Craig Sauers didn't hear a thing.
The Atholton guard stood at the free-throw line and completely ignored the packed house at River Hill screaming at him. The score was tied, just seven-tenths of a second remained, and the junior guard simply focused on the rim.
The concentration paid off. Sauers made the free throw that let the No. 18 Raiders escape with a 46-45 victory over No. 12 River Hill last night in a contest between Howard County's top two teams.
"I was a little nervous," Sauers said, "but I tried to block everything out."
Sauers, who intentionally missed his second attempt, had scored 21 in Thursday's 73-69 win over Wilde Lake. But no one on either team could find any type of offensive rhythm. The defensive intensity didn't suffer as both squads were playing for a second straight day.
In fact, Sauers scored only four points in this game. He made one basket and two free throws. Sauers made one of two free throws that gave Atholton (12-3, 12-1) a 45-43 lead with 47.9 seconds left.
Richie Jackson (14 points) then tied the score for River Hill (11-2, 11-2) with two free throws with 15.3 seconds left. Atholton then wanted to go down low to Jonas Vaitkus (12 points) or Brandon Boy (12 points, 10 rebounds), but River Hill stopped them.
Sauers, who moved along with Boy from River Hill as part of a county redistricting plan, saw time running out and drove to the basket before being fouled.
"I turned around and I saw four seconds left," Sauers said. "I decided to take it to the rack."
Atholton wanted to go inside because it had dominated in the paint. With forward/center Ben Nowak on suspension and younger brother Greg Nowak slowed by foot problems, River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen went to a four-guard lineup.
Matt Hostetler (10 points) played well for River Hill. He made several steals and helped run the offense.
The extra guards cost the Hawks inside. The Raiders held a 41-29 rebounding advantage. Still, the Hawks missed several high-percentage shots.
"We definitely had chances," said Van Deusen, whose team lost the season series with Atholton.
Vaitkus and Boy helped the Raiders take command in the second half. But it was a seven-point run in the third quarter that gave them the lead -- and most of it came with Vaitkus and most of the starters on the bench.
T.J. Odulami, Dean Hart, Andrew Zavage, Chris Dooley and Matt Winger all pitched in during the third quarter, helping the Raiders take a lead they held until Jackson's free throws tied it inside the final minute.
"We needed some help," said Atholton coach Jim Albert, "and it let [the starters] have some legs in the fourth quarter."