COLLEGE PARK - Just before Josh Czerski’s name was announced by the public address announcer inside Xfinity Center Saturday evening, Parkville High’s boys basketball team surrounded the coach with cheers and hugs.
Thought by some to be a collection of players, the Knights evolved into more than a team. The evolution ended with a championship.
No. 5 Parkville won the Class 4A title with a 72-56 victory over 15th-ranked Meade at the University of Maryland. Senior guard Caron Smith finished with 23 points and Josiah Legree added 22 points and five assists.
The Knights (27-1 overall) rebounded from a horrific second quarter with an efficient final 16 minutes to win their first state championship. Parkville joins Perry Hall and Towson as the only Baltimore County programs to win a title in the state’s athletic association’s largest classification.
Perry Hall went back-to-back (2017 and 2018) during a surprising three-year run. Towson won Baltimore County’s first boys state championship in 1960.
A year later, Parkville, which was established inside of Parkville Middle in 1953, opened its Putty Hill Avenue campus in Northeast Baltimore County.
The Knights played in their first state boys final since 1974 Saturday.
“We lost last year (in state semifinals) and the year before, COVID shut things down,” said Czerski. “We brought back some returners who knew what it felt like to lose. Having that feeling everyday in practice, just talking about it, staying glued in. We kept communication year round…just being a family.”
This time a year ago, Parkville was picking up the pieces from a semifinal loss to Prince George’s County’s Eleanor Roosevelt, ending its perfect season.
“We looked at it in so many different ways,” said Knights junior guard Sincere Barfield. “From them being a family, hustling and working hard, how we handled the loss, how we handled each other”…we knew we had to better ourselves. The guys that came back from last year had to show it.”
Barfield, a starter last season, became the top reserve in the second half of the season. Barfield along with returning starters Caron Smith and Josiah Legree mentored newcomers like Favor Okigweh, a transfer from Joppatowne and Cayne Woodland (Archbishop Curley).
Four months after the semifinal defeat, Czerski’s mother, Nancy, died suddenly on July 11. She was 61.
Czerski became more engrossed with Parkville basketball to help cope with the loss.
The Knights readily wrapped their collective arms around their coach.
“They’re my family. Multiple guys came to my mom’s funeral and supported me,” said Czerski. “This year they really stepped up to be kind of my crutch, my motivation to get up every day to work for them, outside of my family and my son…these guys have been amazing.”
“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’ve connected and we’re a family,” said Barfield, who’s known Czerski since he was in 8th grade. “I always got his back because he’s shown me the way and led me to success.”
Parkville dedicated its season to Nancy Czerski. Saturday, exactly eight months after her passing, the Knights became champions in the first all-Baltimore area 4A state title match.
Barfield dropped a pair of 3-pointers and Smith added a 3-pointer and a 3-point play as Parkville led 21-13 after the opening eight minutes. Tre Worsley opened the second quarter with a successful drive to the basket, advancing the Knights’ advantage to 23-13.
The Mustangs stormed back with a 13-0 run capped with back-to-back 3-pointers from John Teague and reserve KeSean Graham to gain the lead back at 26-23. The Anne Arundel County champions ended the quarter with Shawn Jones converting off a strong inside move for a 29-26 advantage.
Five different players produced for Meade (24-4) in the second quarter. Meanwhile, Parkville shot 2-of-15 in the period.
Legree, who kept Parkville’s title hopes alive with a game-winner 3-pointer in the North Region I final, sparked the Knights’ final push to the title. The junior’s 3-pointer gave Parkville the lead back, 38-37, with 3 minutes, 8 seconds left in the third.
After Legree converted 3 free throws, giving the Knights a 41-39, the uber-talented guard got an off-balanced shot to fall, and Barfield finished a pass from Smith for a 3-point play, extending Parkville’s lead to 45-39.
“I just wanted to pick up my game and step up for my team and be a leader,” said Legree, who scored 14 of his 20 second half points in the third. “I trusted my coach and trusted my teammates to find me and let me find my rhythm throughout the game. It felt great. My teammates kept finding me and I kept scoring and then it opened things up for the rest of the offense like Caron getting his and Sincere.”
The Knights upped their lead to 59-50 midway through the fourth, but Meade, seeking its first state championship since 2015, didn’t relent. Zamar Jones’ 3-pointer, off a pass from Jones, pulled the Mustangs to 59-53.
Worsley answered for Parkville with a follow-up off Barfield’s miss. Barfield followed with a jumper, advancing the lead to double-digit at 63-53 with 2:02 remaining.
The Knights slowed Meade in the second half with 1-2-2 zone defense.
“We stopped attacking the basket in the second half,” said Mustangs coach Mike Glick, whose team shot 3-of-13 in the final quarter. “The zone they put on us was very effective.”
“It wasn’t the third and fourth quarters that we wanted, but it doesn’t diminish at all what these guys accomplished this season together.”
Jones, a 6-foot-6 senior, posted a double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds, and blocked six shots for Meade, which advanced a step further from a year ago when it blew a double-digit second half in the state semifinals. Xavion Roberson added 10 points and six assists.
Barfield had 14 points and two assists for Parkville. Worsley and Okigweh (3 blocks) each finished with 13 rebounds. The Knights’ historic win completed a Baltimore-area sweep with No. 3 City (3A), No. 4 New Town (2A) and No. 8 Edmondson (1A) claiming titles on Gary Williams Court.
Parkville won its first 22 games this season before losing to New Town in the Baltimore County final. The Knights were seconds away from being eliminated in the region playoffs.
Through heartache and disappointment, Parkville stayed resilient and became a family.
“With tragedy comes comfort…the boys and the coaches were my comfort and we used that,” said Czerski. “We lifted each other up, even the smallest things. If someone misses a shot, we lift them up. If someone turns the ball over, we lift them up. Being together as one and working through any issue we had during the year was mild compared to some of the things we talked about concerning life.”
CLASS 4A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
at University of Maryland
NO. 5 PARKVILLE 72, NO. 15 MEADE 56
Meade - Jones 25, Roberson 10, Graham 6, Teague 6, Jones 5, Scott 4. Totals 21 9-11 56.
Parkville - Smith 23, Legree 22, Barfield 14, Okigweh 6, Worsley 6, Woodland 1. Totals 23 18-21 72.
Meade 13 16 15 12 - 56
Parkville 21 5 24 22 - 72