The game had been over for nearly 20 minutes, the nets had been cut down and the sold-out crowd had almost completely cleared out, but Reservoir senior James Simms stood on the baseline of the emptying gym still trying to take everything in.
The reality of the situation, that his 12 points and 10 rebounds had just helped the Gators earn a 59-51 victory over Annapolis to capture the school’s first 3A East regional title, was a little overwhelming.
“I don’t know what to say right now, there are no words,” said Simms, who was one of 11 different Reservoir players to score in the championship game victory. “Cutting down the net, doing it with all these guys, it’s something I’ll never forget.
“Best moment ever, no doubt.”
Playing in its first regional title game, Reservoir (19-6) showcased uncanny composure down the stretch. After building a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter, following a free throw by Josh Williams, the Gators continually found answers for Annapolis’ pressure defense and the guard combination of Delazso Smith (19 points) and Juan Brown (15).
During one stretch in the middle of the fourth quarter Reservoir hit eight consecutive foul shots, ultimately helping keep Annapolis (18-7) from ever getting closer than six points in the final quarter.
“All the credit to the kids for staying the course the entire way,” Reservoir coach Mike Coughlan said. “Yes we missed shots, yes we made some mistakes, but they never stopped defending and never stopped believing in themselves. They were determined to make history tonight.”
Annapolis, which had beaten Reservoir in last year’s playoffs by 20 points, 71-51, simply never got itself going from the field.
The Panthers made only five field goals in the first half and, with the Gators in serious foul trouble early, managed to knock down just 11-18 from the free-throw line in the opening 16 minutes.
“All you can expect is to get good shots and, you know, they didn’t go in,” said Annapolis coach John Brady, whose team lost in the regional final for the second straight season. “If we had come out hot in the beginning to take control of the game, things would have been a lot easier.”
Annapolis’ shooting woes had a lot to do with Reservoir’s man-to-man defense, which forced contested shots all evening. But the truth is, the Gators had offensive struggles of their own at the onset.
Reservoir mustered just seven points through the opening 10 minutes and found itself trailing, 14-7, early in the second quarter. It wasn’t until a dunk by Brandon Franklin that the rust seemed to come off and Reservoir managed to put together a run that gave them a one-point lead at the half, 22-21.
“There was big-game jitters, no doubt, all the through the first quarter,” Coughlan said. “So to be down just 10-7 after that first quarter and then up one at the half, I was telling the kids imagine what we can do if we actually start playing well.”
And to start the second half, the Gators kept the momentum going.
Reservoir started the third quarter with five straight points. Then, after Annapolis temporarily closed back within two, the Gators strung together a 10-2 spurt that created the first double-digit lead of the night for either team.
“It was like after we finally hit a couple shots, everyone settled down and we were able to get into our game,” said Cody Toler (8 points), who was one of three Reservoir players to hit threes during that push that broke the game open.
Brady said his team never quite recovered after that stretch.
“It was even at halftime, but they came out and we had three or four times down the floor where we didn't score and they did,” Brady said. “They took control of the game and that was that.”
In the fourth quarter, with Reservoir up double digits, the team’s foul shooting took center stage. In all, the Gators scored 14 of their 20 points in the final stanza from the foul line.
“At the moment, every time I stepped up there I was telling myself, ‘I know I’m going to make these.’ I think that’s what everyone was thinking,” said Simms, who hit all four of his foul shots in the fourth quarter.
Reservoir now advances to the 3A state semifinals at the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center next Thursday at 5 p.m. against Potomac. In the aftermath of the region championship victory, though, Coughlan was just trying to enjoy the moment.
“I’m a little cloudy right now, not really thinking clearly. But I tell you what, I’m excited for these kids, man,” Coughlan said. “They’ve worked so hard … they deserve this.”
Resevoir 59, Annapolis 51
Re (19-6): Simms 12, McDonald 11, Toler 8, Christian 6, Henry 6, Reilly 5, Franklin 3, Williams 3, Young 2, Boris 2, Brooks 1.
A (18-7): Smith 19, J. Brown 15, Glover 10, Pratt 5, Turner 1, W. Brown 1.
Half: 22-21 Re.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun