When the postseason finally rolls around, fans usually enjoy watching the area’s top teams advance to the state playoffs, but in girls basketball, only one of the top four public school teams ranked in The Baltimore Sun’s Top 15 will move on to UMBC.
All four -- No. 2 Aberdeen, No. 4 Milford Mill, No. 5 Digital Harbor and No. 7 City -- are in the same region, Class 3A North, and there, of course, can be only one winner. Last year, Aberdeen won and went on to win its first state championship.
This year, the region appears even more competitive with, by most accounts, the toughest final four in the state in any classification.
“The state champion is going to come out of this region,” City coach George Petrides said.
The other coaches agree.
“This is our final four,” Digital Harbor coach Patrick McDonald said. “I think the teams in this region are so tough it makes for great competition when you move forward. There’s nothing you’re going to be surprised at. Our competition in the North region is very stiff and very sturdy and you better bring your A game. You can’t make a lot of mistakes, because they will be capitalized on.”
Last year, City got knocked out early, but this time, all are in the regional final four as they should be. Aberdeen will host Digital Harbor and City will host Milford Mill in Wednesday night’s 6 p.m. regional semifinals with the winners moving on to the regional final Friday or Saturday. One will advance to the March 14 state semifinals at UMBC.
All four teams ended up in the same region last year because their schools are similar enough in population to put them in Class 3A and they are located close enough together to put them in the East region. Right away, it stacked up as a mega-region – not just because it has 15 teams, more than any other region in the state, but because it has so many elite teams.
City, Digital Harbor and Milford Mill had all won recent state titles – Digital and City in 2009 and Milford Mill in 2005. Aberdeen had reached the Class 3A final in 2011.
Last year, Aberdeen defeated Digital Harbor, 67-41, in the regional semifinal and then topped Milford Mill, 84-66, in the final. City got a tough draw and lost to Milford Mill in the first round.
It wasn’t easy for players from the three teams that did not make it to states to understand why they weren’t going while teams some of them had beaten during the regular season advanced in other classifications.
“You have to explain to them about the size of the school and how we are in 3A and some schools are in 1A and 2A and 4A, so they didn’t understand about the population and the classification of schools,” Milford Mill coach DeToiya McAliley said.
“You have to tell them that we have to prepare ourselves," she added, "because you never know which one of those teams you’re going to run into that will be competitive for the coming year. They knew coming into the season that Aberdeen was going to be good still. They knew Digital was going to come back with a loaded squad. We knew City was going to come back with predominantly the same team they had last year. We have a new team in some parts, but we knew we were going to be in for a battle.”
This final four includes three jurisdiction champions – Aberdeen in the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference, Milford Mill in Baltimore County and Digital Harbor in Baltimore City’s Division I.
Each of them already has played at least one of the other three.
Aberdeen defeated Milford Mill, 67-52, in the season opener and beat Digital Harbor, 63-45 at the Basketball Academy last month. Milford Mill defeated Digital, 50-41, at the Basketball Academy. Digital defeated City, 61-53, six weeks ago and then again last week in the Division I championship, 60-43.
This will be the last year for this battle royal en route to states. Next year, schools will be reclassified according to population and that will split up these four.
Aberdeen and Milford Mill will remain in the North region while Digital Harbor and City will move to the East region where they will join No. 10 River Hill and No. 13 Reservoir as well as No. 8 Poly, which will move down from Class 4A.