E.J. Henderson, a sub-60 per cent foul shooter for the year, calmly dropped in a free throw with no time on the clock, and visiting Aberdeen escaped with a 54-53 victory over Catonsville in a Class 2A North regional semifinal last night.
With their 16th win in a row, the No. 7 Eagles (21-2) move on to the championship game at home tomorrow at 2 p.m. They will play Pikesville, a 73-59 winner over Patapsco in last night's other 2A semifinal.
Catonsville, battling from behind the whole game, got its only tie of the last 11:30 on a baseline drive by Jeff Sewell, one of three seniors on a 14-man roster. It evened the count at 53, with 18 seconds left. In the next 10 seconds there were three scrambles for the ball before Aberdeen got a final chance.
There were two missed shots -- one from each side of the basket -- along the baseline, before the climactic call on a desperation follow-up by Henderson.
The sophomore, who had missed four successive technical foul shots during Tuesday's win over North East, said that was out of his mind.
"I took a lot of free throws the last couple of practices. I didn't think about pressure," he said.
Catonsville coach Bill Nelson, said, "The kids did a heck of a job. They fought too hard to have that happen."
Aberdeen coach Ron Petrey, who had lost to the Comets the last four times in their gym, including one in overtime, said, "I can't take much more of this.
"We knew we had to play good defense against the man-to-man pressure. We didn't do quite the things we were supposed to against their spread late in the game, but for the most part, I thought we played the way we need to in a big game."
Much of the floor responsibility rested, as it has all season, with junior guard James Smith, and he was equal to the job.
"I just try to keep my head and stay under control," Smith said. "I try to do what I can, and use my best judgment. The close games help me learn."
The winning shot capped a wild, helter-skelter final 90 seconds after Aberdeen had seemingly thwarted a late Comets rally. A Smith basket gave his side a 53-47 lead, but Catonsville came back on two free throws by Jeff Sewell, and baseline drives by Herman Cooper and Jerel Cotton.