For 3-1/2 quarters in Thursday’s boys’ 4A North Region Section I basketball final, visiting Dulaney High had top-ranked Perry Hall on the hook as the Lions waged a battle to reel in the Gators and pull off a playoff upset.

Perry Hall, however, got key contributions up and down its roster and eventual wore down Dulaney, snapping the line and pulling away for a hard-earned 80-63 victory. The win sends the Gators (23-2 overall) back to the 4A North final which they will host on Saturday at 4 p.m. against Montgomery County’s Paint Branch.

Clinging to a 61-58 lead with a little more than five minutes to play in the final quarter, Perry Hall closed the game on a 19-5 run, following the lead of senior Darrell Green, who scored 10 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter.

“As a senior, I try to play hard every night to make sure we keep playing,” said Green. “You never know when it is going to be your last game.”

It was a night that the Gators showed the depth of the roster, even though junior twin towers Laquill Hardnett and Anthony Higgs, who were named co-Players of the Year in Baltimore County on Friday, still had big games. Hardnett scored a team-high 20 points, despite battling the flu, and Higgs had 15 points and 13 rebounds.

In addition, seniors James Rider, Aaron Butler and Fredo Carter, as well as junior Tyler Holley, all made key contributions on offense (combining for 26 points), defense and the glass.

Perry Hall opened the game a on a 7-2 run, but Dulaney quickly battled back to take a 20-18 lead at the end of one quarter. Freshman Che Evans, Jr. was a major factor early for the Lions, scoring eight first quarter points, but he struggled with foul trouble the rest of the night and scored just two more points.

Senior Lamont Sanders, who wrapped up an outstanding career with the Lions (17-7), had a hot-hand all night. Sanders scored 10 points in the second quarter and helped Dulaney build a 35-24 lead with 5 minutes, 3 seconds remaining in the first half.

The Gators did not panic, slowly regaining the momentum. Green scored seven points in the quarter, including the final four as Perry Hall fought all the way back to tie the contest 37-37 before intermission.

Head coach George Panageotou expanded on Green’s contributions to the team.

“Darrell is one of our captains,” said Panageotou, who was named Baltimore County Coach of the Year on Friday. “He doesn’t like it, but he gets unsung hero at the banquet, but he is the glue to our team. He has been. He started every game last year. He stays under the radar, but he had [19] points and went 6-for-6 from the line in the fourth quarter.”

Getting the game even at the half was a big psychological boost for the Gators.

“That was an awesome game. Matt does a great job and they were ready to play,” added Panageotou. “I am really proud of my team to let themselves calm down and fight back to tie the game. It was just ginormous for us.”

Hardnett and Higgs combined for 12 points in the third quarter as the Gators closed the frame on a 12-3 spree to build a 55-44 lead. Dulaney had one more charge to make, as Sanders scored seven straight points during an 11-6 Lion spurt to pull the team within three, before Perry Hall finally broke loose.

“Last year we knew we were good. We were young, so we weren’t sure how good we really were,” said Panageotou. “But coming in this year we knew we were good and to win the games we won, with the schedule we had, and to get the top-ranking, it just means the world. There is a lot of pressure on us and the kids.”

Dulaney coach Matt Lochte believes Perry Hall is definitely a title contender.

“Perry Hall is a great team. I think they are a state championship caliber team,” said Lochte. “We played very well and got a lead, but we got into foul trouble we were not able to guard their length and size with the foul trouble.”

“This is my last year and it would mean everything to me,” said Green. “We’re trying to get a championship.”

DUL  20  17    7  19  —  63
PH    18  19  18  25  —  80
Evans 10, Richardson 2, Drew 13, Harshman 8, Sanders 26, Byers 5. TOTALS: 26 7-10 63.
PERRY HALL: Carter 4, Hardnett 20, Higgs 15, Green 19, Rider 8, Butler 8, Holley 6. TOTALS: 26 21-28 80.