BETHESDA — Frustration and anxiety gripped the locker room of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Barons varsity girls basketball team at halftime. The Barons had just played their worst first half of the season, although they were still tied with the Walter Johnson Wildcats at the break. Knowing that this was her last game on her home floor, B-CC senior center Caitlyn Clendenin told her team that this wasn’t going to be the way they went out.
Through the frustration, B-CC found a spark in the locker room at halftime. The Barons cleaned up their mistakes in the second half, and pulled away for a 59-45 victory in the 4A West Section I championship over WJ. This victory marked the Barons first trip to the regional final since 2004.
“We have such a special team; it means tons to me, but also for the girls to show what they can do. It’s awesome to be back there, we’re really excited,” B-CC head coach Ryan Ingalls said. Ingalls was a player on the 2004 B-CC team to reach the regional championship.
“It’s very exciting,” Clendenin said of the win, “especially with this team. We’re all very good friends. It’s so fun to keep winning with them. We’ve been working hard all season. We knew what our goals were: to get to regionals and keep winning.”
For a team whose calling card had been excellent passing, the Barons did exactly the opposite in the first half. It resulted in B-CC’s worst first half of the 2017-18 season, as the team committed 11 first-half turnovers.
“We were just kind of sloppy. It might have been a little bit of nerves. I think we were overthinking things.” Ingalls said. “When we talked at halftime, we knew what we had to do, we knew we had to clean it up and we knew we were highly capable of doing it,”
However, even with B-CC’s turnovers in the first half, the team managed to stay in the game, and went into halftime tied. As has been the case all season long for the Barons, seniors Clendenin and Charlotte Lowndes provided basket after basket, stepping up in the most important moments.
As the third quarter began, B-CC cleaned up their turnovers, and it was none other than Clendenin and Lowndes leading the Barons offense. Late in the third quarter, B-CC went on a crucial 9-0 run. Lowndes hit a deep three-pointer and was fouled on the play. She stepped up to the line and made the ensuing free throw to put the Barons in front, a lead they would not relinquish.
B-CC outscored the Wildcats 14-7 in the third quarter to build a 40-33 lead going to the fourth quarter.
Clendenin added six more points of her own in the fourth quarter, and B-CC quickly built the lead up to double digits. With 3:27 to play, B-CC held a 12-point advantage. The Barons battled foul trouble, but cruised to the finish line with their comfortable lead in hand, winning the game 59-45.
“We started not overthinking things. Playing our game, making good passes, looking for each other, be more patient on offense and it led to more quality shots and we were able to convert,” Ingalls said of her team’s second half adjustments.
In the biggest game the team has played this decade, Clendenin and Lowndes made sure to go out with a bang in their final home game. Lowndes led all scorers with 20 points. Clendenin recorded a double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds.
“I was getting very emotional before the game,” Clendenin said. “I’m very happy that this season is going as it is, I’ve loved my time here at B-CC. The last home game, to get the win is really awesome.”
“Their leadership is awesome,” Ingalls said of Clendenin and Lowndes. “It has been all year. They did a great job, they didn’t want this to be their last game.”
Junior Stephanie Howell also added big minutes with 16 points and 10 rebounds, a double-double of her own.
“We just kept going on runs in the second half. We knew that we needed to win this game,” Clendenin said of her her team pushing through adversity to a crucial victory.
Whitman has won this section in three consecutive seasons. The Vikings have eliminated the Barons in each of those three years. B-CC finally defeated Whitman on Tuesday, before claiming the throne as section champs. It’s been a long time coming for Clendenin and her fellow seniors, who finally got over the hump in the playoffs. “I think we work really well together as a whole unit,” said Clendenin on why this was the team to finally make a run. “There’s a whole chemistry that I don’t know was there in the past,”
This whole season has been filled with history for the Barons. B-CC won its first division title with Ingalls as the head coach, claimed its first number one seed under Ingalls, made it further than any team under Ingalls ever had before in the playoffs, and are heading to regionals for the first time since 2004.
After winning the biggest game the team has played in a decade, the Barons will now play the new biggest game this decade as they will face the Richard Montgomery Rockets in the 4A West regional championship. B-CC handed the Rockets their only loss of the season in the final regular season game. The game will tip off at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday at Richard Montgomery High School.