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.
“After the game I told them, ‘This is why I coach basketball,’ ” Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel said. “The crowd was going back-and-forth, the kids were going back-and-forth. There was energy on-and-off the court.
“We’ve went down to Comcast (Center) a couple times but this is one of the most memorable wins of my career.”
A pair of free throws in overtime by Tinuoye gave the Eagles their first lead since it was 10-9 in the first quarter. On the other end, Moody got a put-back to go, then made two free throws to put River Hill ahead, 63-61.
But as he’s done all season when Centennial has needed a bucket, the ball was in Ringgold’s hands. He drove to the basket and finished at the rim to knot the score again to force extra time.
In double overtime, Moody tied the score at 68-68 with a free throw. There were 24 seconds left for the Eagles to get the last shot. Instead of Ringgold getting the final shot, this time it was Strothers who threw up a wild runner that was off the mark.
The third overtime was where River Hill fell apart. With Thomas and freshman Michael Heitzmann on the bench, the Hawks struggled to score. As a team they went 2-for-10 from the free throw line and had a pair of crucial turnovers.
“You hate to see a team lose a game like that but like in all sports, there has to be a team that loses,” Graves said. “We had ample opportunities to put the game away but Centennial found a way to capitalize on our mistakes.
“Having two of our top players on the bench for two overtimes didn’t help but for us to battle through the second and third overtimes really showed the true colors of our team.”
Conley came up big in the final period, grabbing six defensive rebounds and after two foul shots from Strothers, the Eagles led 78-71 with less than a minute to go.
Moody made a free throw, then Michael Titus (eight points) found a loss ball under the rim and made a layup to make it a four-point game. After a turnover by the Eagles on the inbounds play, Moody drove the basket and finished as Centennial’s lead shrank to 78-76.
With the game on the line, Ringgold made sure he got the ball and was fouled. He made one attempt to stretch the lead to three. Defensive pressure forced a turnover on the Hawks end and Conley hit the defensive glass again. He was fouled and sank a free throw to put the game out of reach.
“Coach was telling through the three overtimes, ‘Smile (at the foul line) and knock it down.’ When you smile it lets out all the pressure so it wasn’t easy to knock down that last free throw,” Conley said.
The teams battled in their only regular season meeting, a 55-51 overtime victory by River Hill Jan. 9. This time, however, Centennial turned the tables.
“There was definitely more energy this game. Down the bench, everybody was in the game,” Tinuoye said. “There was also more focus. …Last time they hit an open three from the top of the key on a mental lapse. We didn’t have those lapses this game.”
Centennial 81, River Hill 76
C (12-7, 16-8): Ringgold 42, Tinuoye 16, Conley 10, Strothers 4, Benson 3, Fletcher 3, Eads 3.
RH (15-4, 17-6): Moody 37, Thomas IV 25, Titus 8, Heitzmann 4, Sandler 2.
Half: 31-24 RH. End of Reg: 57-57. End of OT: 63-63. End of 2OT: 68-68.
Other 3A East scores:
Wilde Lake 72, J.M. Bennett 62
The Wildecats went on the road and took down the region's top seed behind a game-high 20 points from Eric Handy. Khari Jackson added 19 points in the Wilde Lake victory that sets up a semifinal meeting with Annapolis next Tuesday.
WL (11-13): Handy 20, K. Jackson 19, Groves 13, Robinson 9, Calloway 6, Evans 3, Parris 2.
Half: 29-24 WL.
Reservoir 52, Atholton 42
The Gators jumped ahead early, taking an 11-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, and capitalized on that cushion on the way to the victory over the Raiders. Cody Toley (9 points) and Matt Christian (9 points) led the way for Reservoir, which had 10 different players score.
Atholton was led by Ethan Shapiro's 14 points in the loss.
Reservoir will host Centennial in the region semifinals on Tuesday.
Re (17-6): Toler 9, Christian 9, Reilly 8, Brooks 5, Boris 5, McDonald 4, Simms 4, Young 3, Henry 3, Williams 2.
A (11-13): Shapiro 14, M. Bernetti 10, Courtney 8, Ballmer 6, Mason 3, Casey 1.