Owings Mills senior guard Michael Kleeman had a request for his team in its Class 1A North semifinal game against No. 9 Digital Harbor last night.
"I didn't want this to be my last game," Kleeman said. "So I gave it my all. We all did."
Kleeman's clutch fourth-quarter shooting and the Eagles' stingy defense at the end of the game preserved a 56-53 victory.
Owings Mills will play for the regional championship against Dunbar, which defeated Pikesville, 57-54, last night.
The Eagles were up by as many as 18 points in the first half, but a three-pointer by Digital Harbor's Brandon Yancey as time expired in the second quarter cut the lead to nine.
Digital Harbor (14-6) scored 26 points in the third quarter and led 47-40 with 5:54 left in the fourth when Kleeman hit a three-point shot from the left side. The Eagles (16-5) got a defensive stop and on the next possession, center Andrew Fitzgerald tipped in his own miss to cut the lead to two.
On the Eagles' next possession, Kleeman got open on the right side and made another three to give Owings Mills the lead and draw a packed crowd back into the game.
"Michael's our shooter and that's what we expect," Eagles coach Richard Epps said. "I've always told him since the ninth grade: If you're open, shoot the ball."
The teams continued to trade baskets, and with 14.6 seconds left, Digital Harbor was down 54-53 with the ball. George Jackson drove to Karon Hunter's side and Hunter stepped over, trapping Jackson and forcing an errant pass. Fitzgerald got the ball and passed to Kleeman with 1.1 seconds left. He was fouled and made both free throws to clinch the win.
"I knew George was going to want to take the last shot, but hey, we got him to make a turnover," Fitzgerald said. "But I got a lot of respect for Digital Harbor and that was a heck of a game."
Fitzgerald led Owings Mills with 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Justin (19 points, seven rebounds) and George Jackson (20 points, four rebounds, five assists) led the way for the Rams.