“You can't stop him! You can't stop him!”
That chant echoed throughout the Oakdale High School gymnasium several times Friday night as the Bears' unquestioned leader and best player, Zach Thomas, had one of his finest performances during his three-year varsity tenure.
The 6-foot-5 junior forward scored often — 3-pointers, layups, mid-range jump shots and free throws were all in his repertoire — en route to a 32-point performance that led the top-seeded Bears to a 61-53 victory against visiting No. 2 Poolesville in the Class 2A West Region championship game.
“He's the best player in the county and he was the best player last year,” Oakdale coach Terry Connolly said. “Zach's just a hard guard for any team. He can post, he can shoot and he can rebound. He's not the whole team, but he's the main cog for sure.”
The win clinched Oakdale's first state tournament berth in the school's three-year history, and it will play North Region champion Edmondson/Westside in the state semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at the Comcast Center on the University of Maryland, College Park campus.
“It's unbelievable that in three years we are already here,” Thomas said. “It is just awesome.”
Added Connolly: “It's been more than just a year of work. I've been blessed … to coach at [Gov.] Thomas Johnson and open up Urbana's program. Then, to come here and do this in such a short time is amazing.
“But all the credit goes to the kids. They're good kids off the court and son of a guns on the court.”
Oakdale (22-3) quickly established an 8-2 advantage on Friday in front of a raucous home crowd, but after a timeout, Poolesville (18-7) closed within one, 12-11, on a 3-pointer late in the quarter by junior guard Andy Baker.
The second quarter was close as the teams exchanged the lead twice and Oakdale led 29-26 at the half on a jumper by junior guard Clay Conner at the buzzer.
Late in the third, Oakdale began to seize the momentum. Tied at 34 with 80 seconds remaining in the frame, Thomas received an inbounds pass and immediately scored despite being fouled. He then converted the free throw to give the Bears a lead they would never relinquish.
A steal and layup by Conner on the ensuing possession and a Thomas jump shot just before the buzzer pushed the advantage to 41-34 heading into the fourth.
The lead grew to as many as 12, and Poolesville cut it to four late in the contest, but Oakdale never wavered.
“That sequence [late in the third] was huge,” Thomas said. “…. We got a cushion and it took the pressure off us a bit. That kind of decided the game.”
Poolesville, meanwhile, concluded one its best seasons in recent history under first-year coach Kenny Kramek, who praised his team's effort and ability to come back multiple times on Friday. Senior guards Kirby Carmack and Collin Turner kept the Falcons in the game and combined for 29 points.
“Zach is as good of a public school player there is in the state. … I was thoroughly impressed,” Kramek said. “… Tonight Zach Thomas was the best player on the floor and that was the difference.”
Oakdale 61, Poolesville 53
Poolesville 11 15 8 19 – 53
Oakdale 12 17 12 20 – 61
Poolesville (18-7): Collin Turner 17, Andy Baker 11, Kirby Carmack 12, Trevor Stottlemyer 8, Anthony Papagjika 5.
Oakdale (22-3): Zach Thomas 32, Clay Conner 13, John Bush 5, Kevin Heine 4, Jonathan Hoyle 6, Team/unknown 1.