COLLEGE PARK - Around 9:20 Thursday evening, City’s boys basketball players started putting on orange T-shirts on the sidelines. By 9:25, the school’s band was proudly playing its alma-mater.
And, around 9:40, Omarr Smith shook hands with Baltimore City school officials and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and hoisted the Class 3A state championship trophy.
“The Revenge Tour” ended in redemption for No. 3 City, which defeated Montgomery County’s Damascus, 67-54, at the University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center. Senior forward Cam Horton finished with 24 points and four steals and Daniel Parsons and Kyree Smith each added 15.
The Knights trailed early then methodically distanced Damascus, completing a 28-0 season. The last time City played on Gary Williams Court was in 2014 when the Northeast Baltimore school finished a 27-0 run with the 3A championship.
A year and a day after losing in double overtime in the state semifinals, the Knights exercised those demons Thursday.
“I’m excited for my guys…this is a goal we set after we came up short of making the championship,” said City coach Omarr Smith. “I got seven seniors who brought into my system, and what I wanted out of them. I told them yesterday, ‘you’ve been writing your book all year, finish it off and put your signature.”
“That loss was very heartbreaking. It has us shook for a while,” said Horton of last season’s 3A state semifinal setback to Southern Maryland’s Huntingtown, in which City blew a 9-point fourth quarter advantage. “We just wanted to come out and take care of some unfinished business.”
City’s “tour” started at Lake Clifton with a rout of Ballou at the annual Baltimore/D.C. Challenge. The Knights ran through the Baltimore City league gauntlet, including victories over Edmondson, Lake Clifton and Mervo.
Mervo was City’s first loss last season. Lake Clifton was the second, costing the Knights an opportunity at the city title game.
City defeated Edmondson twice this season in two spirited yet vastly different matches, with the latter for the city crown.
City’s other loss last season was in the state semifinals. The combined margin in those three losses was 5 points.
With four starters - Horton, Kyree Smith, Trent Egbiremolen and Kwan Johnson - back, with Daniel Parsons, a transfer from Mount Carmel, filling the other spot, the Knights believed an undefeated season was a possibility.
“Everyday in practice we saw that banner with 27-0 and kept saying, ‘we got to get us one, we got to get us one,’” said Smith. “We came up short last year, but we knew from the beginning of the season we wanted a state championship and a banner next to them (2014 team).”
“I woke up this morning and started feeling some of the pressure…27-0,” Smith said. “We never had a conversation about it. We had a conversation about not skipping steps…when you overlook and try to skip steps, that’s where you can stumble or fall. It was one game at a time.”
Game 28 Thursday started rough. Damascus (25-2) hit its first four shots, all 3-pointers, for a 12-5 advantage, prompting Omarr Smith to call a timeout.
About four minutes later, Parsons hit a 3-pointer, tying the game at 19. Horton converted a 3-point play and the Knights had their first lead, 22-21, with 58 seconds left.
They never trailed again.
“We forgot our assignments. We knew the two guys to key on and we were leaving them,” said Omarr Smith. “We’ve been weathering the storm all season.”
City quickly adjusted on defense while its offense easily gashed Damascus inside and out. Johnson buried a 3-pointer giving the Knights their largest first half lead, 39-24. It was 41-26 before the halftime buzzer as Horton scored on a drive.
Early in the fourth quarter, Damascus looked ready to make a run, hitting a 3-pointer to close to within 12. Horton scored inside and Parsons quickly stole the ensuing inbound pass and scored, making it 59-43.
The Hornets, who beat previously undefeated Frederick in Tuesday’s state semifinals and shot 8-of-11 in the opening quarter Thursday, made just 13 field goals the remainder of the game.
“You got to give them credit, that’s really good. I thought they switched defenses often and that bothers us,” said Damascus coach Brian Humphrey. “A team that’s athletic like that and can press like that, it takes time to adjust to it.”
City players donned t-shirts with the words “State Champs,” in the middle with the Knights logo on the top after the game. The victory, preceded by New Town’s victory in the Class 2A state final earlier on Thursday, guarantees the Baltimore region will sweep championship weekend in College Park.
Saturday, Lake Clifton and Edmondson meet for 1A title at 1 p.m. and Meade and Parkville will vie for the 4A title in the final boys match at 8 p.m.
The Knights are the first Baltimore City team to produce two undefeated state championships since city schools joined the state association in the 1992-93 school year. City joins Southwestern (1997), Douglass (2002), Lake Clifton (2009) and the 2014 Knights as undefeated Baltimore City state champions.
The Knights are the 14th city team to go undefeated since 1956.
“This is something they’ll remember for a lifetime,” said Omarr Smith, who led City to its first state semifinal as a senior in 1997 and was an assistant on the 2014 city and state 3A championship team. “They can always come back to City, hold their heads up high, point on that wall and say, ‘We did that.’”
CLASS 3A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
at University of Maryland
NO. 3 CITY 67, DAMASCUS 54
Damascus - Lutz 14, Zalewski 14, Baskerville 12, Mangan 7, Dunathan 5, Berhanu-McBride 2. Totals 21 5-7 54.
City - Horton 24, Johnson 15, Parsons 15, Smith 8, Egbiremolen 5. Totals 27 7-9 67.
Damascus 21 5 14 14 - 54
City 22 19 12 14 - 67