Bulldogs fall in final to Lakers
— North Caroline High’s boys’ basketball reached the state final with a 62-48 victory over River Hill Friday, March 9, but then fell to Lake Clifton 63-55 in the state final on Saturday.
— As the Class 2A playoffs progressed, the North Caroline High boys’ basketball team underwent a number of changes — in performance and how it was viewed — just as it had done during the 20-game regular season.
Entering the postseason as the third seed in Section II of the East bracket, the Bulldogs were definitely an underdog after a first-round win over Queen Anne’s.
Having to win on the road against Easton, a team they lost to twice during the season, and then needing to get past 24-0 Wicomico, the Bulldogs were undoubtedly an underdog.
But as senior big man Ja’Mion Franklin put it Saturday night, “they underestimated us.”
Though he was referring to Lake Clifton, Saturday night’s opponent in the 2A state championship, Franklin’s point applied to many of the previous 25 games as well, as North Caroline went from being an underdog in early February to one of the top dogs in the state by mid-March.
North Caroline “played the way I knew they could,” as head coach Steve Perry said, beating Easton in the second playoff round, then unbeaten Wicomico, both by double digits. They followed that with a blowout of Harford Tech for the regional title, Perry’s first in two stints coaching the team, totaling 12 seasons.
The Bulldogs, who were 4-4 on New Year’s Day and without Division-I athlete David Bailey, got healthy, played defense, and went 10-2 down the stretch. They then won five playoff games — possibly a singleseason first in school history — before falling 63-55 to Lake Clifton last night in the 2A finale.
Trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half, Lake Clifton (22-5) rallied in the second. Narrowing the Bulldog lead to 49-47 at the end of the third period, the Lakers powered past the East champions with a 16-6 fourth quarter to give head coach Herman “Tree” Harried the fourth title in his 21-year tenure.
The Bulldogs (19-7), having eliminated 2A South champ River Hill, 62-48 in Friday night’s semifinals, proved Franklin’s point for most of Saturday’s final.
Leading 17-11 after one quarter — nine points coming from downtown by guard Joey Adams (gamehigh 26 points) — the Bulldogs played the Lakes even in the second quarter, 1818, never relinquishing the lead.
Senior forward Bailey, who, like Adams, joined the 1,000-point scoring club during the regular season, was difficult to contain early. Like Adams, Bailey went into the locker room at the break having scored a game-leading 13 points.
But in the second half, Bailey, who is headed to Boston College to play football, was denied the freedom to move to his right by the Lakers, “to stop his shot... which was a difficult thing to stop,” Harried said.
The change, like the defensive switch to a 1-3-1 in the second quarter of Friday night’s semifinal defeat of Oakdale, paid dividends for the Lakers. Bailey scored just four more points after intermission.
Meanwhile, the Lakers, who had no players in double figures, and shot just 44 percent (11 for 25) from the floor in the first half, picked things up offensively.
An 18-14 third-quarter push cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 49-47 going into the fourth. Lakers guard Benjamin Carter, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, tied things 15 seconds into the fourth with a layup.
Adams hit a jumper a moment later for a 51-49 Bulldogs lead. But Lake Clifton then hit its stride, post man Ronald Lucas (14 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks) tying the game with a layup with 5:45 to go.
Carter, fouled on his next shot, hit one of the two free throws a few seconds later, to give the Lakers their first lead of the night, at 52-51.
The Bulldogs, who made just one of five fourth-quarter 3-point attempts, got one at just the right time, though to pull ahead one last time, Adams finding the net with 4:46 to go and making it 54-52.
But it turned out to be Caroline’s last bucket from the floor, Michael Gray of the Lakers driving in to tie it at 54-54 with 3:45 left to play. Carter’s trey, the only Laker 3-pointer of the game, made it 57-54 with 3:15 to go, accounted for the third and final lead change, and put the 2A North champs up for good.
Lake Clifton scored six of the game’s last seven points after that as the Bulldogs, forced to foul late, could not close the gap.
“We just didn’t finish,” Franklin said. “I think the ball bounced a couple of bad ways for us, a couple of calls didn’t go our way.”
“Nobody thought we could make it this far,” Adams said. “I’m glad that we got here, that we could play here. We knew we could get to this point.”
Notes: The Bulldogs shot 20 for 50 (40 percent) from the floor in Friday night’s win over River Hill, and went 19 for 50 (38 percent) in Saturday’s loss . ... North Caroline outscored its two state-tournament foes by a combined total of 117-111 . ... North Caroline committed just seven turnovers Saturday, possibly a season-low . ... Adams scored a game-high 31 points against River Hill. ... North Caroline’s state tournament appearance this year was its sixth overall, and first in 29 years; the team won the state title in 1987, finished second in 1962, and made the final four in 1976, 1977, and 1989.
North Caroline high’s boys’ basketball finished the 2018 season as the Maryland state runner-up after falling to Lake Clifton in the state title game Saturday, March 9.
North Caroline’s Joey Adams scores and gets fouled against Lake Clifton in the state final Saturday.