Prior to Wednesday’s 4A North Region Boys Basketball Section I final, at Perry Hall High School, Gator sophomore Laquill Hardnett beamed with pride as him mom Anita brought down the house with a stirring rendition of the National Anthem.
Hardnett then followed with his own stirring performance, as the 6-foot-7 forward scored a game-high 27 points to lead No. 10 Perry Hall to a 71-61 win over arch-rival Dulaney, setting up the Gators for a shot at their first regional basketball title in school history.
The Gators (20-3 overall) will get that shot on Friday, as they host Montgomery County power Springbrook for the 4A North title. Springbrook advanced with 91-52 blowout of Howard in the Section II final.
As rivals often do, Perry Hall and Dulaney traded runs, but it was the visiting Lions who seemed to be fighting up hill all night as Perry Hall built several leads over the first three quarters, with the largest being 12, at 42-30, midway through the third quarter. Dulaney battled back within two, at 44-42, at the end of three, but Hardnett scored 12 fourth quarter points as Perry Hall steadily pulled away in the final stanza.
“It was a rival game so we expected them to come out and give us all that we got,” said Hardnett. “We know we can bounce back from them runs. We knew they were going to fight real hard.”
Hardnett was often the answer to those runs, as he was able to take full advantage of his size and athleticism to slash and dominate in the paint.
Perry Hall coach George Panageotou talked about the impact Hardnett has in his lineup.
“Obviously, we are not here without him. He’s an amazing talent at 6-7 and can handle the ball the way he does. And, he’s in 10th grade,” said Panageotou of Hardnett. “He’s a key, one of many keys, we have a lot of good players, but to have a 6-7 guy to handle the ball and control the glass is a huge advantage for us.”
The Gators scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to go up 50-42. A 3-point play by Lamont Sanders pulled Dulaney back within five, but Hardnett countered with his own 3-point play and the Gators stayed in firm control the rest of the way.
The Gators opened the game on a 9-2 run, which included six points and an alley-oop slam dunk by Hardnett. Dulaney, however, got a 65-foot buzzer beating 3-pointer from Joey O’Dwyer to end the opening quarter down just three, at 14-11.
The Lions (18-7 overall) then got back-to-back 3-pointers from senior Alex Kassolis to move on top 17-14, early in the second quarter. Perry Hall closed the first half on a 12-4 run to take a 31-26 lead into the break and they would never trail again.
After Kassolis scored the first basket of the third quarter, Perry Hall staged an 11-2 spurt to move on top by 12, but the Lions fought right back, closing the quarter on a 12-2 run to get back within two at the end of three.
“The pressure slowed us down in transition,” said Panageotou. “It actually affected us a little more than we thought, but in crunch time we were able to get the ball in the paint and get some big buckets.”
In addition to Hardnett, junior James Rider scored 12 points fro Perry Hall, while Darrell Green, Aaron Butler and Anthony Higgs combine for 22.
Sanders paced Dulaney with 16 points and Kassolis netted 15, while O’Dwyer finished with 9 points.
“We feel good. This is our first time making it to the regional finals in Perry Hall history” said Hardnett. “We’ve been talking about this all season and we knew we could do it. We knew we could accomplish anything.”
4A NORTH SECTION I FINAL
NO. 10 PERRY HALL 71, DULANEY 61
DUL 11 15 16 19 — 61
PH 14 17 13 27 — 71
DULANEY: Wiggins 5, Jones 6, Richardson 6, Sanders 16, O’Dwyer 9, Kassolis 15, Harshman 3, Gray 1. TOTALS 22 21 61.
PERRY HALL: Green 8, Hardnett 27, Rider 12, Butler 7, Brown 3, Higgs 7, Holley 3, n/a 4. TOTALS: 24 20-32 71.