BETHESDA, Md. — Last season's ESPNHS National High School Invitational was not a pleasant experience for the Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.) girls' team. The Crusaders entered the 2011 tournament as the favorite, but their stay was short, ending with an upset loss at the hands of No. 5 seed Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.) in the first round.
A year later, Riverdale Baptist got a second chance at both Dr. Phillips and the NHSI, and the Crusaders made it count. Led by senior guard Jennie Simms’ 19 points and 14 rebounds, Riverdale Baptist beat Dr. Phillips 63-59 in the title game on Saturday to claim the NHSI crown.
For Simms and her teammates, losing to Dr. Phillips again was simply not an option.
“It was basically, ‘Get it back,’ because it’s rare that you get the chance to play a team again,” said Simms, the No. 87 senior in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100. “I told my team, 'We’ve got a second chance, and we can’t let them beat us twice.'”
Simms’ passion was apparent on the court, as the West Virginia recruit played a fiery, emotional game. She fought for every rebound and made several key plays down the stretch, including a put-back to give Riverdale Baptist a three-point lead with 15 seconds to play.
The No. 6 team in the POWERADE FAB 50, Riverdale Baptist improved to 37-2 with the win. Dr. Phillips, the No. 22 team in the FAB 50, dropped to 30-4.
Guard Duo Steps Up for DP
Dr. Phillips once again received tremendous play from its backcourt of junior Sydnei McCaskill and sophomore Taryn Griffey, as the duo scored 19 points apiece in a losing effort.
Griffey poured in 17 points in the second half, converting several acrobatic finishes in crunch time as the Panthers tried to hold off the Riverdale Baptist rally. She averaged 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game at NHSI, while McCaskill averaged 19.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
Both were named to the All-Tournament team.
“We’re gifted in that area,” said Dr. Phillips coach Anthony Jones. “We’re blessed to have the backcourt that we have.”
Baptist Dominates the Boards
Riverdale Baptist simply pulverized Dr. Phillips on the glass, out-rebounding the defending NHSI champs 56-39. Riverdale Baptist was especially effective on the offensive boards -- the Crusaders grabbed 34, compared to 15 for DP.
Wake Forest-bound senior Kelila Atkinson grabbed 11 rebounds, with 10 coming off the offensive glass, and Simms was right in the middle of the action as well, pulling down eight offensive rebounds.
“We watched [Dr. Phillips] yesterday and we saw how they attacked the boards with their guards,” Simms said. “Rebounding was helping us out a lot, so I just kept attacking.”
MVP for Simms
Simms’ scoring touch and hard work on the boards earned her NHSI tournament MVP honors. In two games, the 6-foot guard/forward averaged 13.5 points and 12.5 rebounds.
“She made the difference today,” said Jones. “Even when she’s not scoring, she does little things like sprinting into the paint and knocking the rebound loose. And when she knocked it out, they were getting all those loose balls.”
Simms credited her teammates for helping her earn the MVP award.
“It’s all about the team,” she said. “I was able to find them and they were able to find me. They were able to get me the ball where I was able to score it. My team helped me get it."
In addition to Simms, McCaskill and Griffey, the All-Tournament team was rounded out by Riverdale Baptist sophomore guard Auteaonna Gilmore and H.D. Woodson (Washington, D.C.) senior forward Jephany Brown.
Gilmore averaged 10.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and two assists in the tournament, while Brown posted 27 points and nine rebounds in a first-round loss to Dr. Phillips.
The full team:
Jennie Simms, Riverdale Baptist (MVP)
Jephany Brown, H.D. Woodson
Auteaonna Gilmore, Riverdale Baptist
Taryn Griffey, Dr. Phillips
Sydney McCaskill, Dr. Phillips