The Wilde Lake boys basketball team entered the region title game against Centennial with a chip on its shoulder.
The motivation to beat the Eagles on their home court was more than just about winning the program’s first region crown in more than 20 years. The Wildecats couldn’t bear losing to Centennial for a third time this season, and they were fed up with the trash talk on social media.
No. 4 Wilde Lake got its revenge on Thursday, as its dynamic duo of Marcus Mitchell and Brince Shelton led the Wildecats to a 66-63 win over the host Eagles in the MPSSAA 3A East Region I championship game.
“It feels great. We’re starting the decade off great,” said Mitchell, who poured in 22 points and was clutch from the free-throw line down the stretch. “There was all the social media talk. We don’t talk. They do all the talking. We came here and just handled business.”
Marcus Mitchell discusses Wilde Lake's 66-63 win over Centennial in the 3A East Region I championship game on Thursday, March 5, 2020.
“It feels amazing to shut them up to be honest,” said Shelton, who led all scorers with 24 points. “We’re the better team. Like coach said, they won the wrong games, and we won the right one.”
With the win, Wilde Lake (17-8) advances to the state quarterfinals on Saturday. Wildecats head coach Deon Wingfield said bringing the region championship back to Wilde Lake is special for him. The program last won a region trophy in 1994 — the year after Wingfield graduated from Wilde Lake.
“It’s been a long time,” Wingfield said. “For me to come back and coach the team and win one now, it feels great.”
Wingfield said avenging their previous losses was a “talking point” in preparing for the title game. He said his team made mistakes in those losses — by scores of 57-51 and 69-67 — that it didn’t make on Thursday.
“Both of the games we played I felt we should have won. Coming in, we were grateful for the opportunity to play them for the regional championship,” Wingfield said. “I always tell the team that victory favors the team that makes the fewest mistakes. Tonight, we made some key plays to put us over for that win.”
Centennial, meanwhile, played sloppy early. They trailed by double digits for most of the first three quarters, but the pesky Eagles made a run late in the fourth quarter. The Eagles scored 24 points in the final period but came up three points short and couldn’t get a shot attempt on their final possession.
“(Wilde Lake) played really well today. They hit some tough shots. They were physical, tough on the glass and exposed a couple of our limitations today,” said Centennial head coach Chris Sanders. “It didn’t surprise me that we (fought back). … I figured that we’d strike the chord and get back in the game, but there wasn’t enough time on the clock.”
The Wildecats opened the game with stout defense and sharp play from Mitchell. The senior guard scored seven points in the first period to give Wilde Lake a 17-8 lead after eight minutes.
“I remember him from JV, and he gave us fits then,” said Sanders, who used to be Centennial’s junior varsity coach. “It’s cool to see a young, scrawny kid grow up into a grown man. He had a really good day today. Then when the game was on the line, he made his free throws as you would expect a good guard to.”
After leading 33-23 at halftime, Shelton paced the Wildecats in the third quarter. The junior guard tallied nine points in the period. He finished 7 of 15 from the field, made two 3-pointers and grabbed six rebounds. Shelton said his “chemistry” with Mitchell has improved throughout the season. The win was only the second time both Shelton and Mitchell scored 20-plus points.
“When we work together, no one can stop us,” Shelton said. “When I’m going downhill and he’s shooting, we’re a dynamic duo.”
The Eagles’ fourth-quarter run was led by Shane Taylor and Bryson Baker, who combined to score 16 of Centennial’s 24 points in the period. It was Brandon Bonner, though, who played the best for Sanders’ squad, as the senior power forward concluded his high school career with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
“We are a pretty perimeter heavy team,” Sanders said. “We shoot a lot of 3s. Brandon is our undersized post guy. He’s incredibly athletic, and he’s come on really strong. He had a really good day today.”
As Centennial surged in the fourth quarter, Mitchell’s free-throw shooting kept the game in Wilde Lake’s favor. He was 7 of 8 from the charity stripe.
“Centennial is a really good team. We knew they’d make a run,” Wingfield said. “We just had to weather the storm to hold them off, and Marcus, as a senior captain, stepped up and made some crucial free throws for us. Those were huge.”
The Eagles’ energetic student section didn’t make it easy on Mitchell. They were loud for all eight free throws, and even louder after his lone miss. Through the screams, though, Mitchell tried to think back to practice and focus on the shot at hand.
“We shoot free throws every day at practice,” Mitchell said. “We have to make 50 before we can leave. I imagined I was at practice, zoned everything out and just shot the ball.”
Up three points with eight seconds, a Wilde Lake player missed both of his free throw attempts, and after a scrum for the rebound, Centennial gained possession and Sanders called a timeout with 2.4 seconds. The inbounds passer was on the far sideline, about 80 feet from the basket. The Eagles had a clean inbounds pass, but an errant pass for a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the corner ended the game.
“That was the second option,” Sanders said. “The first one was something in the middle of the floor, but they let us inbound the ball. We tried to take advantage of it, but we didn’t get the shot off.”
Despite the loss, Sanders said he was “proud” of the effort his senior class — Bonner, Matt Schickner, Joey Sedlacko, Connor Carpenter and Jeong Hwang — gave in its final game.
“Being the JV coach for the last 10-plus years, it goes without saying that I knew the senior class really well,” Sanders said. “It’s fun when you watch them come in as freshmen, and it’s even more fun to see what they become as basketball players and young men. It’s a great group. We had a good year. They love the game, and they left it on the floor today.”
Wilde Lake and the seven other region champions will be re-seeded on Friday morning, and the Wildecats will find out who they play tomorrow morning. Wilde Lake is expected to go against Frederick and Watkins Mill in a three-way coin flip to decide to Nos. 6-8 seeds. The No. 6 seed will play at No. 3 Northeast; the No. 7 seed will travel to Poly; and the No. 8 seed will take on No. 1 St. Charles.
The Wildecats will play Saturday in the state quarterfinals at a time to be determined.
Wilde Lake 66, Centennial 63
WL (17-8): B. Shelton 24, M. Mitchell 22, C. Burris 8, K. Adams 5, S. Lowe 4, S. Bethea 3.
C (19-6): B. Baker 15, B. Bonner 15, S. Taylor 12, J. Sedlacko 11, J. Hwang 4, M. Benavides 4, M. Schickner 2.