Lake Clifton senior guard Benjamin Carter found himself at the free-throw line on two separate occasions in the final 39 seconds as the No. 13 Lakers were trying to shake off Oakdale in their Class 2A state semifinal Friday night.
He was comfortable there, having put in extra time during the week just in case the situation arose.
Carter made all four free throws – the poise proving a microcosm of the Lakers’ strong fourth quarter that enabled them to get past the Bears from Frederick County, 68-61, to advance to Saturday’s championship game.
Carter finished with 19 points, while sophomore guard Michael Gray added 22 points.
The Lakers (21-5) will next face the River Hill-North Caroline winner Saturday in a bid to bring home the program’s fifth state title and first since 2012. Game time at Xfinity Center is set for 6 p.m.
“We got a lot of good guys on this team. We’re fighters — soldiers — and we pulled through, stayed focused and pulled through,” Carter said.
The Lakers, who used only six players Friday, have overcome injuries this season and the regular Baltimore City grind to reach Saturday’s title game. Coach Herman “Tree” Harried said the season-long adversity has helped get the Lakers to this point.
Against Oakdale, the Lakers dug in more in the final minutes when the game was tied at 50 with 6:49 to play.
Junior Armon Harried (12 points) hit a jumper. Senior Ronald Lucas grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a follow. Then Carter’s driving layup made it 56-50 with 3:19 to play. The Bears (23-2) would get within four points twice, but the Lakers made six straight free throws in the final minute before Gray closed out the game with a basket with eight seconds left.
“It was a battle — [Oakdale] battled,” Herman Harried said. “It was like a boxing match and we just happened to win the final round.”
Carter, Parker and Lucas were all sophomores when the Lakers last appeared in the state title game in 2016, falling to New Town. Carter is banking on the experience to produce a different outcome for the Lakers on Saturday.
“It’s going to take us staying hungry, staying focused and staying locked in,” he said.
The Bears, behind perimeter shooting from Collin Schlee (22 poinits) and J.P. DeLorenzo (15 points), settled in quicker and were able to build a 10-point lead on three occasions before a late second-quarter surge from the Lakers had the game tied at 30 at the half.
Trailing 28-18 with 3:19 to play before the break, the Lakers turned tight team defense into a 12-2 run to draw even.
Carter scored six points in the spurt, his last two coming just before the halftime buzzer.