The 2006 Baltimore County boys basketball championship banner rests proudly on the gym wall at Woodlawn High on the side where the teams sit, and its presence sliced through Darrell Bryant like a knife.
Bryant, a senior front-line player at Randallstown, was front and center last year when Woodlawn knocked off the Rams for the title, not only handing the Rams their first loss of the season, but also beating them in their own gym.
"After that loss, I was feeling really salty," Bryant said. "I just wanted to get back out here and redeem myself from last year. I really feel like I played badly down the stretch. This time, I wanted to turn it up."
It bears noting that Bryant had 18 points in last season's game, three more than he had this past Saturday at Woodlawn, so he couldn't have been all that bad. The difference, however, is that the Rams beat the Warriors this season, 67-56, to gain some measure of revenge.
Indeed, Bryant and the No. 8 Rams picked things up, but particularly on the defensive end, which bodes well as they enter the state playoffs this week, with a chance to win a third straight Class 2A championship.
Randallstown (19-3) received the No. 2 seed in the North region and a bye into the regional quarterfinals to host the winner of the Poly-Owings Mills game on Monday, and if Saturday's performance is a harbinger, that new county championship banner will have to squeeze in next to another state flag.
The Rams' state championship hopes are "looking pretty good because we're getting back together and getting on the same page," junior point guard Tione Womack said. "We're playing defense and we're looking like we're going to head back down to Comcast [Center, site of the state semifinals and championship game]."
The Rams' defensive effort Saturday was championship-quality, especially on Woodlawn guard Danny Smith. Smith did have a game-high 20 points, but he might just now be getting the sight of Randallstown's black-and-gold colors out of his mind's eye.
The Rams shadowed Smith everywhere he went on the floor, and even a few places off it. When he went to inbound the ball, Smith had to back up a step, because a defender was there. When he went for water, they were there ...
Well, you get the idea. Smith hit a big basket with 5:25 left in the fourth quarter to keep the Warriors in the game at 52-47 and drew the fifth foul on Bryant with 2:06 left, but he seemed flustered down the stretch as the Rams rotated a steady stream of defenders on him.
"We played a help defense on him," said Womack, who had 12 points and a huge three-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to give Randallstown a four-point lead. "We knew he would try to do it on his own. We just helped out and everybody stepped up and gave him a couple of looks, so he wouldn't get used to one player."
With All-Metro guard Johnny Higgins, the area's leading scorer last year, having used up his eligibility, some people thought this would be a retooling year for Randallstown.
However, coach Kim Rivers - winner of four state crowns and nine county titles in 13 years and maybe the most unheralded boys coach in the area - has crafted another title contender. There might be another regional final showdown with No. 6 Douglass down the road, but there's enough defense there to pepper an opponent.
"I think we have to pick up our defensive intensity a little bit more and execute," Rivers said. "We're still averaging a lot of turnovers, which is key when you're talking about a one-and-done tournament. If we can cut down our turnovers and stay fundamentally sound defensively, I think we have a chance."
Just ask Danny Smith.