After missing 12 of its first 14 field goals in Tuesday’s playoff game against Westminster, Wilde Lake didn’t look like the same team that throttled Manchester Valley by 57 points to advance.
Good news for the Wildecats, and bad news for the Owls — a little less than 24 minutes remained in this Class 3A East Region 1 semifinal, and the visitors found a rhythm that made it tough for Westminster to keep pace.
“I told the guys, ‘Just weather the storm for a second,’ ” said coach Deon Wingfield, whose Wildecats pulled away for a 66-45 victory and advanced to the regional final Thursday, March 5.
“Once we got all of our jitters and everything out, then we started flowing in the game.”
Wilde Lake (17-8) flowed with senior Marcus Mitchell and junior Brince Shelton, who combined for 43 points. Mitchell had 12 points in the second quarter, helping the Wildecats outscore Westminster 22-13 and take a 29-22 halftime lead.
Shelton picked up from there, and netted 12 points in the third. His 3-pointer from the right corner with 3 minutes, 35 seconds to play in the third made it 40-25, and Shelton added another trey just before the buzzer to give Wilde Lake a 49-32 lead.
Shelton scored 11 more in the fourth, and Westminster’s early success suddenly seemed as if it happened long ago.
“We wanted to end the game right there,” Owls coach Brett Kanther joked about his team’s 9-7 first-quarter lead. “[Wilde Lake’s] size and their speed is very, very difficult. We just got worn down over a period of time. You could just kind of feel them forcing their will on us a little bit as the game went on.”
Nico Graham finished with eight points for Westminster, and fellow senior Chandler Gentzel added seven along with four assists and four rebounds. The Owls led 13-9 early in the second quarter when Graham converted from close range and drew a foul. He missed the ensuing free throw, however — a theme for his team Tuesday night.
Westminster (16-7) went 5-for-12 from the free-throw line, and Wilde Lake took advantage of the misses.
“I think the biggest difference was more stop settling for jump shots and more just attacking,” Mitchell said. “Obviously they were letting us shoot. It was going downhill, they couldn’t really guard us off the dribble.”
Mitchell had eight rebounds and five assists, and senior center Cameron Burris added eight boards for Wilde Lake.
Tyler Buberl scored seven, and he’s one of seven seniors who played their final game for Westminster. Gentzel surpassed 1,000 career points earlier this year, and he came to the Owls from Winters Mill along with Graham and junior forward Alan Jean Joseph.
Kanther said the Owls jelled at the right time this season with their new parts, and he saw plenty of good things throughout the year.
“I love this team,” the coach said. “They work hard, to a man. Fun, gritty. They got after it.”
Meanwhile, the Wildecats move on to play Howard County rival Centennial on the road for the regional title. The Eagles beat Wilde Lake twice during the regular season, but those wins came by a combined eight points.
Wingfield said his players feed off each other once they play at their desired tempo, which seems to be rather quick.
“It was mainly just getting them to settle down and play at our pace,” Wingfield said. “And not get caught up in their environment.”
Wilde Lake (66): Kyjuan Adams 7, Stanley Lowe 2, Abolaji Monk 4, Sean Bethea 4, Marcus Mitchell 19, Brince Shelton 24, Amir Macktoon 2, Cameron Burris 4.
Westminster (45): Chandler Gentzel 7, Mike Prozeller 4, Tyler Buberl 7, Denio Blaney 4, Erick Stranko 2, Connor Levinson 4, Nico Graham 8, Alan Jean Joseph 5, Colby Cotoia 4.