LARGO — As a freshman playing on the Northeast junior varsity basketball squad, Steve Strauss watched his older brother Fred's varsity season endin a regional championship loss to Prince George's County's Forestville.
Strauss told himself and his future coach, John Barbour, thattogether they would win a regional championship before Strauss graduated.
Friday night in the Class 2A Region III championship game againstForestville at Prince George's Community College, Barbour and Strauss came close to pulling off the feat -- but not close enough.
Although Strauss scored a game-high 19 points, including his fifth three-pointer to tie the game at 47-47 with five minutes remaining in the final period, the top-seeded Knights (20-4) won an exciting 60-51 victory to end the Eagles' season (16-8) and Strauss' high school basketball career.
"Yeah, it's disappointing," said Strauss, sitting on the Northeast bench after the game.
"I busted my butt for four summers to get here. I went to a lot of camps," said Strauss. "I thought if I could show some senior leadership, things would start falling into place."
They almost did.
But trailing 49-47, with just underfour minutes remaining, the Eagles let the Knights off the hook by squandering five consecutive possessions.
Northeast trailed, 51-49,after two Strauss free throws, and 52-51 after a bucket by Northeast's Gene Pleyo (16 points).
Unable to score, the Eagles fouled the Knights five times in the last minute of the game, and the Knights went 8-for-9 from the line for the winning margin.
"We tried to comeback, and then when we tied it up, they went to their bench and showed some depth," said Barbour, whose Eagles last reached Cole Field House in 1983, losing the Class 3A semifinals to Catonsville. "I thought we were in really good shape, but we just didn't execute as well aswe needed to offensively down the stretch."
The Knights' startersall stood 6-foot-1 or taller, beginning with 6-8 junior center Kwiman Freeland (12 points, four rebounds), who entered the game averaging21 points, 15 rebounds and 14 blocks per game.
"They were a well-coached team," said Forestville coach George McCorkle. "They made it very difficult for us to get the ball to the big man, but we've won with a balanced offense all year."
Forestville also boasted an athletic pair of guards in 6-1 George Adusei (a team-high 14 points) and 6-4 Oronde Clarke (12 points, four rebounds).
Forestville shot 7-for-10 in the first quarter and exploited its size, a stingy half-court zone defense and two three-pointers to pull toan early 16-9 lead, with 1:36 left in the period.
In that period, Northeast turned the ball over three times and shot just 5-for-18 from the field. The Eagles trailed, 16-11, after the period despite the play of Strauss, Pleyo and Matt Conaway, who each scored three-pointers.
During the game, Northeast connected on a total of eight three-pointers.
The Knights, who led, 30-22, at the half with a 15-7 rebounding edge, showedthey could run in the second period. They scored eight of their points after Northeast turnovers (seven in the period).
The Eagles opened the third quarter with consecutive three-points shots, two by Strauss and one by Pleyo, to pull within 32-31.