Rolling toward another Carroll County boys basketball title last night in front of a packed house at Liberty, No. 17 Westminster hit an unexpected roadblock.
His name was Frank Sisolak.
The guard scored 15 of his team-high 16 points in the final 5 minutes, 31 seconds, helping the Lions erase a five-point deficit in the third quarter on their way to a 61-52 victory.
"He just took the game over," said Liberty coach Steve Johnson. "It got down to crunch time, and he knew what this game meant to us. We weren't going to lose this game."
The Lions (12-6 overall, 7-1 county) can now clinch their first county title since 1983 by beating South Carroll on Tuesday and Century on Thursday.
A loss in either game, combined with a Westminster win Tuesday against North Carroll, and the Owls (14-5, 6-1) will claim their second straight crown.
"We knew coming in this was going to be a very big challenge," said Westminster coach Brett Kanther. "It wasn't so much that we didn't do good, but they were very good and deserve full credit for the win."
Sisolak made all 10 of his free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, leading the Lions on a 14-0 run that gave them a 44-35 lead with 5:04 left.
Just as important as what Sisolak did on offense, however, was what 6-foot-3 forward Brendan Kroneberger did on defense. Matched up against the 2003 County Player of the Year Ryan Carr, who earlier this month burned Liberty for 34 points in Westminster's 68-59 win, Kroneberger held the guard to just nine points on 2-for-11 shooting.
Paced by guard Brandon Costley's game-high 18 points, the Owls seemed to take control, hitting six straight shots and building a 35-30 lead with 1:19 left in the quarter.
But after pulling to within one on consecutive layups by Dustin Walters, Liberty took command, getting three-pointers by Kroneberger (10 points) and Sisolak to build a 44-35 lead with just over five minutes left.
"Some games we've fallen out of it in the fourth quarter. Tonight we just wanted to keep on pushing," Sisolak said. "The fourth quarter is when people step up, so someone had to take it up."
Sisolak said that the capacity crowd - a rarity in Carroll County in recent seasons - helped spark the team.
"I'd like to have a crowd like this every night," Johnson said. "I keep telling my kids that we keep working hard and that's the way the crowds are going to be. They're going to come out to see a winner."