GREENBELT – Bladensburg High School senior forward Daniel Oladapo stayed crouched down, saving his energy for one more play. With less than seven seconds remaining in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) Boys Basketball 4A South Regional Finals, the six-foot-seven standout suffering from a lower back and right knee injury, was called upon to make one more defensive stop to lead the Mustangs to victory.
As Eleanor Roosevelt senior Jaden Faulkner collected a rebound and began to sprint down the length of the court, Oladapo formed a double-team with guard Joshua Williamson. Despite the pressure, Faulkner threw up a finger-roll layup as time expired.
The ball bounced off the backboard and clinked off the rim. Once the ball landed in the arms of a Bladensburg teammate, Oladapo ignored his injuries and sprinted toward his teammates and fans in celebration.
“I was just hoping the ref did not call a foul, but luckily he missed it,” Oladapo said, who scored 22 points. “We just started to celebrate after that. It was a tremendous feeling to win.”
Through the adversity of transfers and an injury-plagued season, Bladensburg conquered its first regional championship in 39 years by defeating Roosevelt 83-81 on March 3. The Mustangs (15-12) will take on Old Mill on March 8 in College Park to earn a chance to win their first state championship in more than four decades.
“All year, we have been dealing with adversity,” Bladensburg Head Coach Antonio Williams said. “But our motto, like any other program, is next man up and that’s what we believe. It’s not all about (Oladapo), we are a team, and that is what we do, next man up.”
In a high-paced game with several lead changes, the Mustangs pounced first as three of their opening four shots converted were three-pointers. However, Roosevelt bounced back quickly as junior Cameron Brown scored 13 first-half points while senior Juston Bailey’s last-second layup gave the Raiders a four-point lead heading into halftime.
Roosevelt continued to mount pressure against the Mustangs, going on 16-6 run in the third quarter. Junior Isaiah Gross came off the bench providing scoring aid for the Raiders, knocking down 15 of his game-high 28 points. A spot starter during the regular season, Gross’s shooting performance was no surprise to Eleanor Roosevelt Head Coach Brendan O’Connell.
Despite Roosevelt’s lead, the Mustangs stampeded back in the fourth quarter on a 16-5 run, including junior guard Tyshaun Walker adding five of his team-high 26 points during the comeback. Two clutch shots behind the arc from Williamson, a bench player turned into a starter according to Williams, gave Bladensburg a 4-point cushion with four minutes left.
Down by 10 with less than a minute to play, the Raiders did not go down quietly. Roosevelt scored nine points and quickly fouled Bladensburg during every possession to stop the clock. However, the missed layup ended their season with their first home loss of the season.
As the celebration began upstairs on their home court, Roosevelt’s players were visibly emotional downstairs in their locker room, with the veteran players crying tears of agony. There were no thoughts of next season for O’Connell, who focused on consoling his seniors who fell short of their championship aspirations.
Faulkner finished his final high school game with 19 points but sobbed uncontrollably while their teammates watched in silence. His second chance at a state championship in one school year (played as quarterback for the football team) ended in regional despair.
“We are all just disappointed,” O’Connell said. “We felt like we were playing well, the best we played all season. But it is hard when in one minute, you’re fighting, but in the next second, your season is over. It’s something really hard to deal with.”
Meanwhile, tears of joy and Gatorade baths began to pour inside the Mustang locker room. Past players and school alumni showered the winning players with praise for their victory. With fans celebrating and chanting on the court, Williams held up the 1973 Championship trophy, the school’s last state victory, as a reminder to everyone: the mission is not over.
“I know not all of (the alumni) could make to the regional championship or even states, so this is a really great feeling,” Oladapo said. “But now, we have to take it one play at a time and play hard the next game in the semifinals.”