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Hardnett the hero as Perry Hall rallies to beat Bladensburg for second straight 4A crown

Perry Hall All-Metro senior forward Laquill Hardnett made the fourth quarter of the Class 4A state championship mostly his own Saturday. His teammates made sure to follow.

Hardnett scored 12 of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter and added 12 rebounds overall, willing the defending state champions to a lead against Bladensburg.

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After senior guard Tyler Holley scored seven points to help maintain the advantage, Hardnett was at the foul line to secure the No. 9 Gators’ second straight title.

He swished his second try, locking up a thrilling 56-52 win over the Mustangs at Maryland’s Xfinity Center.

Holley finished with eight points, four rebounds and four assists, and All-Metro senior forward Anthony Higgs scored six points and hit the boards hard in the fourth quarter to finish with nine rebounds. The senior trio — Hardnett, Higgs and Holley — put the Perry Hall program on the map and they became the first team to repeat as state champions in 4A since Springbrook won three straight from 2008 to 2010.

The postgame news conference was filled with “Wows,” and they were all directed at Hardnett’s performance. The Gators (21-6) were out of sorts, trailing 41-31 with 3:15 to play in the third quarter when Hardnett took over.

He scored two baskets to close out the third quarter and by the time his very own 13-0 run for the team was over, the Gators had taken a 44-41 lead with 5:10 to play. A 3-pointer by Hardnett late in that run gave the Gators their first lead since the second quarter.

“What was it, 13 straight points? Wow,” Holley said. “I was telling the whole team we didn’t need 3s and he came down and shot the 3, and that was our first lead in like forever — put us up one. I can’t explain it. He always likes to say he’s Kyrie Irving. That was like Kyrie Irving out there.”

The Mustangs played the postseason much better than their 15-13 final record indicated with Daniel Oladapo (18 points) and Joshua Williamson (16 points) leading them to the double-digit lead Saturday.

But Hardnett, a Cincinnati commit, hinted at being the best player on the floor early in the game, scoring seven straight points to help provide the Gators take a 14-9 first-quarter lead. In the fourth quarter, there was no question.

“It was like I got to bring my team with me and go get it,” Hardnett said. “If I don’t go get it, who’s going to go get it? So, I had to pull them with me and I knew they were going to follow me as soon as I started. It’s been like that for three years.”

After Hardnett’s run and then six straight points from Holley gave the Gators a 54-48 lead with 50 seconds to play, there was still work left with the Mustangs not folding.

Bladensburg scored the next four points, cutting the lead to 54-52 on Tyriq McAdoo’s inside basket on an inbounds play with 26 seconds left. But Holley made one free throw, the Gators defense got a stop and Hardnett closed things out with the final free throw.

“Laquill turned into the dog we knew he can be and often is,” Perry Hall coach George Panageotou said. “The thing that makes it even more amazing is — and he’ll tell you he wasn’t tired — but he was fried out there. He was exhausted and to be able to perform being tired like that, he says it all the time, ‘I got you, Coach. I got you, Coach.’ It didn’t look good for us for a long time in this game and he’s like, ‘I am not letting my team lose.’ He sparked it and everyone fed off of it.”

PH — Hardnett 31, Higgs 6, Holley 8, Walker 7, Johnson 4. Totals: 23 7-15 56

B — Walker 8, Oladapo 18, McAdoo 4, Williamson 16, Marbury 6. Totals: 18 10-17 52

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Half: B, 28-22

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