The Urbana High School boys basketball is comprised of two teams, coach John Cooper said.
“Our junior class, those are our basketball players, they’re talented basketball players. Our seniors, those guys are our football players,” he said.
Each group brings something different to the court — little compares to the pressure of playing under the lights on Friday nights in the fall — and in Friday night’s Class 3A West Region championship game at Tuscarora High, the two meshed together well in a 52-49 victory against the tournament’s top seed.
It was the third-seeded Hawks (21-4) second straight win against Tuscarora (21-5) — Titans 6-foot-6 senior forward Lamell Washington was sidelined with injury in Urbana’s previous win — after losing the teams’ first meeting of the winter, 65-51.
Urbana, making its first state tournament appearance since 2010 and second overall, is scheduled to face 3A North Region winner Milford Mill of Baltimore County in Thursday’s state semifinal at 3 p.m. at the University of Maryland, College Park’s Comcast Center.
Twice in the final 30 seconds of Friday’s game it seemed Urbana had shut the door on Tuscarora. Twice the Titans retaliated with quick 3-point shots to keep it a one-possession contest.
Then, with 6.7 seconds left on the clock, and the Hawks leading by two, things became quite uncertain when Urbana senior Thomas Utt missed the first of two free throw attempts.
“He does that, that’s just him. I knew the next one was going in,” Cooper said.
It did and in turn clinched Urbana’s win.
In an up and down game it was the Hawks ability to execute under pressure that won them the game.
Urbana junior Kyle Singer’s 3-point shot with the game tied, 41-41, in the final three minutes of regulation, put the Hawks up for good. The ball was kicked out to an open Singer along the baseline by senior Brendan Wharton, one of the county’s best tight ends last fall.
Urbana scored 10 of its 18 fourth-quarter points from the free throw line. Senior point guard Darren Ambush, whose control of the ball, playmaking and initiative under pressure was invaluable Friday, Cooper said, was 4 for 4 from the foul line in the fourth quarter alone.
“They say basketball is a game of runs but I think [Friday] they would play really well for three minutes and then we would play really well for three minutes. We had the game tied at 41 and then [Singer] came down and made that [3-point shot] from deep,” Tuscarora coach Patrick Cook said. “I just don’t think we executed like we had all season, we didn’t make enough positive plays to pull us through. Urbana plays great defense and if you struggle to score on offense, that’s going to be [a tough matchup.”
Urbana ended a turnover-riddled first quarter ahead, 9-7. The teams traded leads throughout the second quarter but a 6-0 run to end the period put the Hawks up, 24-18 at halftime.
Tuscarora, propelled by Washington, a 6-foot-3 guard, and 6-foot-6 center Joe Findley, chipped away at that early in the third and appeared to have grasped the momentum after taking a four-point lead late in the third.
But Urbana regrouped to lead, 34-32, through three quarters.
The good part about his team, Cooper said, is that there are a number of tremendous athletes who can make big plays at any given time.
“You don’t always know when. It can be a different person each night,” Cooper said.
Each one of Urbana’s playmakers had his moment Friday and the result was a trip to the state tournament.
Urbana 52, Tuscarora 49
Urbana 9 15 10 18 — 52
Tuscarora 7 11 14 17 — 49
Urbana (21-4): Darren Ambush 17, Kyle Singer 10, Thomas Utt 6, Devin Tiffany 6, Brendan Wharton 5
Tuscarora (21-5): Kwa McDonald 15, Lamell Washington 13, Joe Findley 7