The Randallstown boys basketball team had the ultimate fourth-quarter test of character.
The Rams saw their 15-point lead dwindle to nothing with five minutes to play in Tuesday's Class 2A North region semifinal. The opponent was No. 13 Lake Clifton, defending state champions and the same Lakers who rallied past them earlier in the season.
Instead of folding, Randallstown stayed poised. The Rams executed on offense and clamped down on defense, scoring the next eight points to restore order and claim a hard-fought 59-55 win on their home court.
Randallstown (19-5) will face Edmondson — a 87-60 winner over Owings Mills in Tuesday's other semifinal — at home Thursday at 6 p.m. Lake Clifton, which got 19 points from senior forward Cortell Henson, ends with a 17-8 mark.
Rams senior guard Ahmaad Wilson, who started the pivotal 8-0 run with a layup on a fast break, finished with a game-high 20 points, while Jerell Cooke finished with 13 and Marcus Varner had 10.
"It was tough, just a dogfight and we just kept fighting," Randallstown coach Kevin English said. "It was one of those games where you just got to fight to win. Those guys don't quit. They keep fighting all game and we just kept fighting also and were able to persevere."
After Lake Clifton guard Daquan Ross (17 points) scored in transition to tie the game at 44 with 5:03 to play, the Rams had to be thinking back to their 60-53 loss to the Lakers at the IAABO Holiday Tournament at Northwestern on Dec. 27. But the Rams expected a push from the Lakers, and they pushed back.
After Wilson's basket, Cooke took an entry pass from Devin Smith for an inside basket. Then Varner spun to the hoop on the next possession for two more. And then, with defensive stops coming at the other end, Cooke hit two free throws to give the Rams a reassuring 52-44 lead with 2:04 to play. From that point, the Lakers, who never led in the game, couldn't get closer than the four-point final margin.
"We competed and stayed poised and we had some chances to go up, but just [weren't] able to," Lake Clifton coach Herman "Tree" Harried said. "We just didn't have a very good offensive day."
The Rams started fast on offense, getting 10 first-quarter points from Wilson to build an 18-5 advantage with 2:49 left in the period. The lead continued to grow in the second quarter — Smith's basket providing a 36-21 advantage with 2:17 left in the half before the Lakers slowly climbed back in the game mostly with their defense.
Lake Clifton limited the Rams to two field goals in the third quarter, and when Henson took a nifty pass inside from Stephon Brown for an easy lay in with two seconds left in the third quarter, the Lakers had closed to within 42-40 going into the fourth quarter.
Class 2A North semifinals
Randallstown 59, No. 13 Lake Clifton 55
LC – Ross 17, Henson 19, Brown 14, Kess 3, Jackson 2. Totals: 19 14-23 55.
R — Wilson 20, Cooke 11, Varner 10, Smith 6, Atkins 8, Brice 2, Manning 2. Totals: 20 15-24.
Half: R, 38-31