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Southern fends off T. Johnson Boys Class 3A semifinals


COLLEGE PARK -- One dominant state playoff team was derailed yesterday, but another may be developing.

Playing in its first state semifinal game, Southern of Baltimore held off Thomas Johnson of Frederick County, 54-51, in a Class 3A semifinal at Cole Field House.

Junior guard Damon Cason led all scorers with 25 points and had five assists for Southern. Dante Williams added 13. Phil Williams led Thomas Johnson (19-3) with 18 and 16 rebounds.

The Bulldogs (19-5), ranked No. 2 in the Baltimore area, %o advanced to tomorrow's 3 p.m. title game against Potomac. Potomac, ranked No. 5 in the Washington area, defeated defending champion Catonsville, 83-72, in the other semifinal.

It was the first state semifinal game involving a city public school since they began participating in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association this past fall. Dunbar will play Fallston today at 5 p.m. in a Class 1A semifinal.

"Early in the game, we knew that they were a good team," said Cason. "We had to take our execution up another notch and rely on our defense."

Sophomore Dantavius Keating had maybe the biggest play, blocking a three-point attempt by Jamal West from the right corner with sixth-tenths of a second left in the game. West had a final attempt to tie, but the ball bounced out of the rim as the buzzer sounded.

"It wasn't fun for me," said a relieved Southern coach Meredith Smith. "We probably had a few jitters in the beginning, but we knew we were playing a quality team and did a good job."

A team with only one true senior, the Bulldogs played like veterans. After watching a 10-point second-half advantage evaporate into a one-point deficit with 2:07 remaining, Southern rallied past Thomas Johnson, winner of five state titles.

The Patriots gained the one-point lead at 51-50 on a steal and layup by Eric Vasquez. With 1:53 left, Cason responded for the Bulldogs with a short jumper in the lane.

On the ensuing possession by Thomas Johnson, Cason intercepted a pass across the lane, but Clint Crowder knocked away a pass intended from Cason into the hands of West with 52 seconds remaining, then the Patriots called a timeout with 48 seconds left.

Steve McKenzie missed the front end of an one-and-one and the Bulldogs regained possession after a scramble for a loose ball went out of bounds off the Patriots. Williams was fouled on the other end for Southern and hit the one-and-one foul shots, giving Southern a 54-51 lead with 16 seconds left.

"They are very talented team," said Thomas Johnson coach Thomas Dickman. "They could possibly win this whole thing. They played good defense and have good size."

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