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Senior advantages

Mitchell, Allen, Jackson lead Hubs to brink

Mitchell, Allen, Jackson lead Hubs to brink

March 11, 2009|By DAN KAUFFMAN

North Hagerstown seniors Kirksten Mitchell, LaRae "Big Ticket" Allen and Kishia Jackson are the heart and soul of the Hubs' girls basketball team. They've enjoyed incredible success -- compiling a 64-9 record since the start of the 2006-07 season.

"Our three experienced seniors, those three set the tone in their own way -- Kirksten offensively and with her spirit, Kishia with her energy defensively and with her competitiveness, and the Big Ticket, she does so many good, positive things for this team," Hubs coach Barry Brown said. "She doesn't have to score a lot of points, her presence on the court rebounding and blocking shots is immense. Those three are all unique, all driven and all good people."

On Friday, they will lead North to a place the Hubs have not been since 1986 -- the state semifinals. North (23-2), the Maryland Class 2A West champion, will travel to University of Maryland-Baltimore County to face 2A North winner Baltimore City College (22-3) at 5 p.m.

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"We just want to get one (state title) before we leave," Allen said. "It's great to get down there, but we want to win it."

"When you get a group of kids that decide, 'This is what we want,' this is what can happen," Brown said. "This is the seniors leading and all the kids buying in and getting on the same page."

North came close to reaching the state semifinals two seasons ago, when the Hubs went to undefeated Walkersville and gave the Lions all they could handle before a 55-45 setback in the 2A West final.

"We were so close, and I don't think they knew it," Brown said. "It was a three-point game on their court and we were seriously competing. Our players didn't understand how close we were to going to UMBC."

The Hubs entered last season's playoffs with a 20-2 record, the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. But they were stunned by Clarksburg 58-56 in overtime in the 2A West quarterfinals.

"We had too much swagger, we were too cocky and that hurt us in the end," Mitchell said. "This year, we knew we had to play hard every game and not take anything for granted."

"This team, we're more together like a sisterhood and we have more confidence," Allen said. "Last year, we beat (Clarksburg) at a Christmas tournament and we thought we'd automatically beat them again and we played down to their level. We look back at that game and realize we have to play them like we never played them before."

North gained a measure of revenge over Clarksburg with a convincing 74-52 victory in last week's 2A West semifinals -- a game in which Mitchell finished just shy of a triple-double, with 25 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists.

Then against Middletown in the 2A West final, the Hubs found themselves trailing 38-26 entering the fourth quarter. The last eight minutes saw the Knights suffer from the kind of overconfidence that cost North the year before, while the Hubs called upon the experience of comeback victories over Century and Walkersville in the regular season to do it one more time, outscoring Middletown 23-5 in the quarter for a 49-43 victory.

"Middletown started getting too happy. They were acting like they had the game and they thought it was over, and I don't know why they thought we couldn't come back," Mitchell said. "I took that as a smack in the face. Just being a senior, I know if I don't show I want it, who is? Being a senior, you have to step it up, and I did that in the fourth quarter. ... As a senior, I want it more. As a sophomore or a junior, you can always say, 'I have another chance.' As a senior, this is it."

"(Mitchell) came in during a timeout and let a few of her teammates have it, and I didn't have to say much," Brown said. "That was senior leadership taking over, and it had a profound effect. We had many, many games that taught us lessons under very adverse circumstances. Even at Urbana, when we weren't playing well, we were down by nine and we came back to tie it up. This team has never quit, ever."

North has demonstrated a variety of ways to defeat opponents. The Hubs' pressure defense and transition offense has run a few teams off the court. When forced into a halfcourt game, they can make teams pay from the 3-point line -- Mitchell, Jackson and Iman Scott all have made at least 20 treys this season. Allen can score in the post using her quickness and footwork. If all else fails, Mitchell, Jackson and Quielanna Gantt are capable of slashing to the basket.

"We can run and gun, but we can also slow it down and get good shots," Mitchell said. "We have a deep bench and we can go to them for help, and that's something we didn't have the last two years."

The Hubs will need all their weapons to get past a City College squad that allows just 33.8 points per game and has held opponents under 20 points nine times.

"We know the teams we'll play at UMBC are great teams. But for us, the most important thing is that we need to focus on what we do," Brown said. "We realize every possession matters, and we hope to play 64 minutes, and more if we have to."

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