UPPER MARLBORO - As play was stopped with about 20 seconds remaining in Wednesday’s Class 4A state boys basketball semifinal, Parkville High’s bench, cheerleaders and fans started celebrating.
And, watching from the court, Caron Smith finally smiled.
The No. 5 Knights defeated Montgomery County’s Gaithersburg, 71-58, to advance to the state championship. Smith and junior guard Josiah Legree each scored 21 points for Parkville (26-1 overall).
The Baltimore County school efficiently closed out the Trojans in the pivotal final frame to secure its first state final berth since 1974. In an all-Baltimore area finale, Parkville will take on 15th-ranked Meade for the 4A crown, Saturday evening at 8 at the University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center.
The wait is over Parkville, whose first state semifinal berth in 12 years in 2020 coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The final three days of the state tournament, at the University of Maryland, were canceled.
Last year, Parkville brought a 25-0 mark into a 4A state semifinal matchup with Prince George’s County power Eleanor Roosevelt. After leading by as many as 10 points in the second half, Parkville was unable to finish as Roosevelt, which went on to win the title, rallied for a 59-57 victory.
The loss has been seared in Smith’s memory. He was among several Knight players who laid on the hardwood at Charles County’s North Point after the final buzzer sounded.
Wednesday, Smith and the Knights finally gained some redemption.
“It was a disappointing outcome,” said Smith, who was whistled for traveling while attempting a 3-pointer from a few feet inside half court on the game’s final play. “We fought hard all year to get back to this point. Now, we’re going to states.”
“We feel like we’re supposed to be here. We felt like it was a game we let slip away,” said Parkville coach Josh Czerski. “We’ve been itching all year just to get back. We knew we were going to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Smith, one of the area’s best pure shooters who’s been slowly recovering from the flu, had his touch in Parkville’s biggest game of the season. The 6-foot-3 senior connected on four 3-pointers, including back-to-back daggers in the fourth, turning a 53-49 lead into 59-49 with 5 minutes, 4 seconds left in regulation.
Gaithersburg closed back to within 4 at 59-55, but Legree answered, working a defender into the lane and scooping a shot off the glass. The wiry 6-1 ballhandler who kept Parkville’s championship pursuit alive with a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in overtime against Dulaney, in the North Region I final, dropped a baseline jumper, putting the Knights up, 63-55, with 2:10 left to play.
Legree’s ascension has tempered Smith regaining his perimeter touch.
“He’s come a long way from last year,” said Smith, a returning starter along with Legree and Sincere Barfield from last season. “He’s the reason why we’re in this position.”
Legree started a 9-0 run with a jumper after blocking a Gaithersburg attempt on the defensive end, giving the Knights a 24-12 advantage in the second quarter. The Trojans pulled to 33-25 at halftime before Smith opened the second half with a 3-pointer.
Gaithersburg, which eliminated Broadneck in Saturday’s state quarterfinals, kept pushing at the Knights. A 3-point play from Solomon Mensah from and a basket from Ben Bradford, brought the Trojans within 51-47 late in the fourth quarter.
Bradford finished with 26 points and Mensah had 16, but only four combined in the fourth quarter as Parkville switched to a 3-2 zone to limit them attacking the lane.
Czerski said it was the first time they’ve used the defensive formation all season.
“Being able to be flexible and adjust on the floor without having to call a timeout was huge,” said Czerski, who commended junior Cayne Woodland’s effort at the top of 3-2 set.
Woodland, a junior, finished with 16 points. Senior post Fortune Okigweh had 7 points, 11 rebounds and 4 steals.
It’s now a one-game season for Parkville, which next plays Anne Arundel County champion Meade. The Mustangs defeated Montgomery County’s Sherwood at Montgomery Blair, exercising the demons of their semifinal loss from a year ago.
“We’ve been waiting for three years for this moment,” said Czerski. “...It’s a blessing, it’s what we’ve been working for. We got one game left.”
“We’re ready to make history,” said Smith.
CLASS 4A STATE SEMIFINAL
at Henry A. Wise
NO. 5 PARKVILLE 71, GAITHERSBURG 58
Gaithersburg - Bradford 26, Mensah 16, Mills 10, Roberts 6. Totals 23 7-10 57
Parkville - Legree 21, Smith 21, Woodland 16, Okigweh 7, Barfield 5, Worsley 1. Totals 26 12-19 71.
Gaithersburg 12 13 22 11 - 58
Parkville 17 16 20 18 - 71