PHOTOS

Tyler Holley probably best represented his Perry Hall High boys’ basketball teammates when asked Thursday evening whether he understood the gravity of the Gators’ run the last couple of seasons.

“Actually, no idea,” Holley said, drawing laughter in the media room inside Xfinity Center following the Class 4A state semifinal.

Top-ranked Perry Hall took another historic step, defeating 16th-ranked Annapolis, 74-63. Holley had 20 points and six rebounds for the Gators (25-2 overall), and LaQuill Hardnett and Anthony Higgs combined for 30 points and 33 rebounds.

The Baltimore County school needed a fourth quarter push to subdue Annapolis and advance to its first state final. The Gators will play Montgomery County’s Quince Orchard for the state championship Saturday night at 8 at Xfinity Center. Quince Orchard upset previously undefeated and District region’s top-ranked Henry A. Wise, 56-53, in the other state 4A final four contest Thursday.

Perry Hall has a chance to become the first Baltimore County program since 1963 (Towson; Class AA) to win a title in the state’s largest classification. That same year, the Ebenezer Road school opened its doors.

Until last season, Perry Hall basketball was nothing more than a passing thought in the area basketball universe. The Gators claimed the North Region title, their first championship. Perry Hall lost to eventual state champ Eleanor Roosevelt from Prince George’s County in the semifinals.

The Gators have followed up this season with a first Baltimore County championship and consensus No. 1 ranking. Now, they’re 32 minutes away from the pinnacle.

“We sat in this room after losing to Roosevelt. We were very depressed and we said that wasn’t going to happen again,” said Perry Hall coach George Panageotou. “I’m proud of the guys and the effort, and it’s an amazing feeling knowing we’re coming back here Saturday.”

“We’ve been taught just to focus on the next step,” said Higgs. ”It’s nothing we’re going to focus on until we get a ring.”

Higgs, a 6-foot-8 forward, finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds while Hardnett, a 6-9 playmaker, stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, 20 rebounds and six assists. The duo, nicknamed “The Twin Towers,” has been the octane to the Gators’ meteoric rise.

Thursday, however, it was Holley’s effort off the bench that got Perry Hall over the top. The starting quarterback for the Gators’ football team in the fall, was an one-man two-minute offense in the closing stretch.

“My main goal coming off the bench is always attack and bring energy,” said Holley. “I’m lucky to have teammates who trust me with the ball.”

With Perry Hall clinging to a 62-59 lead with 2 minutes, 4 seconds left in regulation, Holley scored back-to-back baskets, a reverse layup and a baseline drive, giving his team a 66-59 advantage. Holley also had a 3-pointer in the frame.

“I’ve told him for two years he could’ve started every game for us and he’s started very few,” said Panateogou. “At the end he was like ‘give me the ball coach.’ In the biggest game of the season, he wants the ball, he doesn’t care if he starts, he doesn’t care about his body.”

Annapolis (17-9), in its record 28th state semifinal, had Perry Hall on the ropes in the first half, leading 26-19. The Gators stormed back, obtaining a 40-36 halftime lead after a basket from Darrell Green and a follow dunk by Higgs.

Green put Perry Hall up 44-38 off a pass from Hardnett, but Annapolis got even at 44 after a Christian Jones jumper. Hardnett regained the lead for Perry Hall with a tip-in then found Holley for a layup.

The Gators never trailed again, but the Panthers dogged them. The Anne Arundel County school climbed to within three on three occasions, the last at 62-59 after a 3-pointer from Nyonjae Spriggs with two minutes left in regulation.

“Annapolis gave us everything they had. You can watch teams on film, but they are always better in person,” said Panageotou. “We knew we had the size but Christian Jones, whooo…I got scared every time he had the ball.”

Jones finished with 17 points and 6-foot-3 Trey Gross posted a double-double 13 points and 11 rebounds, going against Higgs and Hardnett. Brennan Ralph had 16 points.

In the end, Annapolis ran out of gas and Perry Hall’s size wore it down.

“The last two or three minutes is tough because we’re trying to scrap, we’re trying to foul the right guy, bring the ball down and hopefully, hit a three or get an easy two,” Panthers coach Dan Smalley said. “…Our energy was out, we had three guys with four fouls. It’s tough to do that in that scenario. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

“They just didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with us,” said Hardnett. “We’re seven deep, I don’t think they have that kind of firepower.”

Hardnett smiled brightly when he remembered saying “We’ll be back,” during last year’s postgame press conference. The Gators hope to make one final statement Saturday evening.

“Coming into this season, we knew we had something special. We knew we had the potential to make history,” said Holley. “We continue to make history. That’s been our goal since last season. Hopefully this year, we can close it out.”

Class 4A state semifinal 

at University of Maryland

No. 1 Perry Hall 74, No. 16 Annapolis 63

Perry Hall – Hardnett 11, Higgs 19, Green 6, Rider 7, Butler 5, Carter 6, Holley 20. Totals 27 17-27 74.

Annapolis – Ralph 16, Gross 12, Spriggs 9, Jones 17, Davidson 2, Turner 1. Totals 24 8-14 63. 

Perry Hall 14 26 10 24 – 74

Annapolis 16 20 10 17 – 63