Through a wide smile, Reservoir coach Ryan Carson summed it all up pretty well. "Sometimes when you've never been there before, you don't know any better."
A Gators program that prior to this year had never won a single postseason game, made it two wins in a row in this year's 3A East region playoffs on Tuesday by knocking off second-seeded Wilde Lake, 54-45.
After losing both meetings in the regular season against the Wildecats, Reservoir capitalized on its stingy defense and opportunistic offense to pick up the victory with its season on the line.
"These guys are just going out and having fun … not worrying about what's happened in the past," said Carson, whose team had beaten Mt. Hebron 49-45 in the opening round. "We believe that if we stay true to our zone, be aggressive out of it and play our style, we can compete with anyone."
With the win, Reservoir advances into the 3A East region semifinals on March 1 against third-seeded Annapolis. On the other half of the bracket top-seeded Centennial, which defeated Howard 69-64, and Atholton, which knocked off Stephen Decatur 73-56, advanced to face one another.
In the 2A South region, Marriotts Ridge is the only county team left standing after picking up a 50-45 victory over Long Reach. The Mustangs will travel to Largo on March 1 for the region semis.
After falling behind early in the first two meetings with Wilde Lake (17-6), Reservoir (13-11) knew getting off to a strong start this time around was crucial.
Thanks to a smothering effort on the defensive end that held the Wildecats to a 4-31 effort from the floor in the first half, the Gators indeed were able to establish a lead. Up by as many as nine points in the second quarter, Reservoir took a 23-17 lead into the break.
"We really talked about coming out focused and being the ones to go on an early run. We couldn't let them get ahead again," said Reservoir senior Joey Usher, who finished with eight points and 15 rebounds. "Those first two games, they killed us in transition and with second-chance points. That was a big focus for us today."
Reservoir pushed its lead up to as many as 14 points early in the fourth quarter following a lay-up by Matt Christian (9 points, 9 rebounds).
With its season on the line, though, Wilde Lake finally got something going. Devaughn Garner (12 points) scored four quick points, Eric Handy and Antoine Barnes (9 points, 19 rebounds) made two shots apiece, and the Wildecats put together a 16-5 run to close within three with a minute left.
"The urgency finally kicked in," Wilde Lake coach Deon Wingfield said. "That first half we were really tense, but it seemed like once it sunk in that there were eight minutes left in the game everything started to pick up. Unfortunately, by that point we had dug ourselves too deep of a hole."
Christian made a lay-up with 48 seconds left and then Keon Booth (11 points) hit four fouls shots in the final 35 seconds to seal the game. Despite shooting 5-13 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, Reservoir made enough plays to advance.
The 45 points were Wilde Lake's lowest offensive output of the season, exactly 20 below the team's season average of 65.2 points a night.
"We kept telling them that this is about finishing between the ears," Carson said. "We had to be strong mentally. They're trying to speed us up, the crowd was going crazy, they're making some baskets, but the guys really kept their composure."
Centennial had to show some composure of its own down the stretch against Howard. After leading the Lions by nine, 36-27, at halftime, the Eagles watched their lead trimmed down to two early in the fourth quarter.
But before Howard could come all the way back, Centennial put together a run of its own to put the game out of reach. Keonte Potts (27 points) and Omari Ringgold (14) combined to go a perfect 12-12 from the foul line in the fourth quarter, helping the Eagles push the lead back into double digits before holding on for a five-point victory.
"I was really happy with our kids down the stretch," Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel said. "They made their run in the third quarter, then we answered."
Howard stayed close the majority of the night thanks in part to hitting seven threes. Colin Dyer (19 points) accounted for four of them. James Bartnik also had a strong game, finishing with 17 points for a Lions team that had beaten River Hill 52-42 in the opening round.