Hardnett leads Perry Hall to comeback win, second straight title
- By Patrick Taylor -
Just before the start of the fourth quarter in the 4A boys basketball state final on Saturday night, Perry Hall senior forward Laquill Hardnett walked over to the photographers on the baseline and said, “Watch this.”
Down by six points to Bladensburg at the time and with Perry Hall struggling for offensive output, Hardnett, who has committed to the University of Cincinatti, proceeded to go off for nine straight points to start the quarter, giving Perry Hall their first lead since the first quarter.
Hardnett and senior guard/forward Tyler Holley would seal the deal with a string of free throws as the clock wound down. When the final buzzer sounded, Perry Hall emerged as the state champion for the second time in as many years, edging out Bladensburg with a score of 56 - 52.
“It was like I got to bring my team with me and go get it,” said Hardnett. “If I don’t go get it, who’s going to get it? So I had to pull them with me and I knew they were going to follow me as soon as I started. It’s been like that for three years.”
Throughout the game, Hardnett was the most consistent player on the court for the Gators. While junior forward Anthony Walker started the game hot, he cooled off by the second quarter. Senior forward Anthony Higgs was also largely kept in check on the offensive side of the floor, leaving most of the heavy lifting to Hardnett. And boy, did he deliver.
Hardnett finished with a game-high 31 points and 12 rebounds, with 14 of those points coming in the final 11 minutes of the game. Down 41 - 31 with just over three minutes to play in the third, Hardnett scored twice to bring the game within six.
At the start of the fourth, Hardnett kicked off the scoring with a drive along the left side. He followed that with an acrobatic, off-balance fadeaway from the right wing on his team’s next possession. Down two and looking dangerous for the first time in two quarters, Hardnett collected a pass from behind the three-point arc and coolly knocked down the go-ahead bucket, sending the Gator crowd present at the Xfinity Center in College Park into a frenzy.
“I was telling the whole team we didn’t need threes and he came down and shot the three, and that was our first lead in like forever - put us up one,” said Holley after the game. “I can’t explain it. He always likes to say he’s Kyrie Irving. That was like Kyrie Irving out there.”
With the Bladensburg focus solely on Hardnett, Holley stepped up to provide the finishing boost the Gators needed, scoring six straight down the stretch to keep the Gators ahead. Holley extended Perry Hall’s lead to four on an impressive drive with just over a minute to play before adding two more from the foul line with just 50 seconds left on the clock. He would finish the game with eight points.
Bladensburg cut the lead to two over their next two possessions before putting Holley at the line again, where he hit one of two. Perry Hall came up with a big defensive stop on Bladensburg’s next possession, and Hardnett was sent to the line, where he iced the game with a free-throw.
“Laquill turned into the dog we knew he can be and often is,” said Perry Hall coach George Panageotou. “It didn’t look good for us for a long time in this game and he’s like, ‘I am not letting my team lose.’ He sparked it and everyone fed off of it.”
While Hardnett embodied Irving on offense, on defense he was akin to Dikembe Mutombo, piling up blocks and rebounds at will. And even though Walker and Higgs struggled to get going on offense, defensively they held their own for most of the game, frequently coming up with big blocks of their own and doing enough to keep Bladensburg out of the paint.
Despite holding Bladensburg to just 52, things looked grim for the Gators for much of the game. After starting off the first quarter hot, they cooled down considerably, opting to go heavy on deep shots as opposed to using their size advantage inside. The Gators certainly have the capability to do damage from deep, but almost nothing was falling for them on Saturday night. Still, they kept launching from outside, and Bladensburg slowly built up a lead over the second and third quarters.
Bladensburg entered the half up by six, and the Gators looked gassed heading into the locker room. The excitement that was often palpable during the season seemed to be completely gone. Things did not get much better in the third, with Bladensburg extending their lead to 10 just past the halfway point. Then Hardnett stepped up.
