Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gwynn Park buzzer-beaten in 2A semis

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Christopher Anderson⁄The Gazette
Gwynn Park’s Mark Penn (right) walks off the court along with head coach Mike Glick after the Yellow Jackets lost in Friday’s 2A state semifinals.
Sean Thomas squatted and pulled his jersey to his face 15 feet from the basket at Comcast Center, between the elbow and the 3-point line. It was the very spot where the senior’s Gwynn Park High School basketball team saw its season come to a dramatic end in the Class 2A semifinals Friday night.

With a minute left and the game tied, Winters Mill’s Devon Lesniak slowly brought the ball up the court to give the Falcons the last shot. The seconds ticked down and the Falcons still didn’t have a good look. Then the fans started counting down with the clock.

Then Lesniak, double-teamed just inside the 3-point line, fell back and put up a prayer of a shot that arched high into the air and dropped through the net, ending Gwynn Park’s season with a 58-56 defeat.

There were no tears or lamentations among the Yellow Jackets (25-2), who had the most wins of any team in the county and were aiming for their first state title in 20 years. But the buzzer-beater was emotionally draining.

‘‘I don’t think there are any words to describe it,” said senior Harold Washington. ‘‘You hope it works out, but unfortunately it didn’t.”

The Falcons (21-5), in their first-ever appearance at the state tournament, defeated two-time defending champion Randallstown, 54-47, for the 2A title Saturday.

Thomas led Gwynn Park with 18 points, Washington scored 15 and Mark Penn had 10 points, including two 3-pointers. But the Yellow Jackets shot 39 percent and went 10 for 21 from the free-throw line, missing three of their last five while Winters Mill rallied from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit.

They also were outrebounded, 40-32, by the Falcons, who had a good combination of size and shooting skill that challenged Gwynn Park’s defense. Cammeron Woodyard, a 6-foot-5 Penn State recruit, scored 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds. Rashad Blackwell, 6-6, had 13 points and 11 rebounds.

‘‘They’re a great team. You don’t get here unless you’re a great team,” said Gwynn Park coach Mike Glick. ‘‘Cammeron Woodyard’s a great player, probably the best player we’ve played against all season. I thought they had an excellent game plan, but at the same time I thought our kids played great.”

Gwynn Park’s tallest player, 6-5 senior Ronnell Leggett, almost wasn’t available. He was cleared to play by his doctor before the game after breaking an orbital bone when he was elbowed in the face in the South Region final last weekend. He stepped in for seven points, five rebounds and a block.

Lesniak’s basket was the final stroke of the Falcons’ game-ending rally, which came just when Gwynn Park appeared to be pulling away in the back-and-forth contest.

Neither team led by more than six entering the fourth quarter. Gwynn Park broke ahead for its largest lead of the game, 52-44 with 4 1⁄2 minutes left, when Leggett and Cory Anderson made back-to-back layups and Thomas drove from baseline to baseline.

But the Falcons made sure that wouldn’t be the decisive run. Winters Mill crawled out of the deficit with five straight free throws, then Lesniak grabbed an offensive rebound and dished to Blackwell for a layup that put the Falcons within one.

Thomas went 1 for 2 from the foul line on Gwynn Park’s next possession, and Blackwell made a turnaround shot at the other end to tie the game for the first time since the third quarter.

Washington scored inside with two minutes left and was fouled, but he missed the shot. Kendall Dorsey hit a huge 3-pointer with 1 1⁄2 minutes remaining to give Winters Mill a one-point lead.

Gwynn Park, which had struggled to get inside shots to fall all night, missed three in a row on its next possession before Thomas was fouled going after a rebound. He made one free throw to tie the game with just over a minute left.

Glick said even without his team’s untimely shooting slump, there was no guarantee the Yellow Jackets would have coasted to a win.

‘‘I don’t think that if we make those shots we’re going to pull away,” he said. ‘‘I think you had two totally evenly matched teams. I thought Winters Mill had strength inside, I thought our guard play was excellent. I just thought that the game could have gone either way.”

But after Thomas’ free throw, the Falcons waited for the last shot. They got it in improbable fashion.

‘‘This wasn’t a game where we lost the game,” Glick said. ‘‘It was a great high school basketball game. Their players stepped up and made a few shots. But I couldn’t be prouder of my players.”

E-mail Kevin Hilgers at khilgers@gazette.net.