For the last month, Wilde Lake High boys basketball coach Jansen McMillan has been so focused on what’s been immediately in front of him and his team that the thought of thinking big picture proved a bit difficult in the aftermath of the Wildecats’ 65-55 victory over Glenelg Thursday night.
Wilde Lake had just won its 13th league game in a row to put the finishing touches on securing the program’s second ever county title, and first since the 1977-78 season, and admittedly the moment was a lot to process.
“Give me another 30 minutes … it probably won’t truly hit me until then,” McMillan said through a wide smile.
In reality, though, McMillan and the majority of this year’s Wilde Lake coaching staff understand the gravity of the achievement better than most. McMillan (a 1998 Wilde Lake graduate), along with assistant coaches Deon Wingfield (1993) and Peter Bergin (2006), played basketball for the program before joining the staff in various capacities over the last decade.
So, when this group of coaches say this title is a long time coming, they speak from experience.
“What we accomplished today is for everyone who coached basketball here and who played basketball here, because 45 years is a long time,” McMillan said. “This is a school championship. This is for every alumni … every player that’s ever played JV or varsity — this is for all of them. So, I can’t be prouder of all of the guys, all of us coaches to get to this point and be able to accomplish this.”
Wilde Lake (19-3 overall) ends the regular season with the same Howard County record (15-2) as Long Reach, which defeated Mount Hebron Thursday in its final league game. The Wildecats, however, won the long regular season meeting between the two programs this winter to secure the head-to-head tie-breaker.
After opening the season 2-2 against county competition during the month of December, Wilde Lake regrouped to run the table.
“We started off slow, losing our first game of the season, but I feel like we started to trust each other and move forward,” said junior forward Xavier Gilliam, who led the way with a game-high 19 points in the regular season finale Thursday. “[A chance at the county title] really didn’t become a reality until we beat Long Reach. We knew going into that game the winner would likely be county champs.”
Getting to the finish line atop the county meant not overlooking any opponent down the stretch, something the Wildecats did well at the onset against Glenelg (8-12, 7-10 Howard). Gilliam scored seven of the game’s first nine points in the opening four minutes to stake Wilde Lake to a quick 9-0 lead.
The themes of full-court pressure, dominance on the glass and balanced offense — with senior Nathan Hiteshew (18 points) and sophomore D’Andre Hoskins (11) joining Gilliam in double figures — were evident all evening for Wilde Lake.
Glenelg eventually settled in behind strong performances by Ty Jenkins (12 points) and Matt Dalton (10), but ultimately found itself playing catch up all evening.
“Digging out of the hole hurts, it seemed like we never could cut it to two possessions. That is what killed us,” Glenelg coach Alex Blazek said. “We could get it to seven, eight a handful of times … we just could never get it to that two-possession game.”
Wilde Lake led 14-7 after the first quarter and 32-25 at the half. Then Hiteshew took over in the third, scoring nine of his team’s 15 points in the period to increase the lead to 47-38 heading to the final eight minutes.
“Knowing that we had come so far, we couldn’t let it slip away,” Hiteshew said. “My contact fell out first half and I eventually got all that figured out, so I came out after halftime ready to go.”
Glenelg never quit, getting back to within seven points in the final minutes. Wilde Lake simply answered every push.
When the final buzzer sounded, the team celebrated and took pictures on the court with the county championship banner. But, amidst the jubilation, there was also a sense that the job isn’t done quite yet.
“We all understand that it’s only going to get harder from here,” Gilliam said. “We still have regionals ahead of us, so I feel like we have to continue to trust in each other and keep our heads on straight and look forward.”
WILDE LAKE 65, GLENELG 55
Glenelg 7 18 13 17 — 55
Wilde Lake 14 18 15 18 — 65
Glenelg - Jenkins 12, Dalton 10, LaFountain 9, W. Piwowarski 9, Minni 7, P. Piwowarski 4, Dello Russo 2, Tolle 2.
Wilde Lake - Gilliam 19, Hiteshew 18, Hoskins 11, Corkeron 5, David 5, Gooden 3, Brazil 2 Faulkner 2.