Carl Jackson has blossomed into an impact player, and that's good news for Wilde Lake fans hungry for their first county championship since 1978.
Jackson, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound sophomore center, scored 12 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked eight shots yesterday at Centennial, leading the Wildecats to a 54-48 victory in a battle between first-place teams.
Centennial (11-6, 5-4), which had won five straight games, didn't roll over.
Trailing 47-34 with 5:30 left to play, the Eagles rallied behind Seann Jones, who scored nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter.
Centennial cut the lead to 49-46 on Jones' three-point shot with 3:07 remaining.
But the Eagles scored just two points the rest of the game.
Jackson played a major role in Centennial's offensive collapse, blocking two shots in the final three minutes and intimidating the Eagles into missing a layup. Centennial also threw up two air balls during that time.
Jackson scored most of his points off offensive rebounds, as Centennial otherwise was able to deny him the ball most of the game.
"We got killed inside off their offensive boards," Centennial coach Jim Hill said.
"Jackson played much more aggressively today than he did the last time we played Wilde Lake."
That last game, a 66-54 loss for the Wildecats, served as a turning point for their season.
"It was after that loss that I started playing much more aggressively," Jackson said.
Wilde Lake has won four of five games since he started asserting himself.
Wilde Lake (8-8, 6-3) almost gave the game away with poor free-throw shooting down the stretch.
The Wildecats missed eight of nine foul shots in the final 3:25, including five one-and-ones. Until then, the Wildecats had made 13 of 16 free throws.
"We've only shot about 50 percent at the line as a team," said Seth Willingham (10 points), Wilde Lake's leading scorer.
"We've been working a lot on free throws in practice."
Jackson said: "We need to make a lot more free throws than we did tonight. But I wasn't scared at the end of the game because Centennial was tired. They aren't as deep as we are."
Neither team looked sharp (Wilde Lake produced 21 turnovers and Centennial 20), no surprise considering the eight days between games due to weather-related postponements.
"We made too many bad passes in the first half and couldn't get into a rhythm," Hill said. "The layoff hurt."
Wilde Lake led 25-23 at halftime. Centennial missed two layups and two free throws near the end of the third quarter and fell behind 41-32.
Sule Carpenter (16 points) scored seven straight points for Wilde Lake, helping stretch its lead to 43-32 at the start of the fourth quarter.