In one of the wildest finishes ever to a Howard County boys basketball race, Glenelg knocked off Long Reach, 54-53, yesterday, and Centennial blew past Oakland Mills, 66-45, meaning the Lightning and Eagles, who battled neck and neck all season, will share the 2000-01 county championship with 13-5 records.
Not surprisingly, it came down to the flick of a wrist - three times. Long Reach had a chance to win the county title outright with a win, but guard Kevin O'Malley missed three free throws with no time remaining against the Gladiators after he was fouled shooting a three-pointer as time expired.
The free throws capped a furious final minute that included four shots at the basket for Long Reach, a double technical, a shoving match and scramble between the two teams that looked more like rugby than basketball.
"I've never been a part of something like that," said Long Reach forward Josh Gross, who scored 22 points in the loss. "It was just crazy. We can't blame Kevin for missing those free throws, though. It should have never came down to that. He's probably the best shooter I've ever seen, hands down. He's done a lot of great things for us this year, and I give him the utmost respect."
The game between Glenelg and Long Reach was easily one of the most competitive of the season, as the teams traded the lead six times in the fourth quarter.
Senior Chris Bowen carried the Gladiators on virtually every possession, scoring, defending and passing as though he were on a personal mission to keep Long Reach from taking home the title outright.
"Centennial definitely deserves a piece of [the championship], and we were playing for them tonight," said Bowen, who had 17 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. "We tried to shoot ourselves in the foot a few times, but we wanted some momentum going into the playoffs, and this win gives us that."
Bowen and senior Brian Hollrah, who also scored 17, led an inspired Gladiators squad that controlled much of the game by shooting an eye-popping 67 percent (26-for-39) from the floor.
But after going down 29-22 at half, Gross willed his team back in the game almost by himself, grabbing offensive rebounds, stealing passes and hitting jump shots at every turn, pulling the Lightning to a 51-51 tie with 1:30 remaining.
From there it was a scramble. Bowen hit a free throw and a jumper to give the Gladiators a 54-51 lead, but Gross answered with a diving steal that resulted in a layup by teammate Anthony Gaither. The Lightning forced a turnover and took four frantic shots at the basket before O'Malley tracked down the ball, and tossed up a desperation three-pointer, only to be fouled by Glenelg's Jay Hamilton as the horn sounded.
A shoving match between Glenelg's Brian Hollrah and Long Reach's Nick Andrews followed, and as a result, double technicals were assessed with no time remaining. O'Malley, the Lightning's best free-throw shooter, then came up long on each of his three shots.
"What can you say? We've come a long way," said Lightning coach Al Moraz. "We're co-county champs, and after no one picked us at the beginning of the season, that's pretty nice."
Across town, Centennial had turned a close game against the Scorpions into an easy victory, getting 17 points from Brian O'Connor and 14 from Tyler Enstice to win going away, but it took the Eagles nearly an hour to find out that Long Reach had lost.
"We were calling and e-mailing, trying to find out something," Eagles coach Jim Hill said. "We were pretty excited when we found out."