COLLEGE PARK -Just like that, at the most opportune time, it all came together for the No. 1 Lake Clifton boys basketball team in yesterday's Class 3A state semifinal against a pesky Seneca Valley team that wouldn't go away.
The strong will on defense, clutch perimeter shooting and dazzling work in transition - things the undefeated Lakers have displayed all season.
The flash, led by senior guard Jason Sharp, came in the closing minutes of the third quarter and extended into the fourth, and it was just enough to get the Lakers past the Montgomery County school, 63-54, to move one win away from a state title and undefeated season.
Lake Clifton (27-0) will become the third Baltimore City public school to complete a perfect season if it can get past Friendly - a 64-37 semifinal winner over No. 12 Atholton - in tomorrow's state championship game. Game time is 3 p.m. at Comcast Center. Douglass was the last team to accomplish the feat, going 28-0 and winning a state title in 2002. Never looking past the next game, the talented Lakers can finally talk about reaching their ultimate goal.
"We really did want to take it one game at a time," said junior forward Will Barton, who had 18 points and nine rebounds. "People thought we were playing, but you see how focused we are out there on the court. When teams make a run at us, we don't panic, we don't start fussing - we just stay together, and now we have one more to go to accomplish all our goals."
To get to tomorrow's final, the Lakers scored 15 straight points to turn a 37-35 deficit into a 50-37 lead two minutes into the fourth quarter, keeping a safe distance the rest of the way for the win. Sharp had a layup off a steal and a three-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to give the Lakers a 44-37 lead. He scored again off a behind-the-back pass from Barton to open the fourth, and then Antonio Barton made consecutive baskets to pad the lead.
"We came out in the third quarter with the thought of wanting to close it out, so once we felt them coming back and coming back we just looked at each other and turned it up. We made shots and made sure every shot counts," said Sharp, who scored a game-high 21 points.
Friendly 64, No. 12 Atholton 37:: Turnovers, missed shots and a fine game from Patriots senior guard A.J. Thomas (19 points) proved too much for the Raiders.
Friendly, from Prince George's County, pulled away with a 14-0 run that started midway through the second quarter and extended into the third. Friendly took a 30-16 lead at the half and kept the Raiders scoreless for the first 3:22 of the third quarter to build a 37-17 advantage.
"It was just we didn't have an answer for their defense. It was outstanding - pressure from [the] beginning of the game to [the] end from baseline to baseline, and we couldn't get into our offensive sets," Atholton coach Jim Albert said. "I'm very proud of the group. They exceeded everybody's expectations. I don't think anybody surrounding our team really felt like we could do what they did. This is a team that won more games, more championships, probably than any team I've had here."
Atholton (23-4), which got a game-high 20 points from senior center Arthur Hairston, closed the season as Howard County and East regional champs. It was the program's fourth state tournament appearance and first since 1982.