“The thing that makes it even more amazing is - and [Laquill] will tell you he wasn’t tired - but he was fried out there. He was exhausted, and to be able to perform being tired like that...,” said Panageotou.
On my way out of the arena after the game, I heard two older gentlemen from the Bladensburg area talking about past games they had watched, going back to the 1980s, almost like they were compiling an oral history to be passed down. They rattled off all of the 30-plus efforts put up in a state final over the last four decades before, acknowledging that Hardnett’s efforts would be remembered. Considering the bright future ahead for the senior standout, his final game as a Gator will likely be remembered for decades to come.
The Gators got to the final after knocking off Gaithersburg in the semifinal 85 - 62. With Gaithersburg trotting out a small lineup, the Gator bigs had a field day, with Higgs and Walker putting up 15 each and Hardnett adding nine. They were led in scoring by Xavier Gravette, who had 19 off the bench, and Holley with 17. At no point did the Gators trail Gaithersburg.
Perry Hall finishes the season with a 21 - 6 overall record. They are the first team to repeat as Section 4A champions since Springbrook won three straight titles from 2008 - 2010.
Perry Hall returns to final four; Dundalk falls short against Milford Mill
- By Patrick Taylor -
The Perry Hall Gators boys basketball team is once again heading to the MPSSAA final four on the back of a regional final win over Paint Branch.
For the second year in a row, the Gators upended Paint Branch for a spot in the final four. Last year the Gators ended up beating Annapolis and Quince Orchard on their way to a state title. After Saturday’s 88 - 75 win over Paint Branch, Perry Hall will take on Gaithersburg on Thursday, March 8, at 7 p.m. at the Xfinity Center in College Park.
Things were looking dicey after the first half, with the Gators down 46 - 41 and getting taken to task by Paint Branch junior guard Richard Dudley, who dropped a staggering 25 points on Perry Hall in the opening 16 minutes.
But in the second half, the Gators buckled down defensively and, led by senior forward Laquill Hardnett and junior forward Anthony Walker, kicked things into high gear offensively. Up by one with under two minutes to play, Hardnett and Walker propelled the Gators to an 8 - 0 run to give Perry Hall a double-digit lead entering the fourth quarter. And from there it was just taking care of business.
The Gators started the game strong, with Hardnett operating as more of a facilitator than a finisher and assisting on Perry Hall’s first three baskets of the game, two of which came from Walker inside. Down a couple early, Walker drove along the baseline and powered his way inside for two to tie it up. Anthony Higgs was also involved early, getting to the line and throwing down a big statement jam.
But everything Perry Hall did was matched by Paint Branch, and they had no answer to Dudley, who started knocking down deep threes midway through the first quarter.
After a bizarre play where a missed dunk by Walker was credited as a made field goal (he got stuffed by the rim but the referees were not in a position to see what happened), Hardnett followed up with an and-one play to give Perry Hall a five point lead.
Dudley cut into the lead with a big three and Perry Hall turned the ball over on the inbound, giving Paint Branch the last possession of the quarter. Dudley drove, and what could have been a two-possession lead entering the second was cut to just a single point.
In the second quarter, Perry Hall received a bit of a boost from senior Terrence Johnson who hit a couple of timely threes for the Gators. But the Gators struggled to find points elsewhere. Walker chipped in six of his own, but the team as a whole struggled to find the basket. On top of poor shooting through stretches of the second, the Gators did not have much success at the foul line. On the other side, Dudley was having his way, hitting big shot after big shot for seven of his team’s final 10 points of the quarter. With Perry Hall down two and time winding down, the whole gym knew the ball was going to Dudley. Still, he managed to create a bit of separation and rainbowed one over the outstretched hands of a Perry Hall defender for a buzzer-beating three.
