The aftermath of No. 1 Southwestern's 79-70 victory over No. 3 Lake Clifton last night was a bedlam of celebration.
Sabers fans and players drenched each other in sparkling cider. Coach Terry Leverett -- who has said of his team, "We're not talented, just hard workers" -- virtually body-surfed over the seemingly endless sea of shoulders that hoisted him aloft.
Heavily braided assistant coach Mike Marks, who led the JV through a 14-3 season, began talking about players moving up to help continue the streak through next season.
This is what happens when a team goes 22-0 during the regular season for the first time in school history and wins the Baltimore ++ City championship that few thought the Sabers could win.
The game marked their second victory of the year over the No. 3 Lakers, who were nationally ranked the first time Southwestern beat them.
"This was not just about the kids on this team, but about the principal, Mildred Harris, [and] the students, whose eyes light up with pride when we win. It's about whole Southwestern program that no one wants to give any credit," said Leverett, who compared winning the title to the birth of his 19-year-old son, Terry Taie.
"Because, every day, these kids have to endure a lot and overcome a lot," the coach continued. "To me, this is one of those true wonders of nature."
Though Leverett's outfit had punched the clock with yet another blue-collar effort -- beating the Lakers before a packed house at Southwestern -- it's no small wonder how that was accomplished.
Overall, the Sabers, who trailed just four times -- all in the second period -- made 33 of 43 free throws and were 8-for-14 from three-point range. Those were the two elements, combined with Lake Clifton's 1-for-17 three-point shooting, that obliterated the Lakers' hopes.
Lake Clifton got within two points, 69-67, with 1: 28 remaining, but Cornelius McMurray sank a three-pointer, then stole the ball and called a time out. With 20.7 seconds left, the score had soared to 77-67 after Dartegnon Smith converted two foul shots, and then made a steal and lay-up.
"We played hard, just like they did, but the difference is that we didn't execute," said Lake Clifton coach Charlie Moore, whose team is now 17-4. "Overall, we have more talent, but they're a great team that can really put it all together."
For the Sabers, McMurray (19 points) went 8-for-8 from the line and had three three-pointers. Teammate Jerome Banks (13 points) scored eight points in the first period, including two three pointers. Smith (14 points) was 12-of-14 from the free-throw line, including 8-for-8 in the final period. And Terrell Dantzler (11 points), who also hit a three-pointer, was 8-of-10 from the line.
Their combined efforts against a team with two 6-foot-8 players, Dominic Liverpool (eight points) and Corsey Edwards, helped to overcome an off night by Southwestern's tallest starter, 6-4 Robert Gray (six points, six boards) and one of its key floor leaders, Earl Carr (nine points).
For the Lakers, Kevin Braswell had 18 points and three assists, and 6-foot-5 Michael King had 21 points and 15 rebounds before fouling out with two minutes left. Damon Spells scored 12 points. The Lakers had a 35-33 rebounding advantage in the game.
Gray, who got his fifth foul with 5: 24 to play, was in foul trouble all night. He grabbed four rebounds in the first period, after which the Sabers led, 15-9, but sat on the bench for the entire second quarter with three fouls.
Meanwhile, Lake Clifton went on an 8-0 run, going up 19-17 with 5: 12 left in the half.
But the Sabers rallied behind the free-throw shooting of Dantzler, a 15-year-old, 5-6 sophomore who shot 7-for-8 in the period, and 6-4 Jason Duncan, who came off the bench to score five points, including a three-pointer that gave Southwestern a 29-27 lead with 3: 04 left in the half.
"Coach just told me to protect the ball, but I guess because I'm a sophomore, they figured they could pressure me into making a mistake," said Dantzler, who shined after Carr picked up his third foul before the half ended with the Sabers ahead, 36-33.
Gray and Carr announced their return in the third period -- the former with a three-pointer, and the latter with a fast-break lay-up for a 41-33 lead with 6: 22 to go. McMurray's second three-pointer made it 45-33, capping an 11-0 run.
Pub Date: 2/27/97