Monday, March 12, 2007

Barons finish as 3A state basketball runners-up

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Two days after its biggest win of the season, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase boys basketball team picked a bad time — the Class 3A state championship game — for a letdown.

River Hill, of Howard County, dominated the Barons Saturday at Comcast Center in College Park, coming away with a deceptively easy, 60-51 win. Still within striking distance at 49-44 midway through the fourth quarter, the Barons were done in by River Hill at the line, where the Hawks went 24 of 30 in the game.

‘‘I’m so proud of these guys,” B-CC coach Steve Thompson said. ‘‘We’re a very talented team. We have very talented individuals. But the way they come together this season, I couldn’t be prouder of these 12 guys.”

It was the Barons’ second loss in the state championship game in three years, but this one was much different. After Randallstown felled B-CC on a controversial putback in the final second of overtime two years ago, River Hill (22-5 record) took control of Saturday’s game midway through the second quarter and never yielded it.

B-CC coach Steve Thompson has said for much of the season that the third quarter is the Barons’ strongest, and a 5-0 run to start the second half looked like it might put them back on track. But River Hill calmly stroked 7 of 9 free throws and two three-pointers to give itself a lead that was never seriously threatened.

After dominating the rebounding column two days earlier against a larger, more athletic Largo team, the Barons (22-4) fell victim to River Hill’s superior hustle. Senior Maurice Pearson had 26 points and 15 rebounds in the semifinal win; he had six points and four rebounds Saturday. As a team, River Hill won the rebounding battle, 30-28.

‘‘We stressed clogging the lane,” said River Hill coach Matt Graves, a graduate of Whitman High in Bethesda. ‘‘We know they’re long and tall. But we told them, ‘You’ve got to believe.’ Believe to achieve, that’s been our motto this season.”

River Hill senior Tommy Brenton, who averaged 20 points per game during the regular season, led all scorers with 28 Saturday. More than half of his points came from the free-throw line; Brenton hit a state-record 19 foul shots, on only 20 attempts.

Junior Austin Cooley led B-CC with 16 points. Sophomore Nate Koenig added 14, including three fourth-quarter three-point shots that made the final few minutes closer than they would otherwise have been. But the Hawks’ outstanding performance at the foul line made it a moot point.

‘‘It’s kind of unfortunate to get here again and to finish second again,” said Pearson, who will play at Ohio University next season. ‘‘But the way I look at it, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And I got to have it twice.”

Notes: Cooley and point guard Darren Smith were also on the varsity team two years ago, along with Pearson. Pearson and Cooley played as reserves in the state final loss to Randallstown. ... This is River Hill’s first state title in its first trip to the state tournament. B-CC has two titles, in 1959 and 1984.