FREDERICK — The Oakland Mills High School boys basketball team is headed back tothe University of Maryland to defend its Class 3A title, and Scorpions coach Dave Appleby was having trouble believing it.
"This team has been up and down all year. I never know which one is going to show up," said Appleby after the Scorpions overwhelmed their nemesis, Thomas Johnson, with a 21-6 second-half explosion.
They weathered a late Patriots rally to clinch a 76-68 victory inthe 3A Region I title game Friday night at Thomas Johnson High.
The victory sends the Scorpions to the University of Maryland's Cole Field House this weekend to go after their second straight 3A state championship.
Oakland Mills, the region's second seed, evened a score with the top-seeded Patriots. Thomas Johnson had beaten the Scorpions (16-7) twice this season, including a double-overtime, 101-87 decision in December.
"It seems like the best teams bring out the bestin us," Appleby said. "We've played well three times all year, and this is one of those times. At least our timing is good."
One can'tsay enough about the timing of Oakland Mills' shooting guard Carruthers Gant. Fresh from a 32-point effort that led the Scorpions to victory over North Hagerstown in the regional semifinals, Gant burned Thomas Johnson (19-5) for 32 more, including 20 points in the first half.
Gant, who added six assists and nine rebounds, came back to haunt the Patriots with more clutch shooting in the second half.
His twisting 16-foot jumper at the end of the third quarter gave Oakland Mills a 54-47 lead and demoralized Thomas Johnson, which had tied thegame at 47 with 1:43 left in the period.
Later, with 2:40 left inthe game, Gant's tough reverse lay-up along the baseline gave the Scorpions their biggest lead, at 68-53.
Thomas Johnson battled back in the last two minutes with a 15-4 run that included three three-point baskets. But Gant hurt them one last time with 11 seconds left by calmly hitting both ends of a one-and-one to give Oakland Mills an insurmountable 74-68 lead.
When Gant wasn't scoring in the second half, forwards Marc Terry and Gregg Washington were doing damage inside.
Terry survived early foul trouble to score 16 of his 18 points in the second half. Washington scored nine of his 13 after halftime, including a dunk that finished off the Patriots as time expired.
Terry and Washington added 10 rebounds apiece to lead the Scorpions' domination on the boards. Oakland Mills grabbed 49 rebounds to the Patriots' 28.
The Scorpions also beat Thomas Johnson badly at the free-throw line, hitting 11 of 15 foul shots, while the Patriots made only four of 14.
Rojak West led Thomas Johnson with 26 points, 18 inthe first half. Point guard Kevin Pearson had 17 points, seven assists and three steals. Center Phil Williams had 13 points and 11 rebounds.
The first half featured a scoring duel between West and Gant. West scored the first six points of the game, but Oakland Mills came back behind Gant to take an 11-8 lead. The Scorpions led, 20-17, at the end of the quarter.
The lead changed hands three times in the first four minutes of the second period. Thomas Johnson held five-point leads twice, but Gant buried a 15-footer with 1:10 left in the halfto pull Oakland Mills to within one point, at 34-33.
Gant's two free throws with seven seconds left gave the Scorpions a 37-35 halftime lead.