For a quality boys basketball team such as No. 7 Edmondson, a regional semifinal win is often considered just another step, a mere necessity to get closer to the ultimate goal of winning a state championship.
But the Red Storm's effort on Wednesday night can't be characterized as just another playoff win.
Shortly after the Red Storm grinded out a hard-fought 48-45 win over No. 6 City to advance to the Class 2A North title game and end the Knights' run as two-time defending state champions, it was apparent. There was a little more celebration than usual for the Edmondson players — and some exhaustion was there as well.
Senior guard Rodney Pratcher, whose drive to the basket resulted in a game-changing three-point play with 1:19 to play, summed it up best.
"It was a big win for us, but we're not done yet," he said. "Our goal is to win states, so this just puts us one step closer to our goal. But it's a big win because I know for us seniors, this was our last chance to beat City, so we just accomplished another goal, while we try to accomplish our ultimate goal."
The Red Storm (16-3) will next face the Randallstown-Digital Harbor winner on Friday for the right to play in the state semifinals at the Comcast Center. Last year, City beat Edmondson, 59-58, in the regional title game, which was its biggest challenge in winning its second straight state crown.
Wednesday at Morgan State, the Red Storm led for most of the game and took a 37-32 lead into the fourth quarter before the Knights rallied late. They got a three-point play Rashaun Rasheed to tie the game at 41 with 1:47 left, and then took their first lead since the first quarter when Eric Greer scored a fast-break basket with 1:23 left to make it 43-41.
That's when Pratcher, a four-year starter and captain who finished with a game-high 15 points, restored order for the Red Storm, quickly getting up the court ahead of everybody else to score a layup as he was fouled.
"They kept denying me the ball [in the fourth quarter], but then when I got it, I wanted to make something happen with it. So I went and got an 'and-one' bucket to give us the momentum back," said Pratcher.
The Red Storm still had some work to do in the final minute: Michael Bradley getting a piece of Nick Faust's driving layup try; making four of six free throws, including two from Pratcher; and surviving one final City possession with the three-point lead and eight seconds left.
But when Faust (10 points) got caught up in traffic just past midcourt, recovering the ball and then getting fouled before he could get a shot up, the Edmondson victory was sealed. Faust was sent to the line with a harmless 0.1 seconds left. After he missed and the final horn sounded, the Edmondson bench erupted.
"It's a big win for our program, a statement win," said Edmondson coach Darnell Dantzler. "We haven't beat City in three or four years. They were the defending state champions and we knew everything had to go through them."
Senior guard Kavon Pyatt added 12 points for the Red Storm.
City, which got 12 points from senior guard Mike Cheatham, closes out its season with a 16-9 mark.
"It's just been a tough year," said City coach Mike Daniel. "You have to know that if you want something bad enough you have to go out and take it. And I don't think we had that. I think we read our press clippings."
Class 2A North semifinals
(at Morgan State University)
7 Edmondson 48, 6 Edmondson 45
C -- Faust 10, Cheatham 12, Greer 7, Rasheed 9, Press 3, Greene 4. Totals: 15 9-16 45.
E -- Pratcher 15, Pyatt 12, Ellison 8, Bradley 7, Graham 3, Walker 3. Totals: 18 9-17 48.
Half: E, 25-18