The third quarter was a different story, though. The Gators came out strong with Hardnett putting the team on his back. The Cincinnati commit put on a dazzling display in the third that saw him scoring from all over the court - inside, from the wing and beyond the arc. Hardnett’s work saw Perry Hall take the lead midway through the quarter, which was eventually cut to two with just under two minutes to play. In that final stretch, the Gators orchestrated an 8 - 0 run, culminating in a buzzer-beating two from Hardnett.
In the fourth quarter, Perry Hall extended their lead to a game-high 14, with the Gators opting to pound the inside for high-percentage shots. Defensively, Hardnett, Walker and Higgs controlled the inside while Tyler Holley and Johnson did well to control the perimeter. After going off for 25 points in the first half, Dudley was held to just seven in the second half as Perry Hall seemingly always had a hand in his face.
With the win against Paint Branch, the Gators are now appearing in their third straight state semifinal. Hardnett finished the game against Paint Branch with a team-high 26 points, followed closely by Walker with 25.
Around the league
While Perry Hall was taking down Paint Branch in Montgomery County on Saturday, Dundalk played host to Milford Mill. This was the second time this year that Dundalk hosted Milford Mill, with the Owls winning the first game via forfeit after it was revealed that the Millers used an ineligible player. The forfeit ended up costing Milford Mill their spot in the Baltimore County Championship, so they were understandably out for blood.
The Owls (20-6) were kept at arm’s length for most of the game, with the Millers holding a 17-point lead after a tough first quarter. The Owls gave up a few threes early which opened up the inside for the Millers, and they took full advantage. The Owls chipped away slightly at the lead in the second quarter, bringing the deficit to 12 before halftime.
However, Dundalk was not able to chip away at the lead much more, and when the final buzzer in the third quarter sounded the Owls were still looking at a 61 - 51 deficit. They did manage to cut that in half early in the fourth, but Milford Mill was able to push back by getting to the foul line.
This is the second year in a row the Owls have fallen in the regional final. Last year they were toppled by Poly, who went on to win the 3A state final.
While the top-seeded Owls will certainly be disappointed in the end result, they have a lot to look forward to next year. Perry Hall is graduating most of their top contributors, but Dundalk will retain almost all of theirs. Next year will be all about getting over that regional final hump.
Recreation Council Programs
Attention girls and boys ages 5 -18: Learn fundamentals of running and sprinting, plus train and condition your body and mind. Registration for See Yaa! Track Club at Stembridge Community Center, 99 Stemmers Run Road in Essex, will be held Saturdays, March 10 and 24 from noon to 3 p.m. Season runs April 2 to Aug. 4, Monday through Friday, from 6 - 8 p.m. at the Chesapeake High School track. Cost is $160 per person. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Coach Gerry at 443-803-6314.
Registration for Stembridge Football is open for ages 5 - 14 years old. Cheerleading is open to ages 3 - 14 years old. Spots are filling fast. Cost is $160 per child. Registration dates are Saturdays April 7 and June 2, 8 - 11 a.m.; and Wednesdays April 18, May 16 and June 13, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at Stembridge Community Center, 99 Stemmers Run Road in Essex. Registration also held Saturday, May 5, 8 - 11 a.m. and Wednesday, March 14, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at Mars Estates Elementary School, 1500 E. Homberg Ave. in Essex. Visit www.essex-stembridgerec.com for details or contact James Thomas at 410-382-8218 or the Rec. and Parks Office at 410-887-0255.
The new session of Bengies-Chase Recreation Council's In-Shape Aerobics and Yoga classes will begin Jan. 3 at Vincent Farm Elementary School, 6019 Ebenezer Road in White Marsh. Aerobics held Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Yoga held Tuesdays; all classes 7 - 8 p.m. Call the recreation office at 410-887-5194 for more information.
Bengies-Chase Recreation will hold Zumba classes at Oliver Beach Elementary School, 12912 Cunninghill Cove Road in Middle River, beginning Thursday, Jan. 11. Classes held Mondays and Thursdays, 7 - 8 p.m. Call the recreation office at 410-887-5194 for more information.