No. 14 Lakers fight past North Caroline for 2A state boys’ basketball crown; Lucas, Parker and Carter combine for 44 (VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS/PRESS CONFERENCES HERE!)

by AJ Mason

Special to VSN

As his players joyfully waited on Gary Williams Court for the start of award ceremonies following Saturday’s Class 2A state boys’ basketball final, Lake Clifton coach Herman Harried took a seat on the Laker bench. He took a deep breath and wiped his brow with a blue t-shirt.

Then he wiped a tear.

From injuries to finding an identity to getting his players to understand his message on and off the hardwood, it’s been an exhausting journey for Harried aka Coach Tree. It was rewarded Saturday with a hard earned 63-55 victory over North Caroline at the University of Maryland.

Senior guards Benjamin Carter and Steven Parker each finished with 15 points for Lake Clifton (22-5), while 6-foot-6 senior center Ronald Lucas was a force inside, finishing with 14 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. Joey Adams had a game-high 26 points for North Caroline.

The east Baltimore school overcame foul trouble and a double-digit deficit to win its first state title since 2012. Friday, Lake Clifton outlasted Frederick County’s Oakdale in the semifinals.

“When we were down 10 it looked pretty bad, but I’m proud of my boys were fighting through the adversity,” said Harried. “We were in foul trouble most of the game but the guys kept their heads and composure and we pulled it out. Our growth and maturity really showed and I’m happy that we were able to bring home the state title.”

After Adams nailed a three-pointer to put North Caroline up 47-37 with 3 minutes 11 seconds left in the third, the Lakers responded with a 10-2 run to end the period, cutting the deficit to two points.

“That kid is good and we knew that,” said Harried. “We just had to make shots difficult, that’s all you can do.”

The Bulldogs went ahead twice in the fourth quarter with leads of 51-49 and 54-52, but would not lead again. Lake Clifton tied the game at 54 on a basket by sophomore Michael Gray – playing with four fouls – with 3:44 remaining.

After a timeout by Harried, Carter knocked down a three in the right corner to help a 9-1 run to end the game. It was the Lakers only three of the game.

Lake Clifton outscored the Bulldogs 16-6 in the final period.

“We’ve been through a lot this year – injuries, ups and downs, wins and losses and things like that,” said Harried. “I was like: “This ain’t time to lost it now. This ain’t the time.”

North Caroline (19-7), which eliminated No. 13 River Hill in the other 2A final four match Friday, built a 35-29 halftime Saturday behind sharpshooting Adams, who accounted for five of the Bulldogs’ six 3-pointers.

But the upstart Bulldogs, in their first state final four since 1989, cooled in the second half, shooting just 38-percent (19-for-50) after making half their attempts in the opening 16 minutes.

The Lakers began controlling the paint, finishing with a 39-31 rebounding advantage and outscored North Caroline, 32-22. Most of that was from Lucas, who had arguably his finest game.

Two years ago, Lucas, 6-foot-7, missed a two-handed dunk, part of a mistake-filled fourth quarter collapse in Lake Clifton’s loss to Pocomoke in the 1A final.

“I just played with the pain from the loss,” said Lucas, whose father Ronald Sr., was standout forward for the Lakers in the late 1980s.

That pain became joy for Lucas, Parker and Carter Saturday.

“I remember as sophomores when we lost it was the worst feeling,” said Carter. “So it feels good to end our careers like this.”

For Harried, it was a culmination of a season on the brink.

“If you can ask me every negative scenario in basketball, I think we’ve had it at some point this year,” said Harried. “My job is just to try them how to overcome it, and they’ve done a fantastic job.”

Class 2A state boys’ basketball championship

at University of Maryland

No. 14 Lake Clifton 63, North Caroline 55

North Caroline – Bailey 17, Adams 26, Franklin 7, Wayman 5. Totals 19 11-17 55.

Lake Clifton – Lucas 14, Parker 15, Carter 15, Smith 8, Gray 5, Harried 6. Totals 21 20-29 63.

North Caroline 17 18 14 6 – 55

Lake Clifton 11 18 18 16 – 63