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HCC goes home - for good

March 08, 1999|By BILL STERNER / Staff Correspondent

FREDERICK, Md. - Fifteen minutes before her Hagerstown Community College women's basketball team was to take the floor against Frederick in the much-anticipated Region XX showdown between Maryland's juco heavyweights, coach Marlys Palmer had a problem deciding whether it was wise to start Kaylene Taylor.

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At stake: an invitation to play in the NJCAA Tournament, and Palmer knew it was important that everyone be pumped up.

Taylor's outward appearance indicated that she was not ready for the pressure of perhaps the Hawks' biggest game in Palmer's 20-year tenure. But at the last second, the veteran coach looked into the freshman's eyes and decided to play a hunch.

Taylor then went out and led all scorers with 21 points and the Hawks held off a desperate Frederick rally to come away with a pulse-pounding 66-63 win.

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The victory, its second over the Cougars this season with a championship on the line, gives HCC the opportunity to compete for the national junior college crown on its own floor. Hagerstown hosts the tournament March 17-21.

"We weren't going to start Kaylene," Palmer said. "In the team meeting, she looked dazed and out of sorts. But I was looking for that sign and I was satisfied that when we got on the floor, she would be ready."

Was she ever. Taylor hit her first two baskets off the opening tip as the aggressive Hawks slugged away at the surprised Cougars, building a 30-11 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the half.

"They needed me, my teammates," Taylor said. "We came this far, so why not the rest of the way?"

But Frederick had been in this situation twice before against HCC, and coach Jack Mehl had more than prepared his team.

"We told them not to fold the tents if things didn't go our way," Mehl said of the Cougars, who had overcome double-digit leads against the Hawks but narrowly lost both games. "The truth is, Hagerstown shot the ball better today than in any previous game we played them."

The Hawks' Tia Ferguson was magnificent. Ferguson, the tournament MVP, owned the boards on both ends of the floor, pulling down 16 rebounds - many of them critical to HCC preserving its lead. Her physical play was contagious as HCC's inside people out-toughed the Cougars down the stretch.

But Frederick still would not be dispatched easily.

Down 44-25 with just over 16 minutes left, the Cougars chipped away at the lead behind an effective full-court trap and clutch perimeter shooting. With less than a minute to play, a Meaghan Beall 3-pointer knotted the score at 61-61.

But Ferguson's rebounding and the resulting fouls by the Cougars sent Judy Zimmerman and Taylor to the line in the waning moments, and they converted to give the Hawks some much-needed breathing room.

"We played like a team; we counted on each other," Ferguson said echoing the theme of the Hawks' season. "Someone always steps up when we need it. We are a team of MVPs."

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