Nothing could prepare Edgewood's boys basketball team for the state final four like a regional championship game against archrival Aberdeen.
The Rams (22-1) needed all the offense and all the defense it could muster to beat second-seeded Aberdeen, 57-55, in the Class 2A, Region IV championship before a packed gym Friday night at Edgewood.
The victory sends the Rams to the University of Maryland's Cole Field House later this week to try to win Edgewood's first state titlesince 1975.
The Rams will get the top-seeded spot in Class 2A, pitting them against either Wilde Lake or Hammond in the 9 p.m. game Friday.
If the Rams win the state semifinal, they will play for the title Saturday at 6 p.m. at Cole Field House.
Edgewood freshman Kenton Worthington, who came up from jayvee for the postseason tournament, came off the bench late in the fourth quarter to hit his only shot of the game and add a clutch free throw. His free throw with 57 seconds left gave the top-seeded Rams a 57-52 lead.
Aberdeen (18-6) got a 20-footer from Bill Griffin with 37 seconds left to pull within two. With 29 seconds to go, Sean Myles fouled Edgewood's Brian Johnson, who missed the front end of the one-and-one. Aberdeen's Hemi Huff grabbed the rebound.
With 18 seconds left, the Eagles took a time out to set up a play. But the Rams' sticky man-to-man defense never let the Eagles get the shot they wanted. Steve Davis had to force up an off-balance 18-footer from the baseline that caromed off the rim atthe buzzer.
"We tried to get the ball to (Demont) Blackmon," saidAberdeen coach Ron Petrey. "But Edgewood did a good job of not letting him have it."
Blackmon, who led the Eagles with 16 points and had already hit four three-pointers, was kept under wraps by Edgewood's Maurice Boone.
The victory marked Edgewood's 18th straight sincea loss to Meade, of Anne Arundel County, in the Meade Christmas tournament. But the victory over Aberdeen -- the team that knocked Edgewood out of the regional playoffs last year in triple overtime -- was by far the most important.
"This prepares us a lot," said Rams forward Steve Lewis, who scored his 1,000th career point in Wednesday night's semifinal. "That's the competition at Cole Field House. It's down-to-the-wire ball. We've got to be ready, but Aberdeen's a tough ball club, and we have the confidence now."
The Rams had beaten Aberdeen twice during the regular season, but they knew the third time might be harder than the earlier victories.
"You can't play a very good team three times in a season and expect to beat them easily," saidEdgewood coach Bob Slagle.
"Aberdeen is an exceptional basketballteam. They're a talented, class group of kids. Last year, they were happy. This year, we're happy."
Neither team got control early on.The lead went back and forth until point guard Boone scored back-to-back jumpers to put the Rams up, 14-11. Lewis, who is still not playing at 100 percent after a late-season back injury, came off the benchto swish a three-pointer. That gave the Rams a 17-11 first-quarter lead.
The Eagles got close but never again took the lead.
The second quarter opened with the Rams outscoring the Eagles, 9-2. Edgewood continued to roll to a 31-16 lead with 2:06 left before halftime.
Aberdeen, which missed four first-half layups, rallied with a three-pointer from Blackmon and three foul shots to cut the Rams' lead to31-22 at halftime.
In the second half, the Eagles continued to chip away at the Rams' lead. Layups by Demetrius Harris and Blackmon cut the margin to 43-41 by the end of the third quarter.
Although both teams played strong man-to-man defense the entire night, the Eagles committed the crucial mistake early in the fourth quarter leaving Lewis wide open on the perimeter. Boone, who had four assists on the night, found the senior for an uncontested three-pointer.
Lawrence Worthington followed up Boone's jumper a minute later to give the Rams a 48-41 lead with 6:53 to go.
The Eagles got two three-pointers from Blackmon to help them pull within 54-52 and set up the exciting finish.
The Eagles got 13 points and 10 rebounds from Huff; Griffin had 10 points and eight rebounds. Myles led everyone on the boards with 14.
Senior forward Damon Bomar led the Rams with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Lewis had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Boone added 12 points.
Both Edgewood and Aberdeen scored big wins in the semifinals. Edgewood knocked off fourth-seeded Wicomico, 67-47. Bomar led the Rams with 16 points while Boone added 13 and John Hobbs, 12.
Aberdeen beat third-seeded Stephen Decatur, 85-75. Five players scored in double figures. Huff had 22 points while Blackmon added 21, Griffin, 18 and Harris and Myles, 10 each.
In other local Class 2A action, fifth-seeded Fallston fell to Wicomico, 69-62, in Monday's first round.
The Cougars (10-11) got 22 points from Scoop Kelly and 17 from Matt Dontell.
Wicomico, however, gave the Cougars a lot of trouble inside with a front line standing 6-foot-5, 6-6 and 6-5.
"We played a pretty good game," said Fallston coach Robin Hood.
"But we missed some shots when we needed them, and they took it inside and scored."