The wait is over for Centennial. The Eagles held off Howard County rival Atholton, 54-51, Friday evening to win the Class 3A East Region boys’ basketball championship.

Aaron Adams hit two free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining, accounting for the final margin for Centennial, the region’s No. 1 seed. A desperation half court heave by Atholton’s Austin Tennessee fell short, setting off a wild celebration as the Ellicott City school earned its first state Final Four berth.

Thursday afternoon at the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center, Centennial will play South Hagerstown at 5 p.m. South Hagerstown topped Quince Orchard, 54-48, to win the West Region championship Friday evening.

With 20.9 seconds left, Centennial held a slim one point lead when Atholton’s leading scorer Kory Britton got the ball at the top of the key with Adams the only thing standing his way. Adams, a senior forward forced Britton to his left and he rose to shoot with Adams bearing down on him.

Britton’s shot went wide left and hit the backboard. Adams secured the ball and was fouled immediately. 

“All of these kids competed very well tonight and I told I was proud of them [Atholton] for doing that,” said Atholton coach Jim Albert.

“I can’t believe he missed it,” said Adams who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. “He was making everything and when he missed I saw the ball coming right to me, I grabbed it and I knew I just had to hold to it, get fouled and knock down my two free-throws.”

“Our thing all year has been one-and-O and the end of the night and tonight was the toughest one-and-O,” said Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel. “Atholton showed a tredmendous amount of heart by getting down and coming back. I’m just so thankful for the kids, they [Centennial] did an excellent job.”

With the game tied 51-51, Centennial’s Matthew Harbinson came with a steal and was fouled as he streaked down the court.  Harbinson went 1-of-2 from the free-throw line giving the Eagles the lead for good. In sweeping Atholton in three games this season, Centennial avenged a loss to the Raiders in the region tournament a year ago.

“I love this feeling, I’ve worked for four years to be in this position,” said Adams. “We were in this position last year and we just threw it away, this year we weren’t going to let that happen. We knew that this was our year, this was our time to shine.”

Centennial quickly went up 12-4 in the first quarter as Michael Stefan canned two three-pointers for the Eagles who maintain a comfortable six point lead for the entire first half. Atholton cut to the lead to one on a tip in by Brady Acker after a missed shot early in the third quarter, then junior Keonte Potts began to create separation for the Eagles.

“It’s time to take over, the game was getting closer and we wanted to win really hard,” said Potts. “I just kept playing my game.”

Potts accounted for five points in a 9-2 run, extending the Eagles’ lead to eight. Potts scored all his team-leading 14 points in the second half, nine coming in third quarter.

“Keonte [Potts] did a good job of getting to the rim when he decided to take it,” said Hollwedel. “We preached all year long if we work for each other we were going to get good shots at the basket and he did a good job reading when the help [defense] wasn’t there and finishing at the rim.”

“He [Keonte Potts] has been our all-around best player all year, said Adams about his junior teammate scoring output. “When we need a bucket we just give it to Keonte, he runs the floor well.”

The trio of Britton, Tennessee and Jordan Wells caught fire for Atholton, combining to score all 19 of the Raiders’ fourth quarter points. The Raiders forced the first tie of the game as Wells side stepped between two Eagle defenders to bank in shot from the left side for two of his game-high 15 points.

After Wells’ bucket the Eagle defense took over with Harbinson and Adams coming up with huge plays.

“All of these kids competed very well tonight and I told I was proud of them [Atholton] for doing that,” said Atholton coach Jim Albert.

“We’ve haven’t been losing and we’re not going to start now because they made a run,” said Hollwedel. “We had to minimize their runs and maximize our runs and we were very fortunate to come out on top.”

Now, the Eagles must prepare for a new experience Thursday.

“I just looked at this as another game it’s probably not going to hit me when we get on the bus to go to the Comcast Center,” said Adams. “I’m just in awe right now.”

Centennial 54, Atholton 51
Atholton: Wells 15, Britton 10, Tennessee 8, Aughburns 4, Martin 4, Bennetti 3, Acker 3, McMahon 2, Fitzpatrick 2.
Centennial: Potts 14, Adams 11, Stefan 8, Harbinson 7, Ocadiz 6, Tinuoye 4, Goldsmith 4.