BURTONSVILLE — When the second-seeded Paint Branch Panthers varsity boys basketball team took the court Saturday for the 4A North Regional championship game against the visiting Perry Hall Gators from Baltimore County, the Burtonsville squad wore t-shirts that read “OC pressure.”
That meant “Outta Control pressure.”
It was a mantra the Panthers took to heart in the first half, a motto that enabled them to go into halftime with a five-point lead. However, the defending state champion Gators orchestrated an 8-0 scoring run in the third quarter to pull away from the Panthers and stamp their ticket to the Xfinity Center by a score of 88-75.
The regional title game loss to the Gators is the second one the Panthers have suffered in as many years. Perry Hall knew the key to victory was to contain Paint Branch junior guard Richard Dudley, especially after Dudley earned 25 of his 32 points in the first half.
The highly emotional game was fast-paced and aggressive from tipoff as the teams traded leads and highlight reel plays. Dudley and senior forward Xavier Reaves whipped the Paint Branch faithful into a frenzy as Dudley dropped bucket after bucket from behind the arc and Reaves dashed down the court untouched for an emphatic dunk.
Dudley’s buzzer-beating trey at halftime appeared to be a positive omen for the Panthers in the second half. However, Perry Hall forward LaQuill Hardnett (29 points) answered with a buzzer-beater of his own at the end of the third quarter to put the Gators ahead by 10 points as the game headed into the final period.
Paint Branch trailed by 14 with just under four minutes left to play. The big plays that seemed to land so easily in the first half eluded the Panthers as Hardnett skipped around the court, rejoicing in his team’s imminent victory.
“I think the energy in the second half went down and Perry Hall did a good job of stopping our point guards from scoring,” said Panthers senior guard Bobby Miller, who finished with 17 points. “Losing this game hurt but it meant a lot coming this far with this team. We accomplished a lot as a team.”
Meanwhile, the Gators are set to face Gaithersburg on Thursday to determine who will play in the state championship game on Saturday at University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center.
Perry Hall junior Donte Cloude reminisced about his high school basketball career and his participation in last year’s state championship game.
“We’re just trying to get that back-to-back [championship.] It’s our third year going down to Maryland,” said Cloude. “Last year I was blessed enough to play in the state championship and do exactly what I did out there, which is play defense.”