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Fast start propels Atholton boys basketball into 3A state semifinals with win over C. Milton Wright

If there were any nerves playing on a big stage in the 3A state quarterfinals on the road against C. Milton Wright Saturday evening, Atholton certainly didn’t show it.

The Raiders raced out of the gates to a 10-0 lead in the first four minutes, establishing an advantage they never lost on the way to a 68-62 victory and a berth in next Thursday’s state semifinals against undefeated St. Charles (23-0) at the Xfinity Center on the campus of the University of Maryland.

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“We talked a lot about trying to start fast, accelerate in the middle and then finish strong. These guys did those three things to perfection tonight,” Atholton coach Jared Albert said. “Basketball is a game of runs, that’s a great team over there that played their hearts out and pushed us every step of the way, but we never gave in. Every time we needed an answer, we got one.”

Atholton senior Jordan Oates talks about the Raiders' 68-62 victory over C. Milton Wright in the boys basketball 3A state quarterfinals on Saturday, March 7.

Jordan Oates scored 12 of his team-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, while also pulling down 17 rebounds on the game, to help Atholton (19-7) hold off several spirited comeback attempts by the Mustangs. Jack Anderson added a career-high 15 points for a Raiders’ squad that had seven players contribute four or more points to the team’s eighth straight victory.

Led by a game-high 26 points from Jordan Stiemke, C. Milton Wright closed to within a single possession of the lead on 13 different occasions over the course of the evening. But Atholton simply embraced the “Bend, but don’t break” mentality.

“Give credit to Atholton because every time we cut it to that one or two points, we just couldn’t get that one more stop that we needed to get over the hump,” C. Milton Wright coach Jon Stefanides said. “Oates knocked down some huge threes with a hand in his face, and it wasn’t against little guys either. We had 6-foot-7 guarding him out there and he was still knocking them down.

“At the end of the day, we just came a couple baskets and couple stops short.”

Oates kicked off the game with a 3-pointer on Atholton’s first possession. Darren Miller (8 points) followed with a layup, Oates made a layup shortly after and then Jabari Rankin hit a three of his own to make it 10-0 before the Mustangs could blink.

“In that huddle right before the game we talked about pushing the gas, needing to go full force right from the beginning,” Oates said. “We wanted to let them know why we are here.”

C. Milton Wright finally settled in, though, with an 8-0 spurt of its own and the tug-of-war for momentum began to take shape.

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Atholton led 16-11 at the end of the first quarter and went up by as many as eight points early in the second, but that’s when Stiemke began taking over. He went on to hit six threes in the first three quarters to go along with making a layup, an emphatic dunk and a couple foul shots.

“We have the whole theory of whenever someone gets hot like that, give him the heat check until he loses it. And Jordan did hit like two or three of those heat-check shots in the second and third quarter,” Stefanides said. “But again, credit to Atholton for making adjustments as the game went on. It turned into a great chess match.”

For all of Stiemke’s heroics, C. Milton Wright still couldn’t wrestle away the lead from the Raiders. A lot of that had to do with Anderson, who came in off the bench to provide a spark that included scoring the final seven Atholton points of the first half.

Later, he hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close the third quarter to keep the Raiders in front, 47-41. After averaging just over four points per game during the regular season, Anderson has scored 14 or more in two of the last three playoff games.

“That’s a guy right there that has come on so strong and is making the most of his opportunities,” Albert said. “In the playoffs, winning comes down to finding other guys to step up. In this game and the Oakland Mills game earlier in the week, Jack has been that guy. He has all the confidence in the world and we have that same confidence in him.”

The fourth quarter then belonged to Oates. The Raiders’ senior, who started the game two of his first nine from beyond the arc, hit four of his last five from 3-point territory — three coming in the final seven minutes.

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“Everyone was telling me to just keep shooting. It was just about confidence,” Oates said. “I know I can hit those shots, it’s just a mind thing. I knew we needed it bad in that fourth quarter, so I had to produce.”

Ian Swartz (7 points) and Oates each also added important old-fashioned three-point plays to the cause down the stretch to keep the Raiders in front.

C. Milton Wright got as close as one point, 59-58, with 1:47 left but never managed to put together back-to-back scores the rest of the way and ended up losing by the final six-point margin.

In the state semifinals now for the first time since 2009, Atholton will play St. Charles — a 69-44 winner over Watkins Mill in its quarterfinal matchup — on Thursday evening (March 12) at 5 p.m.

“We showed glimpses of this kind of potential throughout the year, it just wasn’t consistent. Now we’ve found that consistency and, if possible, we are getting stronger the deeper and deeper we get into the playoffs,” Albert said. “There aren’t enough words to describe how proud I am right now.”

Atholton 68, C. Milton Wright 62

A (19-7): Oates 23, Anderson 15, Miller 8, Swartz 7, Rankin 6, Daniel 5, Brown 4.

CMW (18-7): J. Stiemke 26, Galant 12, Bullis 8, Kutcher 8, Patterson 4, B. Stiemke 2, Hatfield 2.

Half: 30-26 A.

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