Boys basketball advances to Final Four, girls’ title hopes dashed in quarterfinals

Sophomore guard Katie Diao enters the game for RM.
Sophomore guard Katie Diao enters the game for RM.
Ari Fine

If you couldn’t see the scoreboard at halftime of the 4A boys state quarterfinal between Richard Montgomery HS and Bowie HS, you might think the Rockets were down by double digits. After a quick nine points from senior guard Dante Mayo in the first quarter, RM went cold in the second, shooting 0-7 from behind the arc and struggling to make the easy shots. In the second half, however, Mayo and the rest of the Rockets found their stroke again, defeating the Bulldogs 64-61 in a hard-fought state quarterfinal. 

Mayo finished with 31 points on eight made three-pointers as the Rockets advanced to the Final Four for the third time in five years, but still remain on the hunt for their first state title in that span. Sophomore Tavares “Boogie” Vaughan-Cooper notched 14 points, all of which in came in the second half, and junior guard Khalil Wilson added nine.

As the sixth seed, the Rockets entered the game as an underdog against the higher-seeded Bulldogs. Bowie started fast, dunking after winning the tip-off and igniting the home crowd. It looked like the height and strength of the Bulldogs would be too much for RM. But just like they have all season, the Rockets quickly responded with a steal on the next possession and a corner three from Mayo. 

RM was undersized with Bowie starting three players above 6’4’’, but used their quickness around the perimeter to their advantage, drawing multiple charges throughout the game and driving effectively to the basket, opening up the wings for Mayo and Vaughan-Cooper to knock down shots. 

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“Coming into the game we knew we had to bring a lot of intensity,” Mayo said. “Bowie was bigger than us, but we weren’t gonna let them be more physical.”

Down by two at halftime after a poor shooting quarter, the Rockets went on a run late in the third quarter to regain the lead. Mayo went on a nine-point run himself to help RM go into the fourth up 56-48. “At halftime, we were down two and knew we had to be the ones to turn it up in the second half, and that’s exactly what we did,” Mayo said.

Senior Dante Mayo drills a three-pointer against Kennedy HS in the regional final. (Ari Fine)

The Rockets’ high ball pressure and trapping defense caused problems for Bowie all night, forcing a key turnover with under two minutes left in the game. From there, just as it was in the regional final against Kennedy, Wilson iced the game from the line, hitting three of four in the last 90 seconds, clinching yet another upset win for the Rockets. “I’m happy with the win, but I’m not satisfied yet,” Vaughan-Cooper said.  “Me and the team want the ring above all.”

RM will now face Whitman HS in the state semifinals on March 13 at Blair HS at 7:30 pm. The Rockets hope to avenge their 74-71 loss to the Vikings in late January in which Whitman junior Evan Brown scored a career-high 30 points. 

“This win means confirmation that we were able to accomplish the goals we set forth and that we right to be confident in our abilities,” varsity head coach David Breslaw said. “This also kind of restores our faith that we probably should’ve been in this position before last year.”

Clarksburg, London Turner too much for Lady Rockets

A historic season for the varsity girls basketball team ended in the state quarterfinals after a 47-37 loss to Clarksburg. Led by the Turner sisters-London, Trinity and Destiny- the Coyotes jumped out to an early lead and didn’t relinquish it until the third quarter. The Turners combined for 43 of Clarksburg’s points, 19 of which came from junior London Turner.

The Rockets, unlike the boys, failed to find their rhythm in the game. RM shot just 21 percent from the field and 1-20 from the three-point line, the only make coming from a deep third quarter buzzer beater from sophomore guard Katie Diao. Diao finished with 16 points and senior center Joy Dau added 13, but RM struggled on the offensive boards, being outrebounded 19-9, and allowing Clarksburg to score numerous second-chance points.

RM ends the season with a divisional championship, a regional championship, and an impressive 18-5 record. This 10 point loss was their largest of the season and they suffered their lowest-scoring game all year.  With four starters graduating and only one rising senior, Coach Mike Oakes will lean on Diao and other underclassmen to make another run at the state title next year. 

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