Seconds after the Lake Clifton boys basketball team got the one last final stop it needed on defense against visiting Edmondson on Friday, senior Khali Davis found himself all alone at the other end, putting in an icing layup that just beat the final buzzer.
The basket was the only thing that came easy for the No. 6 Lakers in not only their 45-41 win over the No. 7 Red Storm, but throughout a resilient three-game winning stretch that covered a little more than the past week.
In that time, Lake Clifton overcame a 17-1 deficit at Mervo last week; trailed for much of Tuesday’s game at previously undefeated City; and then had to overcome a poor shooting game and Edmondson’s own determined grit.
The reward? A berth in the Baltimore City championship game. The Lakers will meet No. 3 Poly at 7 p.m. Feb. 25 at Morgan State. The Engineers clinched the B Division with a win over Dunbar on Friday.
Senior guard Michael Gray scored 19 points and was the defensive catalyst in Friday’s win, putting the Lakers at 11-4 overall and clinching the league’s A Division with a 6-0 mark.
“I’m extremely proud of these guys,” said Lake Clifton coach Herman “Tree” Harried. “I don’t use that term until we finish the race, but what they’ve been through these last few games, I have to tell them I’m proud of them.”
On Friday, the Lakers missed layups and open looks from the outside for much of the game, but kept within range with their tough defense. They then showed the closing form in the fourth quarter that has become a constant.
The Red Storm, which got 12 points from Eontae Nelson, had 10-point leads in both the second and third quarters that the Lakers weathered.
Down 31-21 and yet to score in the third quarter with 4:11 to play, Zaccheus Blackwell (14 points) took a feed from Gray and nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner.
Gray scored two baskets in transition and then beat the buzzer with a long range 3-pointer that cut the lead to 35-34, but, more importantly, provided momentum going into the fourth.
The Lakers first lead since the opening seconds of the second quarter came in the opening minute of the fourth when Andre Davis hit a 3-pointer from the right baseline for a 37-35 lead.
The Red Storm would fall behind 39-45 before two free throws and a 3-pointer from Tra’Shawn Lewis gave it the lead back. But the Lakers would get two free throws from Gray, a follow basket from Kelvin Spruill and the big stops on defense with the Red Storm also missing the front end of two one-and-one chances at the free throw line.
Harried was impressed with how his two senior standouts — Gray and Blackwell — continued to stay aggressive on offense, while staying focused on the defensive end as well. The early missed didn’t faze either player.
“That don’t mean you lose your confidence or stop shooting because they’re not falling,” said Blackwell. “Eventually. they’re going to fall and you have to trust the process and keep in the flow of the game. We don’t mean to get down, but the slow start and then teams get a little bit of energy and get up. But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the game so we still keep fighting and stay together as a team.”
Added Gray: “We just had to stay together as a team, listen to our coach, stay positive and play to win.”
The Red Storm (15-4, 5-2) put itself in position to send the game into overtime with a quality possession. With 20 seconds left and down 43-41, Lewis cut through the lane and when help defense arrived, dished off to Brian Rice, whose shot in close from the left of the basket was off the mark.
“Down the stretch, we had a couple of turnovers and missed a bunch of free throws, which really hurt us,” said Edmondson coach Darnell Dantzler. “But again, my kids played hard and fought. We were up and then we got down one or two and never quit. I always look at the silver lining for the benefit of the kids and I’m always mad about a loss, but for them to come out and play as hard as they could and not quit, I’ll take that effort every time.”
E – Neslon 12, Hartz 7, Lewis 10, Frink 7, Rice 3, Jones 2. Totals: 14 8-13
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LC – Gray 19, Blackwell 14, Morris 3, Spruill 2, K. Davis 3, Green 1, A. Davis 3. Totals: 16 7-9 45. Half: E, 27-21