The Pikesville High School girls team won the first basketball state championship in the school’s 55-year history when defeating Smithsburg High School 61-31 on March 16 in the Class 1A title game at Towson University’s SECU Arena.

The team never made the state final four until getting there last year and falling in the Class 1A state semi-final. This time, the Panthers advanced to the state championship game for the first time ever. The Pikesville boys twice reached the state final — in 1999 and 2000 — but lost both times.

A large group of Pikesville fans showed up for the state final and sat behind the team bench, cheering loudly when the team eventually accepted the Class 1A state championship trophy.

PHS Principal Sandra Reid gave medals to each player on the team and clapped gleefully during the awards ceremony on the court. The fans behind the Pikesville bench roared louder at that point than even during the game.

Two years ago, the Pikesville girls team won just four games. When Coach Michael Dukes took over before the start of the 2017-18 season, they became a stronger team and won 48 of 55 games over the last two seasons.

This season, they finished with a 26-4 record, plus the Baltimore County, region and state championships. 

“We raised the bar high,” Dukes said. “We got all the moral victories last year. The goals were a lot higher this year.”

The Panthers met Largo High School (of Prince George’s County) in the state semi-final on March 15 and scored the game’s first 20 points en route to a 71-41 rout.

A day later came the Smithsburg Leopards (of Washington County). The state final was close early as Pikesville held an 18-14 halftime lead before the Panthers broke it wide open in the second half.

Pikesville started forcing numerous Smithsburg errors that the Panthers often transformed into points In fact, Pikesville scored 27 points off of the Leopard turnovers, and that changed everything.

“They’re a very well-balanced team, and we didn’t have an answer,” Smithsburg Coach Charles Burnett said.

Frances Glover-Bey led the Panthers with 18 points. She said she believes the school will greatly enjoy having a state basketball champion. “I think it will give the school more confidence and trust in us,” she said with a big smile.

Setting that bar higher this year and not coming up short again seemed to inspire the team. Dukes was the driving force, say the Panthers.

“He took all of us and [changed everything],” said forward Teylah Saunders, who finished the state title game with six points, eight rebounds and three blocks. “We made sure we accomplished every single goal.”

Pikesville began its championship run a few weeks ago with a victory over Western School of Technology for what is believed to be the school’s first Baltimore County championship game title in girls’ basketball. The Panthers then worked their way through the Class 1A North Region and defeated Forest Park High School in the title game to earn that second straight trip to the final four.

This time, though, they made school history. Just talking about that milestone after the game made Coach Dukes grin and shake his head.

“It’s actually pretty surreal right now,” he said, glancing over at the championship trophy sitting about five feet away. 

Jeff Seidel is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.