Maryland experimented with State playoffs for girls’ sports in the late 1940’s, boys’ tournaments were canceled in 1940 as World War II became an international concern and did not resume until the 1947 season. Girls’ basketball playoffs were added to the itinerary but were discontinued following the 1949 season. They would not be reinstated until 1973 when the State initiated a State championship format based on the original play-off configuration when boys’ basketball playoffs were first conducted back in 1927. Open classification pitted a Western Maryland champ against the Eastern Shore winner.
Snow Hill had the distinction of placing the first team from the Eastern Shore in the newly formed girls State tournament, losing to Parkville, an AA (4A) rated school.
Crisfield was engaged in a similar pioneer experience in 1969 when the Crabbers soccer team earned a berth in the initial boys’ championship contest. CHS dropped an 8-4 decision to a powerful Dundalk squad, also an AA school.
Girls’ basketball was promoted to the four class system in 1976, since then Mardela, Pocomoke and Snow Hill have dominated the East combining for 18 Regional crowns overall. Parkside, Snow Hill, Pocomoke and Easton have won State titles, Easton led by Kelly Gibson who would move on to play for Maryland won back to back Class C crowns in 1993 and ’94.
The Lady Crabbers were not as fortunate, playoff victories were few and far between.
North Dorchester was the defending 1A East Region champ as the 2002 season got underway. The East Region produced 5 different 1A champions over the past 5 seasons, Mardela’s last title coming in 1997. Pocomoke and Cambridge-South Dorchester had also claimed championships in this period.
Crisfield would be facing all of them in the 2002 Regional tourney. Pocomoke was the first bridge to be crossed, the Lady Crabbers split with the Warriors during regular season action. A 38-28 loss at Pocomoke, CHS won the rematch at home 40-33, the victor in this third rematch on a neutral floor would advance to the quarterfinals. Crisfield held on for a 29-24 triumph in a low-scoring affair, Nicole Brown was the Lady Crabbers’ high scorer with 8 points.
North Division adversary Queen Anne’s came in red hot determined to wrap this contest up in rapid fashion. The Lions paced by the perimeter shooting of Hilary Fratche and Tina Morey put CHS in a 10-2 hole minutes into the fray and it appeared their goal was attainable. Queen Anne’s man defense confused Crisfield in the early going, Coach Greg Bozman called time with 4 minutes left in the opening stanza. He decided to switch to a trapping defense and keep close watch on the Lions shooters.
The Lady Crabbers revamped defense forced one turnover after another, the Lions did not score again until 4 minutes into the second period. Senior forward Nicole Brown took charge on the offensive end, a game high 19 points and 17 rebounds. Anitra Cannon who keyed the defensive surge added 13 tallies. CHS scored an overwhelming 52-27 victory earning a spot in the semifinals.
“I found it tonight,” said Brown. “We know we’ve got to come in and try harder each game.” Jackie Sterling had 4 blocks, Shanise Byrd 6 steals, Ashley Douglas 3 assists, and Tiffianie Johnson, Ashley Cannon and Katrina Sterling all played a role in this amazing win.
Crisfield was treading on unfamiliar ground. It was the first time for any Lady Crabbers team to reach a semifinal. Cambridge-South Dorchester jumped to a 31-18 halftime advantage led by the incredible shooting of their top player Nykia Elliott. The Vikings star hit her first 5 shots, 3 from the arc finishing with a game high 17 points. Defense was the catalyst in Crisfield’s amazing second half comeback, CHS held the Vikings to 6 second half points, and Elliott was scoreless.
Nicole Brown jump started the CHS offense scoring 10 of her team high 14 points in the second half. “She took the game over in the second half,” said Bozman. Brown hit a short jumper to even the count at 37 all with less than 2 minutes remaining. Jackie Sterling hit a free throw at the 47 second mark to put CHS up for the first time. Following a defensive stop, Brown was fouled with only 10 seconds on the clock, she nailed both ends of a one and one sealing a 40-37 win. Sterling had 7 points but added 12 rebounds and 4 blocks.
CHS was in a Regional final for the first time in the program’s history. Bayside champion Mardela stood in the way of a trip to the State semifinals. The Warriors had defeated Crisfield twice by scores of 33-24 and 63-49 with free throws a determining factor. Mardela went to the line 32 times, CHS just 5 trips to the stripe.
Crisfield held Mardela to 2 field goals in the final quarter but the Warriors were 14 of 17 from the line. CHS was whistled for 23 personals, Mardela only 6. Ashley Douglas fouled out, Sterling and Byrd 4 fouls each. The Lady Crabbers were in it to the finish though. Three-pointers from Ciera and Douglas helped CHS rally back from an 11 point third quarter deficit. Brown scored with less than 2 minutes to play and made it 56 each. Mardela’s Hilary Kecter with a jumper and a foul shot gave the Warriors a 59-56 margin. Sterling scored on a putback to draw CHS within 59-58.
The contest had a bizarre finish. Brown scored what appeared to be the go ahead basket but the score was waved off when Brown was cited for an offensive foul, a call that Bozman refutes to this day. “The ref who was behind the girl made the call; the other ref who was in position didn’t blow her whistle,” said Bozman.
It was a disappointing conclusion for the Lady Crabbers and the large contingent of Crisfield fans who packed the UMES gym. Mardela added a free throw with 4 seconds to make it 60-58, CHS couldn’t get a decent shot as the clock ticked off, the Lady Crabbers dream was shattered.
“A lot of people told me after the game that we should have won,” said Bozman. The Lady Crabbers would have to wait until next year. Williams led CHS with 15 points, 5 assists, Brown 14 points, 9 boards, Anitra Cannon 12 points. So near yet so far. It was a bitter pill to swallow coming so close and having dreams and hard work squelched by a questionable call.
Brown would graduate but Bozman had the rest of his group back in 2003, the Lady Crabbers would pick up the pieces and make another run at obtaining that elusive goal, a Regional title.