Having watched its once double-digit lead completely evaporate in the first three minutes of the second half against Wilde Lake Friday night in the opening round of the 3A East playoffs, Glenelg called timeout and stressed the gravity of the situation.
The game and, more importantly, the team’s season were hanging in the balance.
But as Dom Napolitano, Nick Oates and the rest of the Gladiators showcased down the stretch, they weren’t quite ready for it all to come to an end.
Napolitano proceeded to score eight of his game-high 22 points in a span of a little less than a minute to turn a three-point deficit into a five-point lead midway through the third quarter and Glenleg never trailed again en route to a 70-50 victory on the road. Oates added 20 points and 7 assists, as the Gladiators advance into a sectional semifinal game against top-seeded Atholton.
“None of us wanted to go home and when they came back and took the lead, it kind of hit us all in the face that this could be it if we didn’t do something about it,” said Napolitano, who finished with five 3-pointers on the night. “It really wasn’t anything more than settling down and taking better shots. Once we made a few, the confidence came and we didn’t stop hitting them.”
The clinching run for Glenelg (9-10, 12-11), between the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, ended up being a 20-4 surge when all was said and done. In addition to Napolitano and Oates, Daine Van De Wall (11 points, 7 rebounds) and Zack Haussler (7 points) also contributed baskets during the push.
For Wilde Lake (3-16, 4-18), all the good things that it had accomplished out of halftime unraveled quickly.
“Those first two or three minutes of the second half we finally had that urgency, but then as soon as we tied it up and got the lead, it was like that urgency disappeared,” Wilde Lake coach Deon Wingfield said. “It was like, ‘OK I did what coach asked, now I can put my guard down.’ And I was trying to get them to understand that we had to keep our foot on the pedal.
“We used all our energy to get ourselves back into it and then once we got there, we forgot to knock down the door.”
Glenelg had built its early cushion by finding Van de Wall inside and a lot of that had to do with the floor game being orchestrated by Oates at the point-guard position. He controlled the tempo and helped the Gladiators race out to a 16-8 lead after the first quarter and a 14-point advantage midway through the second of 27-13.
“When Nick is locked in like that, being vocal and doing what he needs to do on the floor, that’s when we are at our best,” Glenelg coach Jansen McMillan said. “He’s been starting since his freshman year and he came to play today … and, honestly, he’s been playing like that for several weeks now.”
Wilde Lake did make a little headway to close the half behind Antony Evans (15 points), Austin Cantwell (10), Devon Groves (8) and Khari Jackson (5) to make it a seven-point game at the half, 30-23.
Then the Wildecats carried that momentum over to score 12 of the first 14 points of the third quarter to take a 35-32 lead.
From that point on, however, it was all Glenelg.
The win for the Gladiators built nicely on the momentum it had picked up by defeating River Hill to close the regular season. For a team with a large junior class, it's the kind of effort that bodes extremely well for the future.
“The emphasis has been on concentration and focus, playing each possession like it could be their last,” McMillan said. “These last couple games they’ve been locked in and doing that, which has paid off.”
Glenelg 70, Wilde Lake 50
G (9-10, 12-11): Napolitano 22, Oates 20, Van de Wall 11, Haussler 7, Richardson 5, Hammert 3, Helensky 2.
WL (3-16, 4-18): Evans 15, Cantwell 10, Groves 8, K. Jackson 5, Jordan 4, D. Jackson 4, Lamptey 2, Ampofo 2.
Half: 30-23 G.