When Atholton drew Dunbar in the state 3A East region quarterfinal round, few, if any, gave it a chance. Some were even apologetic.
But like Raiders coach Jim Albert said afterward, they "wanted to show that they were alive." And they were very much within striking distance of the No. 2 Poets deep into the fourth quarter, before the No. 18 Raiders faltered, 69-57.
Tommy Polley scored a game-high 22 points for the Poets (17-6) and Chris Dean added 11 and five rebounds. Tyrone Allmond led Atholton (16-5) with 21 points and Matt Hahn had 10.
Dunbar will travel to either Edmondson or No. 10 Broadneck on Thursday in the semifinals. The Bruins play at Edmondson this afternoon.
The 12-point margin was the closest an opponent has gotten to Dunbar in the state playoffs since Cambridge-South Dorchester in the 1993 state 1A championship game, the first of three straight state titles won by the Poets.
Dunbar has yet to lose in 13 state playoff contests, with the games decided early and decisively. That wasn't the case yesterday.
Atholton, which won its third consecutive Howard County championship last week, trailed only 44-38 entering the final quarter.
Atholton pulled within 52-49 with 5:05 remaining after Jahmaar Stafford hit a tough basket with Polley on him and was fouled. Stafford missed the free throw, but Atholton got the rebound and couldn't convert.
Polley hit four free throws to extend the lead to 56-49 with 3:54 while the Raiders turned over the ball on three consecutive possessions. A jumper by Keith Jefferson brought Atholton within 56-51 with 2:59 left.
The Raiders, which took No. 11 Gibbons into overtime earlier in the season and No. 6 Calvert Hall into the final minute before losing both, couldn't get any closer as Dunbar put together three free throws and a dunk by Polley to put the game away at 61-51 with a minute remaining.