Dr. Phillips guards hold off Woodson

BETHESDA, Md. -- Instant analysis from No. 2 seed Dr. Phillips’ 65-60 win over No. 3 seed HD Woodson in the semifinals of the ESPNHS National High School Invitational at Georgetown Prep on Friday:

Overview: It wasn’t easy, but Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.) was able to call on its experience to hold on to a slim lead down the stretch. The defending NHSI champion Panthers were poised under pressure and hit their free throws to hold off a spirited comeback attempt by HD Woodson (D.C.).

Junior guard Sydnei McCaskill was key in crunch time, scoring 11 of her 20 points in the second half to spark Dr. Phillips. She went 11-of-11 from the free-throw line and made four in the final minute to seal the win. Sophomore guard Taryn Griffey displayed her usual stellar all-around game, contributing nine points, nine rebounds and five assists.

Both players were cogs in the Panthers’ NHSI title run last year, which came in handy when Woodson started pressing late in the game.

“Me and Taryn knew we had to step up in the second half,” said McCaskill. “We had to get other players going and make plays.”

Turning Point: With six minutes to play in the third quarter, Woodson looked like it had all the momentum. A 7-0 run for the Warriors tied the game at 31-31, and Dr. Phillips appeared to be on the ropes.

But that’s when McCaskill took over. She hit a pull-up jumper in the lane to give DP the lead again, then drilled a 3-pointer on the following possession to make it 36-31. After a Woodson bucket, McCaskill buried a driving floater to stretch it to 38-33. She then picked up an assist by finding junior center Stephanie Ratliff all alone for a layup.

Dr. Phillips ended the quarter with a 43-33 lead, and all of Woodson’s momentum was gone. It was an uphill battle the rest of the way, and while the Warriors cut it down to a single possession a few times, the were never able to recover.

Woodson senior forward Jephany Brown poured in a game-high 27 points, but the Warriors weren’t able to get closer than three points the rest of the way.

McCaskill continued to produce in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of her 20 points in the final frame.

Key Player: Woodson made the mistake of leaving Jade Cheek open early in the game, and the sophomore guard made them pay. Cheek drilled four 3-pointers in the first half to help Dr. Phillips jump out to an early lead, and she went into halftime with 16 points.

“Sydney and Taryn always set me up very well,” said Cheek. “They make it pretty easy.”

Cheek finished with a team-high 21 points, hitting five 3-pointers and shooting 8-of-15 from the field.

Key Stat: Every team needs a closer, and for Dr. Phillips it’s McCaskill. She was at her best when the pressure was on, as evidenced by her 11-for-11 showing from the free-throw line. She made all 10 of her attempts in the second half, staving off a furious Woodson rally.

Up Next: Dr. Phillips' three-guard attack will have to pick up the pace in order to challenge top-seeded Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.), the Panthers’ opponent in Saturday’s NHSI final.

Baptist used its size to pulverize a smaller Edgewater (Orlando, Fla.) squad in the semifinals, so Dr. Phillips may try to make it an open-court game in order to neutralize the height advantage. Griffey, McCaskill and Cheek combined for 50 points against Woodson.