It couldn't have been a better night for one of the greatest players in Annapolis history to show up to watch his alma mater.
With Rob Wooster, the 1992 Anne Arundel County Player of the Year and one of the most accurate free-throw shooters in Panthers history looking on, second-seeded Annapolis (17-6) eliminated sixth-seeded Old Mill (13-9) in the Class 4A, Region IV semifinals, 75-63.
Wooster, who just completed his first season at Division I St. Francis (Pa.), may have provided a lift for the the seventh-ranked Panthers, who have struggled at the foul line -- 39 of 78 in the final three games.
Against the defending regional champion Patriots, the Panthers hit 12 of 14 free throws in the final 1:26 -- 16 of 22 in the fourth period and 21 of 34 for the game.
"There is no question that we had to hit the free throws to win because they wanted us on the line with the game close," said Annapolis coach John Brady, who will take his Panthers to top-seeded Meade (19-4) tomorrow night for the Region IV title.
Old Mill coach Paul Bunting said that's exactly what his team had hoped for after being blown out by Annapolis twice in the regular season by margins of 33 and 26 points.
"Our kids hung in there and didn't quit, but give Annapolis credit," said Bunting. "They shocked us at the foul line. We didn't expect that. Their kids came through."
Junior forward Larry Brown, who scored 18 points while grabbing 13 rebounds, was the Panther who really came through. Brown made eight of nine at the line in the final period, including 6-for-6 in the last 1:26.
"Larry has been hell on the boards for us all season," said Brady, of 6-4 Brown. "He's like a little Wes Unseld."
Brown's play underneath was the difference down the stretch enabling the Panthers to overcome the game-high 26 points by the Patriots' Andrew Lewis, who hit five three-pointers.
Kelsey Watkins led Annapolis with 20 points, including three three-pointers.
After maintaining the 12-point lead and holding a 42-30 advantage at halftime, the Panthers got two more three-pointers from Watkins to build a 53-39 lead late in the third period. Old Mill scored the final four points to cut it to 53-43.
The closest the Patriots got in the final period was five points, 65-60 with 1:18 left before Teshawn Cooper hit his only two points of the night from the line with 1:16 remaining. Nine seconds later, Brown hit two more free throws and the successful Panthers parade to the line was on.
Annapolis will attempt to win its 12th regional title in Brady's 16 years as coach.