering back-to-back baskets by Mercy center Myah Hazelton on a pair of pick-and-roll passes from Milan Brown (10 points), Poly (5-1 overall) went on a 25-6 run the rest of the first half for the 15-point halftime advantage through a combination of its stifling defense, almost complete control of both the offensive and defensive glass, and a handful of transition layups against Mercy’s full court press.
Clark and freshman reserve Chole Mills spearheaded the defensive attack, forcing the multi-talented Brown into numerous turnovers or rushed shots while consistently pressuring Brown up and down the court despite numerous screens being set for the Mercy point guard.
Inside the free throw lane on both sides of the court, Trinity Massenberg (16 points, 10 rebounds), Riley Holliday (12 points, five rebounds), and Sierra Georges (six rebounds) limited the Magic (8-2) to one shot per possession on most occasions while also scoring a voluminous amount of offensive stick-backs, including several in transition against Mercy’s full court press after the initial shot failed.
“It’s all about getting rebounds and boxing out,” said Massenberg, whose squad is allowing just 25.2 points per game this season. “That’s our main thing. And with our defense, it has to be our No. 1 thing because if not, someone will come in from the other side and get a layup . . . . If everyone boxes out, we’re going to get a clean rebound every time.”
Mercy jumped out to an early 6-2 lead in the first quarter following a rebound basket by Brown, but Poly closed the quarter on an 11-2 run that was capped by a 3-pointer from the right baseline by Mickelle Lowry at the buzzer for a 13-8 lead.
The reigning Class 3A state champ Engineers then sandwiched 12 points around Mercy’s lone basket of the second quarter, a jump shot by Hazelton with 5:48 left in the opening half. Massenberg started the second quarter with a stickback and Lowry followed with another 3-pointer in transition for a quick 10-point that swelled to the 25-10 halftime lead that ballooned to 42-24 going into the final eight minutes of the contest.
Besides Brown, the Magic received 10 points each from Olivia Liszt and McKenna Carroll. Mercy, which moved up to IAAM A Conference after winning the B2 title last winter, has played public strongholds Poly, No. 13 Old Mill and River Hill in non-league this month, in addition to playing at the She Got Game Classic in Northern Virginia.
“We missed some rebounding assignments, so they got some extra chances, and they made us pay for it,” Magic first-year coach George Panageotou said. “We just struggled offensively. We knew what was coming. We worked on it and not being able to be effective on offense killed us.”
NO. 2 POLY 57, NO. 8 MERCY 42
Mercy 8 2 14 18 - 42
Poly 13 12 17 15 - 57
Mercy - Myah Hazelton 6, Milan Brown 10, Olivia Liszt 10, McKenna Carroll 10, Logan Jefferson 3, Miley Alguire 3. Totals 15 9-16 42.
Poly - Brianna Johnson 2, Trinity Massenburg 16, Riley Holliday 12, Mickelle Lowry 6, Da’Brya Clark 13, Sierra Georges 2, Taylor Addison 4, Chloe Mills 2. Totals: 21 11-21 57.