The Walt Whitman High School boys’ basketball team’s chances of winning its first Class 4A West Region title since 2006 could have gone downhill quite quickly Friday against Clarksburg. The Vikings’ game plan was to use the size advantage 6-foot-7 Josh Fried gave them inside to open up the court.
Fried, however, missed his first several layups and Whitman failed to score a single point in the first four minutes of the game, which was held at Montgomery Blair. But the senior center didn’t panic. Instead he scored six straight points to keep Whitman within two points of Clarksburg to end the first quarter and finished with a game-high 19 points and 10 rebounds in leading the Vikings to a 49-44 win.
Whitman (20-6) advances to face Class 4A East Region champion Annapolis High in the state semifinals, scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center. The Vikings will be making their first state tournament appearance since winning their only championship in 2006.
Clarksburg (20-5) made school history just by making it to Friday’s game, it was the Coyotes’ first-ever region final appearance.
“It was huge for us [that Fried got going],” Whitman coach Chris Lun said. “We had a size advantage and we wanted to get him going early, he really gets things going for us. We’ve had games where he’s started off slow and was not able to get going. We were basically just like, ‘Look, you’re our starting center and you open things up for the offense, we need to ride you [through to states].’”
The Coyotes’ need to keep an eye on Fried opened up opportunities for Whitman’s historically strong guard play. Four different players made at least one 3-pointer, including the team’s leading-scorer this season, Kyle Depollar, who scored 14 points. Depollar was also an aggressor and scored nine points from the free throw line — missing just one foul shot. Two of those points all but clinched Whitman’s win in the final 40 seconds Friday.
Whitman found itself trailing or tied for most of the first three quarters — Clarksburg led 21-17 at halftime. But the Vikings, which rely more on their ability to keep opponents’ scoring down than putting up their own big numbers, started to look a little more in control of their game entering the fourth quarter.
But in a game as tightly contested as Friday’s, every possession matters. Whitman’s four-point, fourth-quarter lead was quickly erased by Scheick Doukoure’s fifth 3-pointer of the night. With Whitman up, 46-44, and just over 30 seconds on the clock, Clarksburg senior guard Xavier Sewell stormed up the court on his way to what likely would’ve been a fairly routine layup. Depollar said he told himself there was no way he could let that happen.
Depollar said he saw Sewell’s path and stepped right in front of it, feet squared and planted in the paint.
“We work on defensive positioning in practice all the time but Kyle had to be in the right spot and he made his move,” Lun said. “Every possession is so important and the guys understand that.”
Depollar drew the charge and sunk the two ensuing foul shots to give Whitman a two possession lead it would not relinquish.
The Vikings are aware, Depollar and Lun agreed, that not many people would’ve pegged them in the preseason as the team that would be representing the 4A West Region, comprised of most of Montgomery County, in the state tournament. But they made a promise to themselves early on, that this winter would mark their return to Comcast. It’s been a true team effort, Lun said, with different players taking on the role of leading scorer on different nights. Friday, it was Fried’s turn.
“We couldn’t be happier, [Friday] was a big win for the program,” Lun said. “This group, coming in as freshmen, it was a big freshman class, and we knew it was going to be special.”
Walt Whitman 49, Clarksburg 44
Whitman 6 11 16 16 — 49
Clarksburg 8 13 11 12 — 44
Whitman (20-5) — Josh Fried 19, Kyle Depollar 14, Jake Kuhn 6, Adam Lowet 4.
Clarksburg (20-6) — Scheick Doukoure 15, Josh Hardy 9, Xavier Sewell 8, Caleb Carter 8.