Centennial’s Omari Ringgold had envisioned this moment in his dreams. He had run the scenario through his head countless times. On Thursday night against host River Hill in the Class 3A East regional boys basketball quarterfinals, the senior guard turned a dream into reality.
With time running out and the Eagles trailing by three points, Ringgold — draped with two defenders — caught the ball in the left corner, squared his shoulders and watched the shot leave his hands.
His 3-point attempt found nothing but the bottom of the net as the buzzer sounded to force the game into overtime. After 12 extra minutes of relentless action, the Eagles were able to outlast the Hawks, 81-76, in an epic triple-overtime thriller.
“It was one of those shots where as a kid you’re in the gym shooting by yourself and you start counting down in your head – three, two, one,” Ringgold explained. “I’ve done that a lot. I knew it was good when it left my hands.”
Ringgold finished with a career-high 42 points, including 16 in the extra sessions for the Eagles (16-8). Senior Timi Tinuoye had 16 points and junior Chase Conley had 10 points and nine boards.
River Hill leading scorer Walt Moody tallied a team-high 37 points, with 13 coming in the overtimes. Sophomore center Charlie Thomas IV added 25 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late in the first overtime. Gary Sandler contributed eight assists.
“I thought we played our hearts out tonight,” Thomas said. “We played team ball and this was one of the best games we’ve had. Even though I fouled out, I still believed in my teammates. We worked hard but unfortunately we couldn’t pull the win out today.”
In a seesaw game, in the end, the difference came down to one thing — experience.
Centennial – the two-time defending 3A East Region champion – has been battled tested over the past two postseason runs to the Comcast Center. A memorable 76-73 overtime victory against Annapolis in last season’s regional finals prepared the Eagles for anything.
“We’ve been in close games before during the playoffs,” Tinuoye said. “There was nothing to get rattled about. We knew that in the end we could win it.”
River Hill (17-6), on the other hand, starts two sophomores and a freshman with an anchor in Moody’s senior leadership. Regrettably for the Hawks, who have been solid all season, their youth reared its head at the worst time.
“Unfortunately we ran up against a team that is very experienced in the playoffs,” River Hill coach Matt Graves said. “The biggest thing that I noticed, especially towards the end of the game, was (Centennial’s) composure. … Hopefully our kids will learn from this because we have a lot coming back.”
Moody and Thomas were nearly unstoppable in the first half. The duo combined for 25 points to help the Hawks take a 31-24 lead into the intermission.
In the third quarter, it was more of the same.
Thomas drained his third 3-pointer of the contest and Moody followed with a finish at the rim despite being hammered. He walked over to the raucous River Hill student section and threw his hands in the air to pump them up. After the made free throw, the Hawks were ahead 42-31 with just under 3 minutes left in the period.
But the battle tested Eagles never panicked and continued to chip away at the lead.
Veterans Ringgold and Tinuoye wouldn’t let their team go down without a fight. Tinuoye started the fourth quarter with a layup and Ringgold scored his team’s next eight points to tie the contest at 48-48 with 3:51 remaining.
The teams traded free throws over the next couple of minutes and a pair of foul shots by Moody gave River Hill a 57-52 advantage with 12 seconds left in regulation.
Chad Strothers slipped under the defense on an inbounds play for a layup and was fouled. He missed the free throw and Thomas came down with the board. It appeared that would seal the deal for the Hawks, but a pair of Eagles got their hands on the ball to cause the tie-up, giving possession back to Centennial.
Ringgold’s 3-pointer silenced the Hawk faithful while giving new life to the Eagles student section.